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The thin pink line

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Published on 15 May 2022

International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia
International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia

International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia comes around on May 17 every year, marking the day that the World Health Organisation (WHO) declassified ‘homosexuality’ from the International Classification of Diseases in 1990.

Here Drew Dalton, University of Sunderland lecturer and Founder of ReportOUT, a global human rights charity for sexual and gender minorities, reveals how we have come so far – but have even further to go.


It is usually a day of celebration of how far we have come as individuals, communities, and a global social movement.

But it is also time to reflect on the problems and issues that many sexual and gender minorities face around the world. I make no apologies for reflecting on the latter in this article, as we still have much to do to support some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

From my own experience as the Founder and Chair of ReportOUT, a global human rights organisation for sexual and gender minorities, we hear a range of stories and accounts from people all over the globe, who face so-called ‘corrective rape’ from members of their own community (the act of rape used to ‘correct’ lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women to become heterosexual).

In parts of sub-Saharan Africa, like Uganda, being thrown out of their own housing by landlords due to even being suspected of their queer identities, or the death penalty being used to hang sexual minorities from public cranes or forcing arrested gay or bisexual men to undergo gender-reassignment surgery in Iran.

Across the water, we see a sustained attack by law makers in Florida, USA, who have banned the mention of sexual and gender minorities in schools, and the high murder rates of transgender Latin people in Central and South America.

In Eastern Europe, some governments such as Hungary, have outlawed the teaching of gender studies, have created ‘LGBTQI+ Ideology-Free Zones’ in parts of Poland, and in Chechnya, concentration camps have been used to house and torture

people, with many not returning from them. This is genocide by any other name and these case studies are just the tip of the iceberg.

So, are we getting better globally? It’s a mixed bag of results from the evidence. Some countries are leading the way, such as Malta, Argentina, and even (finally) at the United Nations level, with progressive shifts forward in attitudes which we should celebrate.

However, at the same time, we are witnessing a hardening of attitudes toward sexual and gender minorities in other places.

Dating apps are used to entrap and arrest gay men in Egypt, while the finger of blame points towards sexual and gender minorities for the causes of COVID-19 and it’s spread in South Korea.

This is what has been called the ‘Pink Line,’ whereby an imagined pink line now demarcates liberalism and prejudice, and it wavers in response to pressure and protest, becoming stronger or fainter within nation states, and also in how nation states position themselves according to others.

But what about here?

In the UK I often hear from people some of the following statements: “hasn’t the UK come a long way” and “aren’t things better for sexual and gender minorities these days”. My argument to this is yes, we have made significant shifts forward in policy, law, and social attitudes, with the British Social Attitudes Survey showing a sea change in attitudes compared to previous years.

We have also seen more public celebrations of sexual and gender minorities, such as Pride events, workshops, conferences, and visibility events, which is amazing to see and which simply put, would not have happened over 50 years ago. However, alongside this, we have seen a steady decrease in some aspects of our existence as minorities in the U.K. as the pink line has hardened.

For example, we have seen a high-profile and sustained attacks from so-called ‘gender critical’ claims makers toward transgender, non-binary, and people who are intersex, and confusing messages from the UK government about banning conversion practices outright, and then in April 2022, announcing a partial U-turn which would ban the practices, except for transgender people.

This led to the cancellation of the proposed ‘Safe to Be Me Conference’ planned for July 2022, due to pressure from activists and organisations (from both allies and the community) who highlighted the hypocrisy of the UK government hosting this global first conference in the UK, whilst systematically dismantling the rights of people who are transgender and/or non-binary. The tweet which gained international attention, was rightly called #NotSafeToBeMe.

The UK still has far to go, with the recent Rainbow Europe rankings coming out in May 2022, we saw an embarrassing drop for the UK to 14th place in Europe.

Not only this, but bisexual populations also continue to be overlooked in ‘LGBTQI+’ initiatives, we have a hostile Home Office for people seeking asylum based on sexuality or gender identity/expression, and we are still performing unnecessary medical surgeries on children who are intersex. Non-binary people are ridiculed for their existence and politicians weaponise equality for some, and not for others.

In parts of the UK, holding hands or showing affection in public can still lead a person to face prejudice, discrimination, or outright violence, as evidenced by the horrific attack on two women who refused to kiss for an onlooking crowd, being publicly beaten on a London bus.

So, what can we do? With the ever-changing nature of the pink line growing and fading, we need IDAHOBIT more than ever, and for people to actively support it. I ask that we do not only examine our own nation states, and what is happening to sexual and gender minorities, but we cast an eye over the rest of the globe by supporting the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in the world.