Countries mark International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia with progress, protests

VANCOUVER – Despite more countries allowing same-sex marriage, the fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights around the world continues.

May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

In Georgia, the day was marked with violent clashes at a rally in the capital Tbilisi, after thousands of anti-gay protesters and Orthodox priests took over a central street where a gay pride parade was set to take place.

Protesters chanted “We don’t need Sodom and Gomorrah!” and “Democracy does not equal immorality,” tossing bunches of a plant called stinging nettle — a skin irritant — at gay rights activists, who had to be bused out of the city centre.

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Sixteen people were injured and, according to The Associated Press, police were unable to stop the assaults.

The European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights also released a report on Friday, highlighting the ongoing discrimination of LGBT individuals in the EU’s 27 member nations and Croatia.

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According to the survey, almost half (47 per cent) of the 93,079 respondents have personally experienced harassment or discrimination because of their orientation.

Of those that have experienced violence in the past year, 59 per cent of the respondents in the anonymous online survey believed it was related to the perception they were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

“For the first time, we see how much fear there is still around,” Austrian European lawmaker Ulrike Lunacek, who came out 30 years ago, told The Associated Press.

She said she still might not hold hands with another woman in some parts of certain European cities.

But Europe is the continent with the most countries that have legalized same-sex marriage, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Portugal and France.

France approved same-sex marriage last month and, on Friday, the country’s constitutional council struck down a conservative lawmaker’s challenge to the law.

The first marriages could be performed by the end of the month.

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In Cuba, a country that has been known in the past for persecuting homosexuals, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia ended a week of festivities that were organized, in part, by Mariela Castro – daughter of President Raul Castro and niece of former president Fidel Castro.

“We are working to change consciousness and legitimize those rights. Laws do not guarantee human rights on their own; they must be backed by political will, but above all by a transformation in social consciousness,” Castro said in an interview published in Prensa Latina.

Although homosexuality was decriminalized 34 years ago, the country has had a drastic change in attitude towards LGBT individuals in recent years, including providing free access to gender reassignment procedures and a move toward considering allowing same-sex civil unions.

Just two years ago, Fidel Castro told Mexico’s La Journada he was responsible for the mistreatment of gays in the past, which included locking up homosexuals or making them undergo “re-education” treatment.

In Canada, rallies and walks were held across the country, from small towns such as New Glasgow, N.S., to larger cities such as Winnipeg. Those are the rally in Winnipeg expressed support of a controversial anti-bullying bill that would require Manitoba schools to allow gay-straight alliance groups.

“We know that gay-straight alliances contribute to making our schools safer for all students, and they create a more inclusive school climate, and they save lives,” NDP Education Minister Nancy Allan told a crowd outside the legislature.

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Even Toronto Mayor Rob Ford attended an event outside City Hall, to raise a flag in support of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).

Ford attended the event last year, but in the past he has shied away from taking part in the city’s Pride Week – one of the largest pride events in the world.

In March of this year, his brother Coun. Doug Ford announced the mayor would take part in raising the Pride flag outside City Hall to kick off this year’s Pride Week.

*With files from The Associated Press

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