By Viet Tran
Sixty years ago, a series of political movements convulsed the world. These movements sought to bring equality under the law for misrepresented peoples. Most notably, the United States marked the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These landmark bills signaled the end to an era of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination. At the time, it appeared that animosity, civil disobedience and nonviolent protests would be a thing of the past. But fast-forward to the present and the world faces a new controversial civil rights topic: LGBT rights.
We currently live in a time of changing perceptions towards LGBT rights. Though only 17 of 50 states recognize it, our own president openly supports gay marriage. Elsewhere, the Catholic Church is now headed by a pope who has articulated his stance in a far less inflammatory manner than his predecessor. Pope Francis told reporters “if someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” While the pope does continue to criticize the “gay lobby,” his words reveal a possible silver lining on this contentious topic.
But in many other places in the world, discrimination still stands as the rule, not the exception. The recent publicity surrounding Russia’s anti-gay social and political atmosphere only scratches the surface of LGBT discrimination around the world. As President Obama remarked, “what’s happening in Russia is not unique.”
The following countries have some of the worst cases of LGBT abuse today:
This country plays host to some of the world’s most draconian anti-gay legislation. In a report by the Iranian High Council for Human Rights, the Iranian secretary-general made a statement to another foreign lawmaker that castigated homosexuality as a “sexual immorality and a disease.” Such views foster persecution of the gay community.
Under Iran’s harsh Islamic law, most acts of homosexuality are punishable by death. Until recently, the Iranian penal code also considered sodomy a capital offense for all those involved in consensual sexual intercourse. However, the supposed reforms to the penal code still impose a minimum punishment of 100 lashes while keeping open the possibility of a death sentence. The same punishments apply to lesbianism, creating a fearful environment for Iran’s homosexuals
In 2009, a Ugandan lawmaker introduced an anti-homosexuality bill that originally set a death penalty for homosexual acts. After drawing widespread condemnation from around the world, legislators altered the bill. The revised bill changed the maximum punishment from death to lifetime imprisonment while maintaining a 14-year jail sentence for first time offenders. Despite Western opposition, Uganda president Yoweri Museveni made a public announcement confirming his intention to sign the bill into law. Two days ago, the bill went into effect, signaling a massive step backwards for LGBT rights in the Uganda.
There is a certain degree of irony when the Supreme Court of the world’s largest democracy upholds one of harshest anti-gay laws. But that’s exactly what happened in India in 2009. The court deemed constitutional a colonial-era statute that prohibited “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.” The ruling drew widespread criticism, with the Human Rights Campaign denouncing the decision as a “disturbing step backward” for LGBT rights. Those criminalized for their homosexuality could face a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
Saudi Arabia is the largest Arab state in the Middle East and an invaluable ally of the United States. But under its harsh Sharia Law the punishment for homosexual acts is death by stoning. The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, a religious “task force,” polices private gatherings and arrests those exhibiting homosexual behavior.
Though many countries in the world we live in impose a hostile environment for the LGBT community, others have taken the initiative to improve LGBT rights. Here are a few notable examples:
In 2012, Argentina opened a new chapter in the struggle for transgender rights by passing one of the most progressive legislations yet,. President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner legalized the Gender Identity Law, allowing individuals who identify as transgender to legally change the gender on their birth certificates. This continued a trend of progressive legislation for Argentina—it became the 10th country in world to legalize same-sex marriage in 2010.
Despite this communist state’s spotty record on human rights, Vietnam has surpsingly become a pioneer for LGBT rights in Southeast Asia. A potential breakthrough in gay rights occurred when Vietnam held its first gay pride parade in 2012. This country demonstrated further progress when the country’s ministry of health publicly announced his recommendations on the legalization of same-sex marriages in 2013.
Trinidad and Tobago/Jamaica
The Caribbean region is another center of progress for LGBT rights. Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar recently wrote a letter to United Kingdom-based Kaleidoscope Trust, a LGBT rights group. In the letter, she committed herself towards ending anti-gay sentiment and discrimination via national policy. Elsewhere, Jamaica, a country where violence towards the LGBT community is common and condoned by the police, now has a prime minister who has declared support for gay rights.
One of the smaller countries in southeast Africa has shown that it can be a big player in championing LGBT rights. In 2012, Malawian President Joyce Banda publicly announced an initiative with parliament to repeal the country’s anti-gay legislation. If her campaign to overturn anti-gay legislation succeeds, Malawi will be just one of two African nations where homosexuality is not criminalized.
Everyday countless people around the world face violence and inequality because of an inherent quality. They are persecuted because of whom they love, how they dress or simply who they are. Whether we are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, all these identities are integral facets of our beings and should never be subjected to discrimination of any form. At the end of the day, we are all human after all.
Image by lighttripper