It’s been a long year. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling a tragic and distressing sense of déjà vu. But, as we near the end of 2021, let’s try and look on the bright side of the rainbow: how have LGBTQ+ rights notably and noticeably progressed around the world this year?
In the UK, unfortunately, very little has changed. While endless promises were previously made, conversion therapy still remains legal in the country. A public consultation was held, and despite overwhelming response in support of a ban, the government has extended the deadline for responses. Some far-right and evangelical groups seem to hold the belief that opposing someone’s gender transition is not a form of conversion therapy, but rather a symbol of ‘compassion’ that should be allowed—thus, the debate rages on. We might see meaningful reform next year, fingers crossed.
In an important step, 21 December saw the Women and Equalities Select Committee publish the results of the consultation held into reform of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). The committee, chaired by Tory MP Caroline Nokes, made a number of urgent recommendations, as well as noting scathing criticisms of the government.
They conclude that the government “failed in its responsibilities with its botched handling of Gender Recognition Act reform—and should seek to fix its wrongs by 2023,” reported Pink News. This is, in general, very good news: most of the recommendations are in line with demands from prominent LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, and much of the testimonies from prominent transphobic groups were ignored. However, whether or not the government will act is another issue, given the lack of support for the reform from many prominent equalities ministers, such as Liz Truss, who is now Minister for Women and Equalities, Foreign Secretary, and in charge of Brexit. What could go wrong, right?
Over in the US, President Joe Biden promptly reversed many of the Trump administration’s anti-LGBTQ+ policies, such as the ban on trans people serving in the military, upon his arrival in office. The current administration has largely supported LGBTQ+ rights across the country, with the Departments of Education and Housing taking pro-LGBT stances in federal lawsuits.
Biden also restored the tradition of marking June as Pride Month with an official proclamation—during which the Department of State began the process of “including a non-binary gender marker and have modernised existing requirements for updating gender markers on United States passports”—whereas similar reforms were outright dismissed in UK court in December.
France and Canada both successfully pushed through bans on conversion therapy and a High Court ruling in Madras effectively banned the practice in India, just four years after homosexuality was decriminalised in the country.
Same-sex marriage was approved in Switzerland through its September referendum, passing with 64.1 per cent of the vote. South Africa and Argentina—two of the world’s most southernly countries—both began legally recognising non-binary gender identities in 2021.
Before leftist Gabriel Boric won the Chilean election, the country legalised same-sex marriage and adoption in December, which was deemed as a significant blow to his right-wing rival José Antonio Kast. Several Mexican states also introduced same-sex marriage (Querétaro, Sinaloa, Sonora, and Zacatecas), while others passed laws banning conversion therapy (Colima, Tlaxcala, Yucatán, and Zacatecas again).
Both Bhutan and Angola decriminalised homosexuality, meaning only 69 counties remain that still criminalise homosexual activity, albeit to varying extents. And, while male homosexual activity is still illegal in Namibia, in October “a court found that the constitution bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.”
Not everything was positive, unfortunately: Victor Orban’s government continued to make life harder for LGBTQ+ people in Hungary—but the country was still able to host games for the Euro 2020 (held in 2021), despite significant protests.
A record number of openly queer athletes participated in the Tokyo Olympics, more than three times as many at the Rio games in 2016. And Josh Cavallo, who plays for Adelaide United in Australia’s A-League, became the openly gay top-flight men’s footballer—as well as a vocal critic of the 2022 World Cup, set to be held in Qatar.
Let’s end with something light, shall we? We also had a record amount of Drag Race—including not one, but two seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK—with several additional international franchises announced. 2022 looks to be the year RuPaul takes over the world once and for all, or will it be the tipping point for drag domination? Only time will tell.
Last week, RuPaul’s Drag Race UK announced the lineup for its third season, which arrives on BBC iPlayer next month. The third season was cast and filmed entirely during the COVID-19 pandemic—season two had a sudden and unexpected break in filming midway through the series. And if it feels like that series only just finished airing, you wouldn’t be wrong: Lawrence Chaney was crowned the show’s second champion in mid-March. But the producers wanted to get back to the show’s original timeline, airing each autumn. And as RuPaul now chairs four Drag Race shows filmed around the world—which have been on non-stop since New Year’s Day—she’s on a tight schedule.
But season three of Drag Race UK is set to make herstory, with the first cis woman competing for the crown. Victoria Scone is a Cardiff-based drag queen and performer—and a queer woman. Immediately, there was backlash on social media, particularly from Drag Race super-fans, the kind who have little knowledge of drag beyond RuPaul’s world. And, of course, they distracted from the real issue here: whether ‘scone’ is pronounced like ‘stone’ or like ‘gone’.
One Twitter user and YouTuber prompted significant outcry after posting a video titled ‘Why I Don’t Support Victoria Scone on RuPaul’s Drag Race’. He was promptly torn to pieces by drag queens from all over the world, including reigning champion Chaney, who posted her comments on Twitter: “Women raised me, I’m inspired by strong women and now Victoria is one of those strong women because of her standing up and showcasing who she is to the world, unapologetically. Sorry but you’ll just have to get used to it.”
This news revealed the worrying misogyny that pervades much of the gay community. Recently, I saw a similar discussion about women in gay bars, with gay men seemingly determined to gatekeep such spaces—when, in fact, many queer bars are intended to serve the entire LGBTQ+ community, not just the G. And it should be noted that we are thoroughly lacking in spaces for and representation of queer women.
“Drag is for everyone and anyone can do drag,” season two fan favourite Bimini Bon Boulash reminded us. Trans women have competed on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars—when queens have come out as trans in between competing on their original series and returning for All Stars. And the last US season cast Gottmik, the first trans man to compete on the show. RuPaul has previously made some rather disparaging comments about female drag queens—but it seems that she is now changing her mind and moving the show in the right direction.
For some time, Drag Race supported and elevated a very specific kind of drag: femme makeup, wigs, heels and padding. Slowly but surely, though, it has accepted and platformed more diverse drag artistry, like Sasha Velour and Ginny Lemon.
There were, however, valid criticisms to be made of the Drag Race UK announcement. Many were pointing out that there was only one person of colour in the cast, which wasn’t technically accurate. While there’s only one black queen, two contestants are of mixed heritage—River Medway and Anubis Finch have Singaporean and Egyptian heritage, respectively.
But the criticisms didn’t stop there: only two of the queens aren’t from London and the South East; there’s no one from Scotland or Northern Ireland this year. People want to feel represented on such a prominent and popular show, but small towns and local scenes are consistently overlooked. Of course, true representation is nearly impossible, especially in a cast of twelve, and this is reality television, with casting decisions made to deliberately cause drama. But they could certainly do better.
To be clear: it is not the fault of any of the contestants that the casting is so deficient. Any and all blame lies entirely with the producers. Applications were no doubt down this year, with people wanting to wait until after the pandemic to apply. But it’s still largely inexcusable—perhaps not much has changed since the first cast was announced.
RuPaul is not and should never be the arbiter of everything drag, even if fronting two dozen seasons of drag reality competitions has effectively made that the case. Marla Sinner, a drag queen based in Glasgow, put it particularly eloquently. “Just because we can be cast now doesn’t mean we all want to,” she wrote. “It’s good progression but it’s a long time fucking coming and a long way to fucking go.”