The year is 2017, and same-sex activity between consenting adults is legal in 124 countries. Last April, Colombia became the 23rd country to legalise same-sex marriage. And here in India, Pride marches are sprouting up in places away from large metropolitans, like Guwahati, Lucknow. But when we look at the state of human rights for LGBTQ people globally, some of the enthusiasm dies away.
The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) – a worldwide federation of over 1,200 member organisations – just released a report titled “State Sponsored Homophobia“. Based on its global survey, the report has been an annual undertaking by ILGA since 2006, and is currently in its 12th edition. Organised into three sections (“Criminalisation”, “Protection”, and “Recognition”), the ILGA report offers a country-wise study. For example, as per the report, the top tier nations (spread over North America, most of South America, Western and Central Europe and South Africa) have laws that protect and recognise LGBTQ people. Australia lags behind in the report, possibly due to its immigration and refugee policies. But really it’s Russia, Africa and Asia where protection and/or recognition laws are missing, and human rights violations are rampant.
— ILGA (@ILGAWORLD) May 15, 2017
ILGA’s 196-page report reveals further striking things about LGBTQ rights (or lack thereof) around the world, and these are some of them:
India is, of course, counted among these 72 states, where the law specifies offences such as same-sex sexual acts, sodomy, buggery, acts “against nature”. And in 19 States even “LGB expression” is criminalised under morality laws.
ILGA’s report found that as of 2016, the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission “prohibits all broadcasting companies from representing sexual and gender diversity in men. The State also used 2012 Broadcasting Program Standards to limit LGBT expression on TV, with the logic of protecting children.” And let’s not forget that Russia criminalised the dissemination of ‘gay propaganda’ in 2013.
While the majority of these 72 States criminalise same-sex activity for both men and women, there are 27 States where anti-homosexuality laws specifically target men.
As a corollary to criminalising same-sex activity, many States “actively target public promotion or expression of same-sex and trans realities”. What this means is that even organisations working on sexuality, or with members of the LGBTQ community, face shutdowns or intimidation. As the report notes: “In the United States of America several states have enacted local laws – informally referred to as ‘No Promo Homo Laws’ – which in some way restrict or condition the discussion of same-sex sexual activity and relations.” Often, in very oppressive environments, groups are thwarted at the formation and registration stage.
Even in countries where same-sex activity is legal, there is a big disparity in the rules that apply for heterosexual partners, and for homosexual ones. In Bahrain, which decriminalised homosexuality way back in 1976, the ages of consent for heterosexual and homosexual partners are only a year apart – 20 and 21, respectively. But under Article 331 of the Criminal Code of Benin, the age of consent is 13 for different-sex sexual activity, and 21 for same-sex sexual activity. These disparities exist in the law in Greece and Canada too.
Brazil, Ecuador, and Malta. These are the only States in the whole world that have instituted country-wide bans on conversion therapy – a procedure which LGBTQ people are often forced to undergo to “correct” their sexual orientation or gender identity.
So far, even first-tier nations like the UK have failed. In fact, it was in March this year that the Theresa May led government dismissed a petition to criminalise conversion therapy.
The Global North does far better than the South when it comes to having non-discrimination policies. The oldest of these belongs to France, where “[v]arious sections of French law contains equal treatment legislation on the ground of sexual orientation.”
In third- or fourth-tier nations, legislations in the last decade show some improvement. Between 2006 and 2010, African nations Seychelles, Mozambique, Mauritius, Cape Verde and Botswana created or amended existing employment laws to prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation of sexual life. States like Bolivia, Nepal, and Mongolia too have some protection laws. However not officially granting LGBTQ people access to marriage equality, adoption, healthcare or inheritance or even self-determination is a huge obstacle to human rights.
Further still, ILGA’s report shows how few of these States actually have active and accessible National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) that affected LGBTQ people can approach or help.
“By our reckoning […] there are eight States where the death penalty is activated,” the report says. In Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, UAE, Qatar, Mauritiana and Sudan, the death penalty can be applied across the State. It is partially applied in Somalia and Nigeria. The report also accounts for five more States “where interpretation of Sharia, or where black letter law, permits the death penalty technically.”
Last year, the UN creating the post of an Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (currently held by Thailand’s Vitit Muntarbhorn), proving the need for international cooperation and action on LGBTQ rights.
Released ahead of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (May 17), the report has been described by ILGA as “a fundamental resource in the hands of human rights defenders, researchers, civil society organisations, governmental and UN agencies, allies and media striving for a more just and inclusive society.”
The report has identified the legal issues that make LGBTQ people a vulnerable group today. Now it’s up to all of us in the international community to work towards a future where people are not bullied, discriminated against, attacked or killed because of their gender or sexuality.