On May 15, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) launched the 12th edition of its flagship publication, State-Sponsored Homophobia – A World Survey of Sexual Orientation Laws: Criminalisation, Protection and Recognition.
This year the report is co-authored by Aengus Carroll and Lucas Ramón Mendos.
Since its first edition in 2006, State-Sponsored Homophobia has offered a comprehensive compilation of useful and credible data on laws affecting people worldwide on the basis of their sexual orientation. This release comes just ahead of the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia to be celebrated on May 17, and it is 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.
“As of May 2017, 72 States continue to criminalise same-sex consensual activity, and in 45 of these States the law is applied to women as well as men,” Carroll notes. “Although law that criminalises same-sex sexual practice is slowly annually decreasing – with Belize and Seychelles being the most recent to repeal such laws in 2016 – persecution and deep stigmatisation persist in many States. On the other hand, enactment of specific legislation that protects us from discrimination and violence has significantly expanded in recent years, and the real test facing States is meaningful implementation of those laws. Although laws that recognise our relationships and families are also on the increase, less than 25% of the world’s States recognise or protect us – that is a sobering thought.”
It is an unavoidable truth that full equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual persons is unfortunately still very far from reach.
“A simple look at the maps and charts included in the report – illustrating where criminalisation, protection and recognition laws exist – starkly indicates the absence of positive provisions in most parts of the world. These maps and overview charts are available in English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, French and Russian on ILGA’s website. We hope that making these materials available in all 6 United Nations’ official languages will help deliver this information to a wider readership,” observes co-author Mendos. “They offer food for thought on how States are faring when it comes to denying or upholding our rights, to scapegoating our communities, or situating us on ideological battlefields in national and international political spaces.”
There are currently 8 UN member States (or parts thereof) where death penalty occurs as a punishment for same-sex consensual sexual acts, and a further 5 States where although the death penalty is technically possible, it is never implemented. In 14 other countries the maximum penalty can vary from 14 years to a life sentence in jail.
This edition of State-Sponsored Homophobia includes a category looking at sexual orientation-related NGOs: in 25 States there are active barriers to the formation, establishment or registration of such organisations, and 22 States have ‘morality’ or ‘promotion’ laws that actively target public promotion or expression of same-sex and trans realities.
“With the ongoing rise in the use of digital devices, deployment of these laws becomes all the more sinister,” comments Renato Sabbadini, Executive Director at ILGA. “The ongoing case of Chechnya offers us the most recent, horrific example of such abuses, as survivors have expressed fears that the social media accounts of men perceived to be gay or bisexual are being hacked and used to identify and contact others who have not yet been arrested.”
Only 9 countries explicitly mention sexual orientation as a protected ground from discrimination in their Constitution. On the other hand, 72 States contain legal provisions that protect against discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation, and 63 States have enacted various non-discrimination laws, both comprehensive and specific. This year we also look at those States that explicitly ban so-called ‘conversion therapies’: only 3 of them have taken nationwide action on the issue, but the list is expected to expand in future years.
When it comes to protecting and recognising our relationships and families, ILGA notes that marriage equality is now a reality in 23 States, while other 28 guarantee some civil partnership recognition. Some 86 States have National Human Rights Institutions that include sexual orientation in the scope of their work – appeal to such bodies can be preliminary steps to law and policy change.
By analysing laws and their impact on people according to their sexual orientation and gender identity and gauging attitudes towards LGBTI communities throughout the world, ILGA raises awareness on both advances and setbacks in the fight for equality.
“In the last twelve months only, we released as well as eight new publications, forming an important and reliable corpus of information in the hands of individual activists, NGOs and allies,” claim Ruth Baldacchino and Helen Kennedy, co-Secretaries General at ILGA. “Knowledge is itself power: it is the power to challenge norms and practices that continue to oppress LGBTIQ people and communities. It is the power of information, and the courage to use it that will indeed make this world a better place for everyone.”
Key figures (as per May 2017)
- There are 124 States (122 UN member States as well as Taiwan and Kosovo) where same-sex sexual acts between consenting adults are legal.
- 108 countries have a law on equal age of consent, 16 are unequal.
- 72 States still criminalise same-sex sexual acts between consenting adults: in 45 of these States the law is applied to women as well. ILGA knows of recent arrests under these laws in 45 States.
- The death penalty for same-sex sexual acts may be applied in 8 UN member States.
In 4 of them (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan) it is applied State-wide; in 2 (Somalia, Nigeria) it is implemented only in specific provinces; in other 2 countries (Iraq, Daesh-held territories in northern Iraq and northern Syria) it is implemented by local courts, vigilantes or non-State actors.
- There are another 5 States (Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Mauritania) where interpretation of Shari’a, or where black letter law, permits the death penalty technically, but where it is not invoked to our knowledge.
- 22 States have ‘promotion’ or ‘morality’ laws targeting public expression of same-sex and trans realities.
- 25 States pose barriers to the formation, establishment or registration of sexual orientation-related NGOs.
- 72 UN States have laws protecting from discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation.
- 9 States contain Constitutional provisions that specify sexual orientation in their discrimination protections.
- 43 States enacted legislation combating hate crime; 39 countries have laws addressing incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.
- There are currently 23 States in the world that recognise same-sex marriage, while 28 countries provide for some civil partnership recognition.
- 26 States have joint adoption laws: Austria, Finland and parts of Australia were the latest to pass such laws in the last 12 months, while 27 UN States allow for same-sex second parent adoption.