By Suzanne Marks, RPCV Togo, LGBT RCPV Steering Committee
According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) as of December 2014, homosexuality is known to be criminalized in 76 countries, including punishment by death in 10 countries (Brunei, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, UAE, Yemen) and in 3 countries so-called “LGBT anti-propaganda” laws restrict freedom of assembly (Nigeria, Lithuania, Russia). See map of the countries. While many of these laws were instituted during European colonial times and subsequently rarely enforced, there has been a recent resurgence in new legislation (Liberia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe), harassment, discrimination, and violence against LGBT persons or against persons perceived to be LGBT. HRC published a report in July 2014 that lists concerns in Africa: The State of Human Rights for LGBT People in Africa, July 2014. HRC also reports regularly on recent international news relevant to the LGBT community. Another resource, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), advocates for the rights of LGBT persons, and provides country-level updates. . For a full listing of human rights practices by country, visit the U.S. Department of State human rights website.
Recent anti-gay legislation in many countries has been promoted by American religious extremists, who have been spreading inaccurate information about sexual and gender minorities and about HIV transmission on five continents, especially in Africa and Eastern Europe. HRC published a report called Exposed: Export of Hate that documents the activities of Scott Lively, Lou Engle, and others who have been instigating these changes. Inaccurate information that the religious extremists have promoted includes: 1) “LGBT persons recruit youth into homosexuality” and “No one is born gay.” In fact, there is substantial evidence that most same-sex attraction and gender identity are innate; 2) “Conversion therapy” can work to make persons heterosexual. All credible health organizations reject the practice of “conversion therapy,” which is ineffective and in many cases harmful; 3) “Gay men molest youth more than heterosexuals.” There is no evidence that LGBT persons engage in pedophilia more so than heterosexuals; and 4) “Same-sex parents harm children.” All credible scientific studies find that children raised by same-sex parents are as well-adjusted as those raised by heterosexual parents. The Southern Poverty Law Center exposes hate groups and provides materials for fighting homophobia to counter the misinformation. A key resource includes Top 10 Anti-Gay Myths Debunked.
Some consequences of human rights abuses against sexual and gender minorities and their de-humanization have included: 1) lack of privacy due to published lists, pictures, and addresses of known or suspected LGBT persons; 2) isolation due to laws requiring the reporting of any known/suspected homosexual; 3) police harassment/brutality/abuse including home invasions and raids, 4) forced disrobement and invasive physical examinations, 5) eviction from homes, 6) “corrective” rape of LGBT females, 7) being targeted by mob justice (stoning; bombings, murders), 8) loss of children, 9) accusations of transmitting HIV, and 10) suicide. In Nigeria, where a law (1/7/2014) criminalized freedom of assembly of and association with LGBT persons, there is a report that HIV treatment has declined substantially, as people fear (because of the perception of being gay) going to clinics to receive their medication. (Mother Jones 3/2014). Moreover, HIV prevention and outreach efforts have become stymied. Also see The Economist 2014.
God Loves Uganda Documentary Film
Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) has sued Scott Lively for violating international law by intentionally contributing to the persecution of Ugandan LGBT and seeking to deprive them of their basic human rights. As of January 2015, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals refused Lively’s request for case dismissal based on the First Amendment to the US Constitution, so the case will soon be heard in court. (Slate 2014)
There are a few films that poignantly portray the issues: “God Loves Uganda”highlights motivations for the actions of some religious groups. “Call Me Kuchu” is a film, mostly from the perspective of LGBT Ugandans, showing the impact of LGBT persecution and story of David Kato’s efforts to bring international support for LGBT rights in Uganda.
“I understand that sexual orientation and gender identity raise sensitive cultural issues. But cultural practices cannot justify any violation of human rights. . . . When our fellow humans are persecuted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, we must speak out. . . . States bear the primary responsibility to protect human rights advocates. I call on all States to ensure the freedom of expression and the freedom of assembly that make their work possible. When the lives of human rights advocates are endangered, we are all less secure. When the voices of human rights advocates are silenced, justice itself is drowned out.” – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
While the situation for sexual and gender minorities has become worse in many countries, the situation, especially regarding marriage equality, has improved in some countries. As of December 2014, 18 countries permit same-sex marriage according to Freedomtomarry.org. Ireland, Chile, and Taiwan are scheduled to vote soon on marriage equality.
For sexual and gender minorities living, working in, or visiting countries where homosexuality is criminalized, it is important to be aware of the current situation for LGBT persons in the country. While the decision to be openly LGBT is left to each individual. Many persons choose to be discreet or not open about their sexual orientation or gender identity with foreign-country nationals. However, being out to your Peace Corps and other U.S. governmental colleagues is encouraged so that you can obtain needed support in talking about your family and social life. Becoming involved in advocacy for LGBT rights is welcome after you return to the U.S., but doing so while overseas as a PCV would likely need to be approved prior to any activity and might be discouraged because of security reasons.