The Biggest International LGBTQ News Stories of 2019

From Brazil electing an anti-LGBTQ president to marriage equality in Taiwan, we look back at this year's triumphs and setbacks.

By Jeff Taylor and Kate Sosin

As the U.S. made startling steps backward on LGBTQ rights in 2019, many other nations across the globe advanced civil rights for queer people. While LGBTQ people in Russia and Kenya continued to face violence and discrimination, a handful of countries passed marriage equality and other pro-LGBTQ laws.

Here, we spotlight the biggest international LGBTQ stories of the year. While some are a shocking reminder of how far we still have to go, others gave us hope.

  1. Brazil Elects Proudly Anti-LGBTQ President

    Jair Bolsonaro
    Xinhua/Zhao Yan via Getty Images

    2019 started off with the election of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who immediately signed anti-LGBTQ executive orders and then proclaimed that gay tourists were unwelcome. During a press conference in the Rose Garden with President Trump in March, Bolsonaro said Brazil and the United States were united on “traditional family” and “gender ideology.”

  2. Chechnya Resumes Anti-LGBTQ Detentions and Killings

    Chechnya anti-LGTQ purge
    Jorge Sanz García/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

    Two years after reports of an anti-LGBTQ purge in Chechnya first broke, new reports of queer people being detained and tortured came to light in January. Despite the Trump administration saying it was “disturbed” by the reports and Congress condemning the persecution, the United States failed to take in refugees fleeing the abuses.

  3. Angola Legalizes Marriage Equality

    João Carlos Gonçalves/EyeEm/Getty Images

    Southern African nation Angola traded its colonial-era, anti-gay law for protections for gay and lesbian people in January. The country’s government did away with its ban on homosexual conduct and adopted sexual orientation protections. The old homophobic law was a holdover from Portuguese colonization.

  4. Japan Upholds Sterilization for Trans People

    Masafumi Nakanishi/Getty Images

    In January, Japan’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled to uphold an archaic law that forces transgender people to become sterilized prior to transitioning, a move that drew deep condemnation from human rights groups.

  5. Kenya Upholds Gay Sex Ban

    Kenya LGBTQ community
    Billy Mutai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

    In May, Kenya’s High Court ruled to uphold the country’s ban on gay sex, which punishes the act with up to 21 years in prison. According to the Kenyan government, it arrested 534 people for same-sex relationships between 2013 and 2017. Kenya is one of more than 70 countries that still criminalizes gay sex.

  6. Brazil Supreme Court Makes Homophobia and Transphobia Crimes

    Fabio Vieira/FotoRua/NurPhoto via Getty Images

    While LGBTQ Brazilians are suffering under the Bolsonaro reign, they did get some good news in May when the country’s Supreme Court voted in favor of making homophobia and transphobia crimes. The ruling makes bias against LGBTQ people equivalent to racism under the law.

  7. Brunei Drops Anti-gay Stoning Law Following International Pressure

    David Kirkland/Design Pics/Getty Images

    In March, Brunei was preparing to implement Sharia law and start punishing gay sex with whippings and death by stoning, prompting an immediate international outcry. The country, which already punishes gay sex with a 10-year prison sentence, backed down amid the pressure, saying in early May it would not enforce the draconian law.

  8. Marriage Equality Comes to Taiwan

    Getty Images

    In a historic first for Asia, Taiwan became the first country to legalize marriage equality in May. The move happened after parliament was given a two-year deadline by the Legislative Yuan in 2017 to update the law and allow same-sex couples to marry.

    “On May 17th, 2019 in #Taiwan, #LoveWon,” President Tsai Ing-wen tweeted after the vote. “We took a big step towards true equality, and made Taiwan a better country.”

  9. Botswana Legalizes Gay Sex

    Botswana LGBT
    Getty Images

    Botswana’s High Court overturned a colonial-era law criminalizing gay sex in a historic, unanimous ruling in June, but the victory was short-lived. Just a month later, the government announced it would appeal the ruling. Botswana Attorney General Abraham Keetshabe said the court was mistaken in its ruling without offering clarification on why.

  10. Ecuador Legalizes Marriage Equality

    Ecuador gay marriage
    RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP via Getty Images

    In a landmark vote, government officials in Ecuador ruled in favor of marriage equality in June. The ruling came a year after the nation’s Family, Women, Children, and Adolescents Court ruled in favor of an Ecuadorian lesbian couple’s right to marry. However, that ruling had yet to take effect in the constitution.

  11. Russian Activist Yelena Grigoryeva Murdered

    Yelena Grigoryeva
    OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images

    In an act that stunned the world, Russian LGBTQ activist Yelena Grigoryeva, 41, was stabbed to death in July after appearing on a website inspired by the movie Saw, which offered rewards for anyone willing to kidnap and torture members of the LGBTQ community.

  12. Philippines Supreme Court Rules Against Marriage Equality

    Philippines same-sex marriage
    NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images

    In September, the Philippines Supreme Court ruled unanimously against a landmark case that would have legalized marriage equality. However, the decision was made on technical grounds—the plaintiffs hadn’t filed for a marriage license— leaving room for legalization through Congress or a future court case.

  13. Northern Ireland Legalizes Marriage Equality

    North Ireland LGBTQ
    Robert Mcgrath/Getty Images

    Northern Ireland became the last region of the U.K. to legalize marriage equality. In July, British lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to legalize same-sex marriage and abortion in Northern Ireland as long as the region’s governing coalition remained paralyzed. Same-sex couples will now be able to give 28 days notice to marry starting on January 13, 2020. That means the first couples will be able to marry on Valentine’s Day.

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