“It takes no compromise to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.”
Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in the US, made this statement in 1978, but today, almost 40 years later, there are still 76 nations where non-cisgender heterosexual people are deemed delusional, in dire need of treatment, imprisonment and, in extreme cases, punished with death.
The world has witnessed progress in finance, health, infrastructure and everything else in leaps and bounds, but there is still a long way to go where destigmatising the queer population is concerned. Countries that time and again claim to provide a safe and just environment for all often neglect the discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Here are 9 such countries that pride themselves on being liberal but have laws regarding the LGBT+ community that range from absurd to atrocious:
Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a 153-year-old law, criminalises all acts of carnal intercourse involving penetration other than penile-vaginal intercourse, regardless of consent. It not only debars all male homosexual acts but affects heterosexuals and female homosexuals by criminalising oral and anal sex. This section contradicts a number of rights guaranteed by the country’s own Constitution (namely Article 14, 15, 19 and 21).
In 2009, the section was declared unconstitutional by the Delhi High Court, but in 2013, the decision was overturned by the Supreme Court, which refused to change a law for a “minuscule minority“. Cases of tormenting, harassment, rapes of the queer population of India have since increased.
In 2014, official state recognition of ‘the third gender’ was a silver lining, but the sun will only rise when Section 377 is repealed. So, on 2nd February 2016, a curative plea to decriminalise homosexual sex was filed by Naz Foundation, and has been referred to a five-judge bench.
One of the few countries which successfully provides a positive environment for the LGBT community, Australia is taking steps backward in its movement for equal rights. Gay asylum seekers who flee to Australia, escaping the atrocities of their own countries, are removed to detention centers in Nauru or Papua New Guinea, where homosexuality is illegal.
A few MPs and other leaders have openly spoken against homosexuality, including former PM, Tony Abbott, who said that “There is no doubt that (homosexuality) challenges, if you like, orthodox notions of the right order of things…I probably feel a bit threatened, as so many people do. It’s a fact of life.”
In spite of having the support of 59% of its population, Australia hasn’t been able to pass the Same-Sex Marriages Bill in parliament on account of conservatives in the ruling party and politicisation of the Bill.
Even a groundbreaking LGBT anti-bullying program, ‘Safe Schools’ – which aims to educate students and destigmatise homosexuality with mandatory open classroom activities – has been restricted to optional one-on-one counselling sessions.
Marriage equality may be legal in all 50 states of USA but one can’t ignore that 28 of these states do not have any Anti-Discrimination Laws. With its Religious Freedom Restoration Act, states like Mississippi, Arizona, and others protect those who discriminate against the LGBT community under the guise of religious freedom by depriving them of jobs, housing facilities, even education, amongst other things. Eight states have a ‘No Promo Homo’ policy which prohibits teachers from even discussing issues related to homosexuality, including sexual health and HIV/AIDS awareness.
According to Human Rights Campaign (HRC), 115 anti-LGBT bills were proposed in 2015, the same year same-sex marriages were legalised nationwide. The fate of these states depends on the next president and sadly, half of these candidates are openly homophobic.
Another offshoot of British colonialism, Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code was amended in 2007 to penalise sexual activities only between male homosexuals. While this minimised the overall effect, it highlighted the country’s patriarchal definition of masculinity. Due to no official recognition of same-sex marriages, women in same-sex relationships have no access to IVF or any form of treatment assisting childbirth (this also applies to single women in the country). Though Singapore has always had a somewhat ultra-conservative lifestyle, its high literacy rate, well-informed and liberal youth means comparatively lesser cases of violence towards the LGBT+ community. The country’s equal rights advocates continue their fight with the support of organisations like ‘People Like Us’, ‘Men After Work’, ‘Pelangi Pride Centre’, and might just be on the verge of repealing the law.
Homosexuality was decriminalised in Russia in 1993 and the country’s President claims to provide equal opportunities to all regardless of sexual orientation. But with the unanimous passing of the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors” law, under which anyone merely discussing or ‘promoting’ or even supporting homosexuality can be charged. Adoption of the propaganda law encouraged discrimination against the LGBT community. A Pew Research Survey showed that in 2013 74% of the population even supported the law. Along with innumerable bans on LGBT parades, websites and groups, the country has validated its status of having state-sponsored homophobia.
Even though Turkey legalised homosexuality in 1923, the rights of LGBT+ people in the country are shrinking as regular hate crimes and anti-gay dialogue are on the rise. Military service is mandatory for all Turkish men – they will only be exempted if they are ill, disabled or homosexual because homosexuality is still considered an illness by Turkish military hospitals. Earlier, there were tests to prove a man is a ‘passive’ homosexual with the help of explicit pictures. This idea of determining ‘passive and active partner’ in itself is appalling as it again implies the innate need for people in the army to have so-called masculine features. The law has now been changed to involve doctors examining behaviors of gay men – even though there is no scientific way determine sexual orientation – and requires an open declaration of sexual orientation, which only increases cases of tormenting and discrimination.
Malaysia’s stance on homosexuality has been the same since 1998 when the then Deputy Prime Minister was removed from his position on account of sodomy. Malaysia bans homosexuality as it isn’t ‘in keeping’ with Islam and has been compared to ISIS by its PM.
The Government has been obstructing events held during Seksualiti Merdeka, an annual sexuality rights festival held in Kuala Lumpur, since 2011. Due to the Government’s staunch opposition, it’s rather difficult to advocate for equal rights in Malaysia, which has led to increasing violence against the LGBT+ population. Malaysia has retained a colonial-era law, similar to India and Singapore – with punishments including fines, imprisonment or even corporal punishment, regardless of consent and extending to activities practiced in private.
Forget equal rights, for queer people in Iran being accepted by their own loved ones is a far-fetched dream. Torture and harassment is usually initiated at home – by families and friends. But the government plays a big role too. The punishment for consensual sex between two men ranges from 100 lashes to capital punishment depending on marital status. Sexual activities between women are punishable by flogging. The Iranian Government bans “deviant or homosexual hairstyles“, has shut down eight publications in the past that ‘promoted’ homosexuality and even forced gender reassignment surgeries.
Echoes of Iran’s anti-LGBT+ laws resonate in its neighbouring states as well – Saudi Arabia being the harshest of them all. It once fined an international school for having rainbow colours painted on its building and bans “tomboys and gays” from taking admission in public schools. As the Islamic country doesn’t have a codified Penal Law, it adheres strictly to the Sharia Law. People belonging to the LGBT+ community are punished with flogging, lashings, imprisonment and death penalty – even though the Sharia Law doesn’t prescribe the death penalty for same-sex relationships.
The torture of those suspected of being gay is a regular affair. In 2013, when the LGBT+ movement was finally gaining visibility worldwide, the Parliament of Uganda adopted an anti-homosexuality act which made so-called ‘homosexual propaganda’ punishable with life imprisonment. In the original bill, the charge for committing the “offence of aggravated homosexuality” was the death penalty. Within a year, the law was annulled by the Constitutional Court, not for humanitarian reasons but due to international pressure and because the parliament lacked a required quorum (minimum number of members of a deliberative assembly) when the law was approved.
Ironically, Uganda is one of the top viewing nations of gay-porn worldwide, which implies how suppression of sexuality might be both a cause and effect of homophobia in the country. A new law criminalising homosexuality is in its formative stages currently but even without one, Uganda stands to be one of the most dangerous places for the LGBT+ community or even those who support it.
The laws in these countries have diminished the quality of the lives of their LGBT+ citizens. ‘Coming out’ to one’s family is often met with oppression – confiscation of laptops, phones and anything else that they think might encourage the child down the ‘wrong’ path – thereby pushing them into depression and to adopt means of destruction. Social conditioning can be blamed for such a reaction, but, as humans, we owe it to humanity to think logically and with an open mind. And to initiate this, we need authorities to set precedents for all citizens by adopting unequivocal laws, as they are the ones that shape public opinion, that instill a sense of equality in all, irrespective of gender, sex, and sexuality.