No 5 Homosexuality Still Criminal in 77 Countries

The past four posts have looked at one issue (marriage equality, both domestically and around the world) and gay rights in two specific countries, Russia and India.

The subject matter of each of these four posts has received significant media coverage – for some pretty obvious reasons. Same-sex couples seeking the right to marry provide both a ‘human interest’ story, and usually some compelling images to accompany it. Putin’s crackdown on LGBTI Russians has inevitably received widespread attention, particularly in the lead-up to the Winter Olympics. And it is pretty hard to ignore the re-criminalisation of homosexuality in a country with more than 1.2 billion people.

But, comparatively, it has been much easier for the media to ignore the ongoing criminalisation of homosexuality in 77 countries across the world (including India after the recent Supreme Court decision, but excluding Russia where, despite the anti-propaganda law homosexuality itself remains legal).

To put that figure into perspective, that is five times the number of countries that have full marriage equality (or more than four times the number of countries including those where some parts have adopted marriage equality, like the United States). So, while some parts of Europe and North and South America (together with South Africa and New Zealand), push forwards towards full equality, more than a third of countries around the world still treat homosexuality as a criminal offence.

This includes 38 countries in Africa, while 41 countries come from the Commonwealth (which is pretty extraordinary when you consider there are only 53 member states in total).

Tragically, the are five countries – Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen – where homosexuality attracts the death penalty, while capital punishment also applies in parts of Nigeria and Somalia.

Which is a scandalous state of affairs, and something that the media – including but not limited to the LGBTI media – should report, and reflect, more on.

There have been some encouraging recent signs – in terms of coverage, if not subject matter. Over the past week, moves to increase criminal penalties in Uganda and Nigeria have attracted attention globally. The murder of Eric Ohena Lembembe in Cameroon mid-year was also covered, as have, periodically, anti-gay developments in Zimbabwe, Iran and elsewhere.

What has also been encouraging during 2013 has been the debate, within the Australian LGBTI community, about the need for advocacy for global LGBTI rights. Sparked in part by the situation in Russia, there has finally been a discussion about the relative priority we give something like marriage equality, compared to decriminalisation around the globe.

After all, while we are fighting for the right to walk down the aisle, our LGBTI comrades elsewhere are fighting simply for the right to exist. I’m not suggesting that we have those priorities right – in fact far from it. But I get the feeling that we are closer to achieving a better balance at the end of 2013 than at the beginning.

Some of the organisations that have helped to promote the global push for decriminalisation include the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA: http://ilga.org), AllOut (https://www.allout.org), the Kaleidoscope Trust (http://kaleidoscopetrust.com), and of course Amnesty International (a link to the NSW LGBTQI Network here: http://www.amnesty.org.au/nsw/group/12065/). I would encourage you to support any or all of them.

One final point I would like to make is that there are things that the Australian Government can and should be doing with respect to this issue, not just raising it (diplomatically, in all senses of the word) through international forums and bilaterally, but also by providing aid to global campaigns for sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status equality.

One special burden which falls upon Australia is its own responsibility for the criminal laws which still exist in our former ‘colony’, Papua New Guinea, which were in place before Independence in September 1975. Because of that fact, it is imperative that the Australian Government – and the Australian LGBTI population generally – helps to encourage moves in our closest neighbour to decriminalise homosexuality. Hopefully that day, not just in PNG but right across the South Pacific, is not too far away.

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