Australia, Europe & Asia host a vast array of LGBTQ leaders. Meet some of them now

Australia, Europe & Asia host a vast array of LGBTQ leaders. Meet some of them now
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To talk about Australia, Europe and Asia in the same breath is difficult. One of the land masses is enormous, a continent and country in one, pushing alone toward the south pole. Europe, on the other hand, is a conglomeration of nations and city-states which has staked a contentious claim to being the center of civilization for more than a thousand years. Between the two is magnanimous Asia with its vast cultural underpinnings.

Yet, despite significant geographical and linguistic differences, the three continents share at least one strong bond – a dedication to equity and equality for LGBTQ+ people.


Australia’s march toward guaranteeing rights for LGBTQ people began with several pushes and pulls, not truly gaining momentum until the last decade. But, by 2016, most states and territories passed legislation allowing for gender marker changes on birth certificates, and in 2017 the courts ruled in favor of permitting transgender minors to receive medical treatment for their dysphoria. In 2017, the Australian parliament amended the marriage law to confer the right to marry to same-sex couples.

As queer populations everywhere know, the fight for rights is a continuous battle. This is no different in Australia, which is being led by activists as aware of the past as they are of the present. 

In 2012 Adele Moleta launched Unicorns, where the website states that “The aim of every Unicorn is for people to feel free to be themselves; to feel special and celebrated.” Over the past 10 years, the group has grown and now comprises gatherings like fitness groups, healthy relationship workshops, festivals, and dating events.

In some ways, Moleta, who identifies as a queer female, made a much larger impact in 2019 when she successfully sued an anti-LGBTQ hate group for defamatory comments and forced an unequivocal apology from an elected official in the process. This brave act led her to be included in multiple lists of LGBTQ leaders and to be nominated for several human rights awards.

Jaimie Gardiner is also a leader of the Australian LGBTQ community; in 2019 he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia. As early as 1974 he was leading a campaign to decriminalize gay sex, and in the 1980s founded the Victorian AIDS Council. Currently, he is serving as Vice-President of Liberty Victoria, a long-standing civil rights organization. 


In Europe, where basic anti-discrimination laws protecting the queer community apply at the EU level, a patchwork of national laws ranges from the most welcoming in the world to bordering on draconian, and because of this dichotomy, the focus of activists varies widely from country to country. 

Lesbian academic and activist Dorottya Redai from Hungary wasn’t just named to an LGBTQ leadership list recently; in 2021 Time Magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world. 

While active with the Labrisz Lesbian Association, it was Redai’s fight with far right-wing politicians over her publication of a children’s book of fairy tales, which extolled the virtues of a disparate group of minorities, that won her a significant amount of applause and acclaim. The tome, and the ensuing tussle around it, which ultimately spurred Hungary’s parliament to change laws, was credited with pushing both the rights of the LGBTQ community as well as free speech in general despite a “hostile societal environment.”

In Bulgaria, a musical superstar who goes by the mononym Azis, and is a self-described gypsy, uses the hashtags #bear and #daddy in his Instagram posts and has the pronouns He and They. In the conservative Balkan country, where there is a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and a legal prohibition on changing gender markers, Azis is unapologetic in their genderfluidity and ability to slide between the masculine and feminine. 

Despite presenting a stunning juxtaposition against their native land’s inherent bias against its LGBTQ citizens, Azis is not only accepted but lauded by fans and media across the country.

Riga, Latvia, was home to the first Pride Parade in the Baltics, and from that beginning in 2005, a strong foundation of LGBTQ voices has emerged, among them Kaspars Zālītis. Previously the director of the Latvian queer rights and allies group Mozaika, Zālītis led the pushback against reactionary forces among certain sectors of Latvia’s political and media industrial complex. 

He has now moved on to focusing on marriage equality and anti-discrimination laws as head of the Dzīvesbiedri, an equality initiative. With the Riga administration lagging on the rights of gender and sexual minorities, it is certain that Kaspars Zālītis will hold them accountable for their failings while pulling his nation into alignment with more progressive EU members.


Living under the proverbial Western gaze, Asia is far from being uniform in its cultures and societies. Similarly, different nations have caught up with LGBTQ rights in different ways – through legislative or judicial interventions – at different periods in time.

For example, Afghanistan and Bangladesh criminalize same-sex relationships, although Bangladesh recognizes a “third gender” beyond cisgender men and women. India and Bhutan have only recently decriminalized homosexuality in 2018 and 2021 respectively.

In China, while homosexuality has not been a legal offense since 1997, transgender persons have to compulsorily undergo gender-affirmation surgery before they can change their gender on legal documents. Japan, which decriminalized homosexuality way back in 1880, continues to insist on gender-affirmation surgery before legal documents can reflect a transgender person’s true gender.

Interestingly, there are several nations where homosexuality reportedly has never been a criminal offense: South Korea, Taiwan, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, and Vietnam.

LGBTQ activists have been crucial to heralding the dawn of civil and substantive rights for queer and trans people in Asia. However, the fight is not over.

In 2016, Xulhaz Mannan and Tonoy Mahbub, two LGBTQ activists in Bangladesh, were murdered by people who were allegedly members of the extremist group Ansar-al Islam. Mannan had only recently come out on social media, although he had founded Roopbaan, an LGBTQ-focused magazine in the country in 2014. Mannan’s writings drew the ire of even Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

In May 2019, eight people were charged with the murder of Mannan and Mahbub, and eventually, six were sentenced to death in 2021. Despite this intervention, Mannan and Mahbub’s death led to several LGBTQ activists fleeing the country or going into hiding.

The precarity of being queer has dissipated to a certain extent in neighboring India, where transgender persons were granted legal recognition in 2014 and homosexuality was decriminalized in 2018 in a legal and judicial discourse that can be traced back to the 1990s. The fight for activists in India now is to increase the purview of rights available to LGBTQ people and to change the mindset of a largely homophobic and transphobic society.

One of the activist voices that echo from intersectional corners is Grace Banu. Banu is a Dalit and transgender rights activist who has been at the forefront of securing affirmative action in education and employment for Dalit and transgender persons in India. 

In 2019, Banu filed public interest litigation asking that protect and provide more opportunities for transgender persons in the state of Tamil Nadu, India. The court’s judgment in this litigation would be a precedent that has the potential to open floodgates of affirmative action for transgender persons across the country.

While Banu is a more contemporary face, LGBTQ activism in India goes back several decades. A boost to visibility and public articulation of queer rights happened during the 1990s when discussions around the HIV/AIDS pandemic became a fertile ground for discussing LGBTQ rights. Anjali Gopalan, the founder of the non-governmental organization Naz Foundation, was an early voice that recognized the need for queer liberation in the country.

In 2001, the Naz Foundation filed public interest litigation in the Delhi High Court demanding that the country’s penal code be amended to decriminalize consensual same-sex acts between adults. The court ruled in favor in 2009.

The High Court’s judgment was challenged in the Supreme Court of India, which in 2013 reversed the High Court’s judgment to once again confer a criminal status to consensual adult homosexuality. Finally, several petitions challenged this judgment, and the Supreme Court overruled the 2013 judgment to decriminalize homosexuality in 2018.

To the North of India is Bhutan – a country that decriminalized consensual adult same-sex acts just last year. This year, Tashi Choden, a genderfluid and queer person made history by being the first Miss Bhutan 2022. Choden will compete in this year’s Miss Universe pageant. 

Tashi Tsheten, a queer rights activist in Bhutan, co-founded Queer Voices of Bhutan (QVB), a queer advocacy platform. QVB aims to tell queer stories from Bhutan through talks and podcasts to “reduce stigma and discrimination” against LGBTQ people in the country.

According to Tsheten, Bhutan has seen “an increase in the visibility of young queer people across a lot of social media platforms”. Further, he claims that younger queer people in the country “are forming peer support groups of their own”.

Further North of Bhutan is the People’s Republic of China, where Li Tingting – a.k.a. Li Maizi – has been campaigning for the rights of gender- and sexually marginalized people. In 2015, Tingting was detained by the Chinese authorities along with four other feminist activists for conceptualizing a protest against sexual harassment in public transport. The five were released on bail later the same year.

After her arrest, Tingting has spoken about “private violence” against LGBTQ people in China that continues despite homosexuality not being a crime in the eyes of the law. According to her, “If you’re homosexual, you will be fired. If you tell your parents, they will beat you [and] curse you. There’ll be family discord. Some have been sent to mental hospitals, others have been stalked or detained.”

Speaking with China Change, Tingting mentioned that she is on the Chinese media blacklist, which means that no media organization is allowed to speak with her.

Another name that cannot be missed when talking about LGBTQ activism in China is Li Yinhe, now 70 years old. Yinhe, born in Beijing in 1952, is a sociologist and one of the foremost voices advocating for the rights of queer and trans people in the country. Further, she is a vocal critique of normative sexual practices and advocates for a greater acceptance of non-normative sexual practices like polyamory and promiscuity.

Since 2000, Yinhe has also advocated for the legalization of same-sex marriages in China.

As countries across the three continents identify new avenues for political and social advocacy, activists are tasked with charting new ways toward the goal of equal rights for LGBTQ people. These voices continue to lead the beacon in more ways than one, collectively raising their voice against systemic inequalities and prejudices. 

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