BY GEORGIA CHAMBERS and KYLE GRIZZELL
There is no doubt that LGBT people have had much to celebrate in the past few years. In 2013 and 2015, same-sex marriage was legalised in the UK and the US retrospectively. The LGBT community was being represented in the media more than ever before. Turn the channel over, however, and hostility was clearly still in the air. From the horrific shooting of an LGBT nightclub in Orlando to a bakery refusing to make a cake for a gay couple, too often, where there is progression, there is a regression in attitude just around the corner.
The world is a scary place for minorities right now. The recent election of Donald Trump leaves LGBT Americans in a state of uncertainty and fear. Globalisation must be used to our advantage, and the equality of LGBT individuals lies in our ability to maintain a universal connection and understanding in the LGBT community and beyond. This is why the ‘LGBT Worldwide’ project was created. It hopes to draw on the diverse and unique experiences of LGBT individuals who are tirelessly fighting for their equal rights in their home countries, and hopefully bring people closer together in an emerging political sphere that is intent on creating division.
Speaking to five individuals about their experiences as an LGBT person, I hope that after reading their stories, others will be encouraged to share theirs.
RUSSIA: Svetlana Zakharova, 28, lesbian
“Being an open lesbian in Russia, you get used to a very hostile environment,”
“Being an open lesbian in Russia, you get used to a very hostile environment. You feel the difference when you leave the country and go to a place where homosexuality is treated differently. I recall going to the Pride events in Rome and the organisers looked bemused when I asked them if it was safe to wear an LGBT emblazoned T-shirt.
Even though homosexuality was decriminalised in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, violence and discrimination against LGBT people is still a massive problem. In the last few weeks before Russia hosted the Winter Olympic Games, Putin insisted that Russia was safe for LGBT people, but recent statistics suggest otherwise. A 2015 survey by the Russian LGBT Network reported 82% of respondents had experienced some form of physical, psychological or sexual violence as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Despite the constant fear and isolation experienced by Russia’s LGBT community, I do not believe that the Russian people are homophobic by nature. The hatred is state-sponsored. Russia’s propaganda law is supposed to “protect” children from being exposed to homonormativity- content recognising homosexuality as being a societal norm.
Of course, there is hope. The Russian LGBT Network work with mass media to try and show that LGBT rights are human rights- we are no different from everyone else. Right now, Russia is experiencing a huge backlash in terms of human rights as well as LGBT rights. However, things can change, and they will change. It just takes time.”
SHANGHAI, CHINA: Summer Wu
“It’s not uncommon to receive comments like ‘you are fat, ugly and not sexy- it must be why you turn to women,'”
“Coming out as LGBT is extremely difficult in China. Being filial and obedient to parents is traditional in Chinese culture, so coming out can be seen as offensive to the family honour. Coming out is especially difficult for Chinese women. Single heterosexual women are discriminated enough as it is, but gay women coming out to their parents make them worry about their daughter’s future and the future of their family.
Gay women face serious discrimination. It’s not uncommon to receive comments like ‘no man wants to marry you because you are ugly, fat and not sexy,’ ‘you don’t look ugly. You must have had your heart broken by an ex-boyfriend and now you turn to women’ or ‘you don’t look like a lesbian.’
As it stands, LGBT people can not get married or adopt children. Although the LGBT community continues to advocate for our rights, the Chinese government ignore our pleas. We need to change attitudes, and that is why putting LGBT rights on the mainstream map is so important.”
TEXAS: Lou Weaver, 46, Transgender
“I’ve witnessed transgender friends be denied jobs, housing and medical care,”
“Compared to other transgender people, I see myself as lucky. The whole purpose of my job is to elevate the voices of transgender people in the state of Texas, but I have witnessed my transgender friends be denied jobs, housing and medical care.
The Southern and Northern states of the US have differing attitudes to a lot of things- and their approach towards LGBT individuals is no different. Texas is unique in that we tend to be a bit more conservative and religious. Lawmakers in Texas have proposed similar laws to North Carolina’s HB2 law (which prohibits transgender people from using the bathroom consistent with their gender identity), for instance. Sometimes people want to maintain the status quo and fight to keep things the same.
With the Texas Transvisible Project, I hope to educate Texans that transgender people are our neighbours, families, co-workers and friends.”
INDIA: Harish Iyer, 37
“Bollywood is slowly coming out of the closet,”
“In India, the legal status of ‘LGB’ is very different from ‘T.’ Whilst being LGBT is not illegal, having sex against the order of nature is a crime under the colonial law- Section 377. The transgender community is recognised as a minority community and is seen as a ‘backward’ class.
Instances of homophobia vary depending on what situation and what location you are in. In metros like Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi there is a thriving community of LGBT persons, but there are still cases of extortion and police harassment.
That is not to say that progress has not been made. Bollywood is slowly coming out of the closet, and English language media has been largely supportive of taking a stand for LGBT rights. This year’s LGBT pride in Mumbai attracted thousands and is exactly the reason whilst visibility is so important. It shows LGBT people that they are not alone.
In my activism, I have worked with Stephen Fry in his BBC2 documentary ‘OUT THERE’ and Ellen Page in her web series ‘Gaycation.
Harish is a social activist and was featured in the Guardian’s most influential LGBT of 2013. Follow Harish on Twitter
IRELAND: Toryn Glavin, 22, Transgender
“be the person you know you are rather than who society expects you to be.”
“I think Ireland has always been a hugely accepting place but with a little too much religious influence at times. Transgender people are allowed the right to self-determine their gender. Unfortunately, this right is not extended to people under the age of 18. Trans youth are one of the most visible populations in Ireland, yet are treated in a degrading way and forced to live as a gender which is not their own, which is never okay.
There’s so many misconceptions about trans people; that we’re all straight, that we feel trapped in our own bodies, that we all have ‘the surgery.’ There are also a lot of social obstacles. The healthcare system is unnecessarily complicated and confusing, and there’s also disproportionate levels of unemployment and underemployment. We’ve made progress, yes, but there’s still a lot of educating to do.
National organisations like Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI; which works to advance the rights and equality of trans people), have also had an international responsibility. I’ve met trans activists from across Europe, many of whom come from countries very far removed from our privileged oasis here on the edge of the continent. I think it would be a terrible shame if we became insular and removed from the plight of LGBTQI+ people across the globe.
My message for trans people out there who feel alone or afraid, as cliche as it sounds, is that it does get better. Life will still have its trials and tribulations but it’s better to face them head on as the person you know you are rather than who society expects you to be. In the words of our queen, Laverne Cox, trans is beautiful.”
Thank you to all of our contributors. To share your experiences, use the hashtag #LGBTWorldwide or email firstname.lastname@example.org