Gay rights movements gained momentum this year, with several countries legalizing or preparing to legalize gay marriage, but persecution of homosexuals continued or intensified in many countries.
While 700 pairs of gay and lesbian couples married in the UK under the civil partnership law last week, Chinese police cracked down on a gay cultural festival in Beijing and the new Polish anti-gay president Lech Kaczynski vowed to "purify" Poland.
"The struggle for gay rights is a long, long road. We must persevere and never give up," Wang Ping (王蘋), director-general of the Gender/Sexuality Rights Association of Taiwan, told reporters. "The success achieved this year was only in certain countries, while the situation is still bad in other countries. We hope next year global gay rights movements can link up so that groups in progressive countries can lend help to groups in backward countries."
This year Spain, Canada and the UK legalized same-sex marriage, bringing the number of countries allowing gay unions to 14. South Africa, Austria and the Czech Republic are expected to follow suit next year.
The civil partnership law in the UK captured the world media's attention because 700 same-sex couples -- including singer Elton John and his Canadian filmmaker lover of 12 years David Furnish -- tied the knot.
Peter Tatchell, spokesman for the British gay rights group OutRage, said the Elton John-David Furnish wedding would raise the profile of gay love and commitment.
"Their same-sex civil partnership ceremony will be reported all over the world, including countries where news about gay issues is normally never reported. This will give hope to millions of isolated, vulnerable, lesbian and gay people, especially those living in repressive and homophobic countries," he said.
Last year gays, lesbians and transsexuals held about 200 gay pride parades around the world to demand equal rights, with 121 of them held in the US.
Several US states have introduced same-sex union laws, while some large US companies have granted gay couples the same benefits as heterosexual couples.
While gay rights movements scored victories in Europe and North America this year, there was little or no improvement in the fate of homosexuals in other parts of the world.
In some countries, discrimination against and persecution of homosexuals continued or worsened, according to human rights and gay rights groups' reports.
On July 19, Iran hanged two teenage boys aged 17 and 18 on charges of raping a 13-year-old boy, triggering protests from international gay rights and human rights groups which suspected the youths were executed for being gay.
On Nov. 29 the new pope, Benedict XVI, unveiled a document banning homosexuals from becoming priests, triggering protests from gay rights groups and gay priests who called the document insulting.
"People don't choose to be gay, they are born that way. Just in the same way as some are born with brown or blonde hair," Franco Grillini, an Italian gay activist, psychologist and member of parliament, told reporters.
China, whose gay population has been estimated at 40 million, continues to suppress homosexuals although it stopped persecuting gays as "hooligans" in 1997, removed homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses in 2001, and has allowed the media to discuss homosexual topics.
On Dec. 23 Beijing police barred homosexuals in Beijing from holding The First Beijing Gay and Lesbian Cultural Festival at the 798 Artists' Zone. When the organizers moved the festival to the On/Off Bar, several policemen raided the site and ordered the event cancelled.
"They said we had not applied for a licence for our performance, but performances in Beijing bars do not need licenses," Jiang Hui, the spokesman for gaychinese.net, told reporters.
Qi Chia-wei, a Taiwanese gay activist, said he hopes there will be more "positive" media reports on homosexuals next year.
"Most of the reports on homosexuals are related with crimes which reinforces people's stereotypes of gays. I hope there will be more positive reports, but that requires gays to come out of the closet and most gays are afraid of coming out of the closet," he said.
"I am happy that Taiwanese director Ang Lee shot the film Brokeback Mountain this year. We should have more positive things like that," he added.
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