Peter Tatchell: We are making huge strides in the battle against homophobia

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The Independent Online

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people have made great progress in Britain, especially in the last decade. But in large parts of the world, homophobic and transphobic oppression remain rife. Up to 80 countries continue to outlaw homosexuality, with penalties ranging from one year's jail to life imprisonment. Homophobia is particularly grim in the Islamist states that impose the death penalty for same-sex relations, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan and Yemen.

Amid this gloom, last December something truly remarkable and historic happened. Sixty-six countries signed a United Nations statement, which called for the universal decriminalisation of homosexuality and condemned homophobic discrimination and violence.

Despite this breakthrough, even today no international human rights convention specifically acknowledges sexual rights as human rights.

None explicitly guarantee equality and non-discrimination to LGBT people. The right to love a person of one's choice is absent from global humanitarian statutes. In large parts of the world, hundreds of millions of LGBT people are forced to hide their sexuality; fearing ostracism, harassment, discrimination, imprisonment, torture and even murder.

LGBT people have nevertheless made huge strides forward, and the global tide is shifting in favour of LGBT emancipation.

An out gay man and LGBT activist, Sunil Pant, was elected to the parliament of Nepal in the post-monarchy elections. In 1999, Georgina Beyer took office in New Zealand, becoming the world's first openly transgender MP. Uruguay, formerly a military dictatorship, this summer lifted its prohibition on gay servicemen and women. Lebanon has made history by becoming the first Arab Middle East nation to allow the open, legal establishment of an LGBT welfare and human rights group, Helem.

In almost every country on earth, there are LGBT freedom movements – some open, others clandestine. The struggle for LGBT liberation has gone global. We've begun to roll back the homophobia of centuries. Bravo!

Taken from 'The Global Struggle for Queer Freedom' – the activist's Caroline Benn Memorial Lecture at Bishop Grosseteste University College, Lincoln, this week

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