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Marking its 20th anniversary, the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch authored this collection of articles to explore the multifaceted challenges LGBT people face globally. Through this sequenced narrative, we aim to illuminate diverse facets of LGBT rights, spanning legal landscapes and political trajectories, both on a global scale and within regional contexts.

This series highlights both the progress made and the persistent struggles for bodily autonomy and access to fundamental rights, from the erosion of legal recognition for trans individuals in the US to the hyper-medical control over trans people in the absence of legal protections. It also highlights decriminalization movements in the “Global South,” and the de facto criminalization of same-sex relationships. We include discussion of the fight for familial rights by LBQ+ individuals, the manipulation of child-protective arguments by anti-LGBT actors, and the reclaiming of Pan-Africanism to support LGBT people’s rights.

When Laws Fail to Protect Trans People, Harmful Medicalized Norms Creep In

Bhumika Shrestha, a transgender woman in Kathmandu, Nepal, holds her citizenship certificate in 2023, which lists her name, current photo, and female gender. © 2023 Laxman Adhikari

by Kyle Knight

Earlier this year, Germany became the world’s latest country to pass a clear law that allows transgender people to change their legal gender to reflect their identity based on self-declaration. A number of other countries are staggering toward this goal; in some, policies allow self-identification for some documents and not others. But the majority of the world’s governments still either disallow changes in legal gender recognition altogether, or have laws that require trans people to undergo medical intervention to access their rights.

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An Urgent Call to Protect Gender-Affirming Care

Protesters of Kentucky Senate Bill SB150, known as the Transgender Health Bill, cheer on speakers during a rally on the lawn of the Kentucky Capitol in Frankfort, March 29, 2023.  © 2023 AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File

by Yasemin Smallens

Amid the ongoing strides in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights, a disconcerting trend has surfaced: government bans on life-saving medical care for transgender people. Currently, 24 US states have enacted prohibitions on gender-affirming care for trans youth, leaving over 36 percent of such youth without access to treatment. Despite claims by conservative leaders that these bans protect vulnerable children, the reality is that these restrictions can put them in danger.

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Decriminalizing Gay Sex: A Universal Human Rights Imperative 

© 2023 Judith Rudd for Human Rights Watch

by Cristian González Cabrera

In April, Dominica became the latest country to decriminalize consensual same-sex conduct. A local court ruled that provisions banning “buggery” and “serious indecency,” understood to criminalize gay sex, were unconstitutional. The ruling is historic for Dominica because it finally cast off a colonial legal relic that had been an obstacle to full equality for sexual and gender minorities. But beyond this Eastern Caribbean nation, the ruling has important implications.

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Beyond Decriminalization of Same-Sex Relations

© 2023 Christina Atik for Human Rights Watch

by Hala Maurice Guindy

Across the Middle East and North Africa region, the criminalization of consensual same-sex relations and diverse gender expressions persists, subjecting people identifying as LGBT to widespread human rights abuses. Within this landscape, some countries do not have explicit laws targeting people with diverse sexual orientations, but that does not mean that they are safe or equal.

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Treacherous Internet: Cyber-criminalization of LGBT People

© 2023 Christina Atik for Human Rights Watch

by Rasha Younes

When I was researching the digital targeting of LGBT people across the Middle East and North Africa region, I spoke to Yamen, a gay man from Jordan. He told me that he was extorted online by another man, who was threatening to post a compromising video of Yamen on social media, and that his biggest regret was going to the authorities to seek protection. Instead of prosecuting the extortionist, a Jordanian court sentenced Yamen to six months in prison for “promoting prostitution online.”

His experience is not an isolated incident.

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