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Celebrating Pride as Resistance

Police Brutality, Criminalization Still Mark LGBT Lives Worldwide

A view of The Stonewall Inn in New York City's Greenwich Village, June 15, 2020. © 2020 Anthony Behar/Sipa via AP Images

Pride Month is usually a time of revelry. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people flock to the streets in joyful parades celebrating sexual and gender diversity. Pride originated in the United States as a commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York City and has been taken up by activists around the world as both protest and celebration. But while Pride is now welcomed in many places around the world, elsewhere, it remains a point of contestation.

In 2019, Human Rights Watch marched at New York’s massive “Stonewall at 50” commemoration, celebrating with other marchers while drawing attention to persistent rights violations in the United States and around the world. We held signs with slogans reading, “Brunei: Repeal ‘Death by Stoning’ Law,” “Tanzania: End Forced Anal Exams,” and “US: End Trans Military Ban.” But as millions commemorated Stonewall in 2019, the country of Georgia’s Interior Ministry was curtailing Pride, forbidding outdoor Pride events citing safety concerns. In previous years, other governments have similarly censored Pride and related events in Lebanon, Singapore, Turkey, Uganda, and elsewhere.

But 2020 is different, with many marches canceled due to Covid-19. Pride organizers in the US transformed some marches into protests against structural racism, in solidarity with Black Lives Matter after the killing of George Floyd in May. Remember too that Stonewall was sparked by queer and trans people of color resisting police bigotry and harassment.

In recent years during Pride month, Human Rights Watch has published resources on the global state of LGBT rights. Interactive world maps show where anti-LGBT laws persist and which countries have laws recognizing marriage equality or civil unions, while in-depth profiles recount recent events in 120 countries. At least 70 countries criminalize same-sex relations. At least 9 criminalize gender nonconformity. Almost everywhere Human Rights Watch works, we find that policing of sexual orientation and gender identity most often targets marginalized LGBT people: trans people, those who defy gender norms, sex workers, and those who cannot afford the privacy that protects against police scrutiny.

As we launch our 2020 global resources, the origins of Stonewall highlight the urgent need to strip law enforcement of the ability to police gender and sexuality, and the importance of working across divisions of race, class, and gender to center marginalized voices in the struggle to advance LGBT people’s human rights.

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