By Michelle Garcia
Originally published on Advocate.com March 07 2014 11:17 AM ET
Alice N'kom, Cameroon
As we cover the struggles LGBT people in Cameroon face, attorney Alice N'kom is often in the background, defending them from homophobic laws. N'kom, who is the founder of the Association for the Defense of Homosexuals, has defended countless LGBT Cameroonian people as they navigate a legal process designed to discriminate against them.
Author, activist, and scholar Irshad Manji is one of the most vocal proponents for change and equality within Islam. She writes extensively about reconciling faith with progressive freedom, and, well, she's been called Osama bin Laden's "worst nightmare."
"At my Islamic school, I asked too many questions, and got expelled at age 14," she says on her website. "Later, studying Islam on my own, I made a truly surprising discovery: It is possible to reconcile faith with freedom."
Her book The Trouble With Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith has been published in 30 countries, though many Muslim nations have banned it. She currently is the director of New York University's Moral Courage Project, which teaches leaders to challenge intellectual conformity and self-censorship.
Li Yinhe, China
Li Yinhe has broken a lot of ground in China in terms of sexuality, gender, and LGBT rights over the last several decades. She's known as China's "first sexologist," which has been a significant feat, given the history of China's censorship and inclination to avoid talking openly about sexuality. Her first book, published in 1992, included comprehensive surveys about gay men, and she has continued to push for establishing marriage equality as well as LGBT legal protections in China.
"The majority of Chinese believe sex is a negative thing that can't be talked about in public," Li said.
Anjali Gopalan, India
In addition to her work to support LGBT people in India, Anjali Gopalan is a fierce advocate for people with HIV and AIDS. Her organization, the Naz Foundation, is one of India's most prominent groups working on the rights of LGBT people — particularly transgender people — in the massive developing nation. Gopalan has been particularly known to go into the places where sexual minorities of all types hide, bringing them a source of light while others tend to allow darkness to permeate.
Anna Grodzka, Poland
Before Grodzka became the first transgender person elected to the Sejm, the lower house of Poland's Parliament, she campaigned on a platform that included the legalization of marijuana and marriage equality. Now that she's been in office for nearly three years, Grodzka has used her seat to be more vocal about LGBT rights in the heavily Catholic country. In fact earlier this year, she and the first gay federal politician in Poland, Robert Biedron, sat in the front row of Parliament after a former president said that LGBT members should sit "behind a wall."
Kasha Nabagesera, Uganda
While men in Uganda have often been the reported victims of the country's extremely homophobic laws and violent environment, Kasha Nabagesera, the executive director of Freedom and Roam Uganda, is one of the lesbian activists who has been consistently pushing for better treatment, equality, and fairness in the laws. Her nickname, "Bombastic Kasha," says it all: She dutifully rails against a system that is overwhelmingly against her.
Kenita Placide, St. Lucia
The Caribbean may be viewed as a paradise, but antigay laws and persecution can make a difficult life for its LGBT inhabitants. In fact, Immigration Equality says Jamaica is one of the countries from which it receives the highest number of asylum inquiries (aside from Russia, at the moment). But in St. Lucia, Kenita Placide won't let LGBT rights get pushed aside. She is the co-executive director of Saint Lucia’s United and Strong Inc, the eastern Caribbean coordinator of the Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities, and the Alternate Women’s Secretariat of the International Lesbian and Gay Association. Most interestingly, however, Placide was named People’s Choice For Person of the Year 2013 by the St. Lucia Star newspaper.
"I realize that although we get a lot of negative comments, by educating and informing, we have helped to make some of their lives much, much easier," she told the newspaper. "It’s one thing to be afraid of what you do not know, it’s another to take some time to understand about the issues."
Pussy Riot, Russia
Feminist punk protest band Pussy Riot has become a symbol of rebellion and censorship in Putin's Russia, a country that has seemingly been minimizing any existing rights that LGBT people may have gained in the past few decades. The band's global prominence has only exploded after members served time in prison for "hooliganism" just as the government enacted a law barring LGBT "propaganda."
Mariela Castro, Cuba
One of the biggest surprises to come out of Cuba in the last decade was from a Castro — specifically, the daughter of current president Raul Castro and niece of Fidel, Mariela Castro. Her whole-hearted campaigning for LGBT rights has captured international attention, especially as her home nation is known for having sent LGBT people to labor camps during the 1960s and '70s and forcing many people to remain closeted for decades due to the culture. Now, through her work and collaboration with many others, things are improving. Castro is the director of Cenesex (Cuba's National Center for Sex Education), and her proposal for the government to fund gender affirmation procedures became law in 2008.