8-5-2011By C. Dixon Osburn
Director, Law and Security Program
The past year has been a study in contrasts for LGBT rights around the world. In the United States, the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in New York State spurred a flurry of “I Do’s” from over a thousand committed couples. On a federal level, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, which for the first time, allows gays to serve openly in the armed forces, points to renewed progress for LGBT rights at home.
However, these advances are underscored by instances of intolerance and homophobic legislation globally. In Uganda, prominent Ugandan gay activist, David Kato, was murdered this past January after a string of anti-LGBT events took place in that country. Last October, a Ugandan magazine published a list of prominent gay rights activists and their contact details, with a banner over the photos calling to “Hang Them.” A notable supporter of the witch hunts was David Bahati, the Ugandan parliamentarian who introduced the “Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009” in the Parliament. The more controversial provisions of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill would sentence HIV-positive gays to death for their sexual acts, make it illegal to publicly defend LGBT rights or provide social and medical services to LGBT individuals, and turn Ugandan citizens into anti-gay snitches.
We have reasons to celebrate and cringe as we march toward LGBT equality in 2011. According to the report “State-Sponsored Homophobia” published in May by the International Lesbian & Gay Association:
- 7 nations ban sexual orientation discrimination in their constitutions;
- 10 nations allow marriage equality, while another 21 allow some or nearly all of the benefits associated with marriage;
- 20 countries have passed hate crimes legislation based on sexual orientation, 6 have included gender identity;
- 54 countries have legislation banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, 19 have legislation protecting transgender citizens from employment discrimination;
- 113 nations have legalized same gender sexual conduct;
- And, according to the Palm Center, 25 nations allow gays to serve openly in the armed forces. The United States will become the 26th on September 20th, 2011.
Unfortunately, there are many nations that do not provide basic protections according to the International Lesbian & Gay Association, including:
- 76 nations which impose imprisonment or corporal punishment against LGBT persons. These nations are mostly concentrated in Africa, Middle East, South Pacific and a few countries in South Asia;
- 5 nations which impose the death penalty against LGBT persons: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen, Mauritania, and the Republic of Sudan. South Sudan may become a sixth nation as their first President has specifically said that democracy and civil liberties shall not extend to gays because they do not exist in South Sudan; 
- Additionally, the death penalty is invoked in parts of Somalia and Nigeria.
These statistics are best illustrated by a quick review of the 2011 news around the world:
July 6, 2011, Euro News reported that India’s Health Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, said homosexuality is unnatural and a disease in advance of an HIV/AIDS conference where he was supposed to describe what the Indian government was doing to prevent the spread of the virus.
May 28, 2011, more than 30 people were arrested in central Moscow during the sixth attempt by gay rights groups to hold a pride parade in the city.
May 17, 2011, The Kenya Human Rights Commission launched the report dubbed “The Outlawed amongst Us — a study of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Community in Kenya.” According to The Daily Nation, a leading English newspaper in Kenya, the report accused the police of sexually assaulting gay men while in their custody, blaming religious leaders and politicians for instigating violence against them by fuelling homophobia.
These reports undermine the hard fight ahead to ensure that universal human rights are just and adhered to globally. The reports also illustrate how LGBT rights surface in movements for democracy and responses to natural disaster. They show that basic freedoms of association and expression are denied to LGBT people around the world and that they can be thrown in prison or executed for love, and demonstrate the intersection of race, gender, gender identity, sexual harassment and violence, and homophobia.
These reports also provide rays of hope. The United Nations, international agencies and leaders from around the world are beginning to embrace LGBT equality, and the laws and mechanisms that need to be in place to assure that we all reach our potential and are respected for our dignity. It is inspiring to see brave men and women on all continents speak up for equality and challenging authority even in the face of grave danger.
Nelson Mandela once said, “I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.” We in the human rights community have a special obligation to stop that theft.