18 Positive Queer News Stories of 2018 Part II

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10) Transgender Candidates in Pakistan

“Until you can influence the laws, you are their slaves — you are following rules and laws set by someone else,” said Nayyab Ali, one of the thirteen transgender candidates running for office in Pakistan in 2018. This is the first year in the nation's history that transgender people have been able to be on the ballot, and many have taken advantage of this fact. 

Pakistan has a complicated relationship with the queer community. Though prejudice is still alive and well, there is also legal protection for the transgender community. People attracted to the same gender are still criminalized, though all queer people still face some level of persecution. This year alone fifty-eight transgender people were murdered.

But as Nayyab Ali said, transgender candidates don’t only indicate a change for transgender rights. “We are not just the voice of the transgender community, we are also the voice of women and minorities. If you want a real change, vote transgender.”

With an ever-changing and precarious spot in society, this is a huge step for a lot of transgender people. Kashish, who was banished from her family home in a town only seven hours from where she ran for election said: “This is everyone’s story. My voice has travelled far, it’s reaching the whole world.” And though she didn’t win, she said: “This is my victory; if you go in front of people and show your character, they will accept you.”

11) Cuba Ejects Castro and Elects Candidate Who is Pro-Queer Marriage

This project is no stranger to Castro and his awful policies, and like many queer people, felt it was good news when he died. The shadow around that good news was that his brother Raúl Castro would go on to lead the country. This year though, the light shines through when Miguel Díaz-Canel was elected as president of Cuba, becoming the first person outside of the Castro family to be president of Cuba in over six decades. 

Fidel Castro’s attacks on the queer community in Cuba are not often discussed, as most people instead focus on his communist policies, whether for the positive or the negative. For queer people, and queer Cubans especially, this part of his rule is not easily forgotten. With camps for gay people modelled after the concentration camps of Nazi Germany and violent discrimination, the brutal legacy of the Castro government is something that can never be forgotten or, for many queer people, forgiven. 

One such queer person was Reinaldo Arenas, a Cuban gay man who died in 1987. He said:   

“After I was diagnosed with PCP [AIDS pneumonia], I asked Saint Virgilio Piñera, to give me three years to live so that I could complete my body of work. Saint Virgilio granted me my request. I'm happy. I do wish, though, that I had lived to see Fidel kicked out of Cuba, but I guess it won't happen during my lifetime. Soon, I hope, his tyranny will end. I feel certain of that.”

And he was right. Years after his death, and the publishing of his work that he considered to be his revenge against Fidel Castro, not only is Castro dead, but his brother is out of power. 

Díaz-Canel is far from a perfect leader, but he is one who has been vocal about his support of same-sex marriage being legalized in Cuba. This change marks a shift from a leader with a deep history of discrimination and hate to one who is working for change and, hopefully, a brighter future for queer people in Cuba.

12) Costa Rica to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

This year Costa Rica ruled to become the first country within Central America to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. With an election this year between the evangelical candidate Fabricio Alvarado, who had promised he would defy the Human Rights Courts in their order to legalize same-sex marriage, and Carlos Alvarado, who vowed the opposite, it is clear that it is not only the laws within the country that are changing.

The ruling stated: “Acts of open discrimination, whether they are expressed or implied, cannot be justified in any way in a democratic society that respects fundamental rights.”

While there is still violence perpetrated against the queer community in Costa Rica, this ruling is hopefully just the beginning of a larger shift in how the community is treated in Costa Rica. As of January 2018, only 30% of Costa Ricans polled supported same-sex marriage, so this legal change comes in the hope that people's attitudes will shift after the law is implemented in 2020.

13) Kenya Lifts Ban on Rafiki

The Kenyan movie Rafiki tells the story of two women falling in love. Made in a country where homosexuality is illegal, this is dangerous territory. It was banned by Kenya’s Film and Classification Board (KFCB) in April due to the possibility that it would promote a lesbian lifestyle unto the Kenyan people. Rafiki was the first of any Kenyan movie to be shown at the film festival in Cannes, where it premiered.

Wanuri Kahiu, the director of the movie, sued the KFCB for revenue and restriction of her artistic freedom, as well as infringing upon her constitutional right to free speech. She said: “I truly believe that banning has happened, it has happened many times in our history, in Kenyan history. Its happened in Africans history. But that doesn’t mean that art doesn’t come back from exile. And I truly believe that this is one of the pieces that will come back from exile at one point.”

She then discussed the homophobia that was inherent in the decision, saying: “We have had queer communities since the beginning of time and that's why we have language; that's why we have words for it in different African languages; that's why we have cultures and traditions that are about same-sex relations. It's not unknown; what is unknown is the very current colonial laws that have stopped carnal knowledge against the order of nature and however they wanna define that, and what we know is absurd is the denial of existence. It's homophobia, I think is what is un-African not the opposite."

As foreign language films are only eligible for Oscar nominations if screened for seven consecutive days in its home country, Kahiu and her lawyers fought hard to combat the ban. Thankfully, Justice Wilfrida Okwany suspended the ban for a week, allowing it to be admitted to Kenya’s Oscars selection committee. 

After receiving the news that the ban was lifted, Wanuri Kahiu tweeted:

"I am crying. In a French airport. In SUCH Joy! Our constitution is STRONG! Give thanks to freedom of expression!!!! WE DID IT! We will be posting about Nairobi screening soon.”

As the seven days of screenings took place, the theatre was full, even in the middle of the week, even in the middle of the day. All the screenings were sold out. Hundreds of people flooded the cinema, buzzing with excitement. As the two main characters shared their first kiss on on-screen, the audience burst into applause.

Unfortunately, it was not chosen as Kenya’s Foreign Language Film submission to the Oscars, but the fact that it was allowed into the competition hopefully carries some promise for the future.

14) Antarctica Celebrates its First Pride Celebration

Showing once again that queer people exist in every corner of the globe, Antarctica celebrated its’ first Pride event in 2018. The McMurdo Station in the Antarctic is the largest community in the area and has 133 inhabitants, around fifteen of whom are queer.

This is not the first time that a rainbow flag has flown in the Antarctic; in 2016 a queer activist group flew the flag. 

Aaron Jackson, the President of Planting Peace, the organization the first flew the flag, said: “It’s amazing to see pride in all corners of the world. We have a long way to go before all LGBTQ people around the world feel they can love who they want to love and live the most authentic life they can. However, it’s little things, like throwing a parade at the south pole, that let us know that we are headed in the right direction.”

Though the photo with their rainbow had to be taken in April, due to the complete lack of sunlight during the actual festivities, the celebration on June 8 was full of games, movies, and joy.

One of the organizers Evan Townsend discussed the decision saying: “It’s important to celebrate pride in the extreme places and the mundane. Every person who celebrates is another example of who queer people are and what we can do. It’s a chance to remind the world, and ourselves, that our potential is limitless and is in no way inhibited by our sexuality or gender identity.”

It is in fact because of the harsh climate that many feel open about their sexuality in Antarctica because they are forced to rely on each other in dangerous situations many say that authenticity and openness are necessary. In this remote part of the world, it becomes the perfect place to do something like this. Evan Townsend pointed out “There’s enormous potential for us to shape the perception of the continent with something as simple as a pride event. Antarctica is already known as a place of discovery and exploration. We hope it will become known for inclusivity as well.”

In the end, it is as Evan Townsend said: “There’s queer representation—even at the end of the earth.”

15) First Openly Gay K-Pop Idol Debuted with a Gay Love Song

In an industry that is ruled by agencies and high budget productions, the fact an independent artist managed to make it into the Top 5 entry on the World Digital Song Sales chart is a feat on its own, the fact that the artist is a gay man in South Korea moves that from impressive to near historic. 

Holland released his debut song about finding space as a queer person, and the song’s music video shows affection and even a kiss between two men in bed. For all this, there’s been mixed reception. Though the video was incredibly tame, it was quickly shoved into the 19+ filters by South Korea, something that many queer people can relate to. Despite this, when YouTube released their top 10 list of Korean channels created within 2018 that had the highest increase in subscribers, Holland’s ranked at number two. 

Much of his success has been credited to his relationship with his fans on social media, and Holland discusses this, saying: “I know how lonely being gay can be -- I've felt that. I also know how much comfort and encouragement you can give someone going through a hard time when a special message comes from one of their favourite celebrities or an artist or someone that you look up to. It's knowing how much of a support that can be that I wanted to share that with fans. But also I don't want my fans to think I'm someone that I'm in an "icon" or "bigger" than them -- I just want to be their friend and have them know that they can share stories with me to be closer with me.”

As an independent artist, a thriving fan base is necessary for him to succeed. With no support from agencies, most of that work falls onto him. This year he was also able to start production on a mini album, which he crowdfunded and reached 217% of the funding needed.

This publicity doesn’t come without strings attached though. “Since LGBT figures are very unpopular in the Korean entertainment industry, I am a representative. People will subject the whole community to hate speech if I make a tiny mistake. So I have to be very passive, more cautious in my words and behaviour.”

As difficult as the first steps may be, Holland discusses the importance of representation in media saying: “I think the biggest thing is that the general public needs to get more familiar [with LGBTQ people] through movies, music, general content and media representation.”

Just like many of us, he is still learning. He was able to become more familiar with the queer community when a recent English translation error resulted in miscommunication with the transgender community. He has since apologized saying: “Since making my debut, I've met people with all different identities. I was surprised to finally have a chance to hear the stories of people who are transgender. I was also surprised by my own ignorance. It was a big shock to learn about the lack of acceptance for people who are trans, and the great efforts they've gone through to change that.

I know I certainly have fans who are trans, and what I can do is listen to their stories and communicate with them constantly. Some of my fans are straight, but I want to learn more about [the queer community at large], because I have friends and fans who are gay, asexual and trans.”

And with a promising start, Holland is set to become a major force in the queer community in South Korea, but it is still just a start. When asked whether he thought his presence had made way for other queer artists to come forward he said: “Not yet. I think I have to be more famous and do a lot of work as an artist. I'll work harder so that I can answer 'yes' to this question, so please support me.”

16) Trinidad and Tobago Decriminalizes Gay Sex

In September, after months of contemplation, Trinidad and Tobago decriminalized consensual gay sex. In April, the “buggery” law, referring to anal sex, was deemed unconstitutional by High Court Judge Devindra Rampersad, and the court expressed a wish to strike it down. The law, affecting both gay and heterosexual couples, punished anal sex or “buggery” with up to 25 years in prison. The law has been amended, effectively decriminalizing consensual sex between adults regardless of gender, as long as participants are over 16 years old. 

Another section of the same act was also amended, one that punished sexual intimacy with a person of the same sex, with up to five years in prison. The court ruled both sections unconstitutional, allowing LGB people of Trinidad and Tobago to be freed from the legal restrictions left from British rule. 

“The court’s reasoning that people must be able to make decisions about whom they love and with whom they wish to form a family, without having to live under the constant threat that any moment they may be prosecuted, is very strong,” says Boris Dittrich, LGBT rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “This is a major step forward in a region where the rights of LGBT people are restricted.”

Jason Jones, an LGBT activist and openly gay man, left Trinidad and Tobago years ago, due to fear of persecution. He does, however, return to the country often, and it was his lawsuit that led to the decriminalization taking place. He aims to challenge the laws that were inherited from British colonialism, and while this victory was important, Jones admits there is many more miles to go.  

“It’s a very bittersweet victory for me,” he said, commenting on the fact that the law was only amended instead of removed completely, but quickly added that it is “a victory anyway.”

17) Uruguay Expands Trans Rights

A new law passed in Uruguay has granted transgender people groundbreaking rights, after being approved by the Congress on October 19th. The law allows transgender people to change their legal name and gender marker without needing approval from a judge and defines gender-affirmation surgeries and hormone therapy as a legal right. Any steps of medical transitioning will be covered by the government and public health system. 

In addition, the law reserves 1% of government jobs over the next 15 years for transgender people and sets up funds to pay reparations to the trans people who lived through the military dictatorship from 1973 to 1985. During these years, the state and police detained and tortured transgender people, and these tendencies were carried into Uruguay's democracy. 

And while LGBTQ people in Uruguay still find themselves subject to discrimination and violence, the new law will allow trans people “free development of personality according to their chosen gender identity, irrespective of their biological, genetic, anatomical, morphological (or) hormonal.”

After the law was approved, trans rights organization Ley Trans Ya posted on Facebook: “It’s law. Uruguay is a fairer and equal country.”

18) Germany Ousts Neo-Nazi from Magnus Hirschfeld Organization

Some may remember our article from January 2018, discussing how a far-right woman was elected onto the board of the Magnus Hirschfeld Organization. 

The Magnus Hirschfeld Organization was built on the legacy of a queer Jewish man whose life work was destroyed Nazis. The organization publishes biographies of incredible people from our history on their website, including Lili Elbe, Johanna Elberskirchen, Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs, Rudolf Brazda, Else Ida Pauline Kienle, Hilde Radusch, and Magnus Hirschfeld himself.

When in September 2017 the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) party, a party described not inaccurately as Neo-Nazis, was voted into German parliament, they were given chairs in various federal organizations and foundations. One of these is the Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation.

The specific person elected onto the Board was Nicole Höchst, a teacher and politician. She has been described as follows: “[Nicole Höchst] is as active on Facebook as hardly any other candidate of the AfD. However, a consistent political profile cannot be recognized." Despite that, she has been able to make it clear that she is firmly and vocally against the teaching of diversity in schools. Additionally, she is against adoption rights for queer couples.  

She has said, “Studies show that homosexual men are more likely to be pedophiles.” Though the source she cited for this statement was reprimanded by the Press Council of Germany for being factually incorrect, she has yet to correct herself.

She calls education about queerness in schools “an attack on the children's souls". She has also said, “if there are more than two genders then I’m a rainbow-farting unicorn”.

After this announcement, there was an outcry from many of the members of the organization. Axel Hochrein, Member of the Board of Trustees, said "We'll make her understand clearly that she's in the wrong place and she lacks the expertise. With her pseudoscientific theses, she is unqualified for this office. We will see that we continue to support the purpose of the foundation and concentrate less on provocation."

Bundestag, the German federal parliament, voted against her appointment to the committee in November of this year. It is a small victory, as two other homophobic people have instead been voted in, but it is a victory nonetheless and it warrants celebration.