Twenty-two years ago on Thursday, the World Health Organization took homosexuality off its list of mental disorders. The date has come to be celebrated as the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, an event dreamed up by a French academic that has since spread across the world.
That includes places less welcoming to gays, lesbians and other sexual minorities than France or Germany, where couples smooched publicly at a "kiss-in" in Berlin. In Myanmar, for example, gay right activists held their first-ever celebration in Yangon, the Irrawaddy reported, another sign of the changes underway in a country that has gradually embraced reform.
"In the past a crowd of people at this kind of event would be assumed to be against the government, taking part in something like a protest," Aung Myo Min of the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma told Channel News Asia. Now people “dare to reveal their sexual orientation,” he said.
In Malawi, human rights groups appealed to the new government to decriminalize homosexuality, the Maravi Post reported. In Iran, activists reportedly released rainbow balloons and hoisted rainbow flags for the occasion, but covered their faces in photos submitted to the Joopea blogging site to mark the day, a sign of the stigma that is still felt even among those willing to speak out.
Marches were met with anger and even shut down elsewhere: In the country of Georgia, participants in a gay pride parade ended up scuffling with a parents group opposed to the march, forcing police to intervene, the Russian state news agency reported. Albanian events were denounced by scores of Muslim protesters who called them perverse and degenerate, the Associated Press reported.
Fiji police reportedly canceled a march, expressing worry for the safety of gays, lesbians and their supporters -- a justification that angered gay rights groups, FijiLive reported.
Activists were unsure whether the same would happen in St. Petersburg, which recently adopted a new law punishing people who promote homosexuality among youth. Gay rights groups held a rally in a public park, testing the law that has already been used to fine the founder of the Moscow gay pride movement.
"It remains to be seen what the police will do; whether they will act professionally and protect us like last year, or arrest us despite the official permit to hold the event," event organizer Polina Savchenko was quoted as saying on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia website.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Russian gay rights activists launch balloons Thursday during an event dubbed Against Homophobia Day in central Moscow. Credit: Kirill Kudryavtsev / Agence France-Presse/Getty Images