76 countries have laws criminalizing homosexuality. In at least five countries, the death penalty can be applied to those found to be gay. The legislative opposition to LGBT people in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere is not just political posturing, and the laws are more than just words on paper; both foster violence that is very real and very cruel. David Kato, a gay rights leader in Uganda, which prohibits homosexuality, was bludgeoned to death in his own home, after being outted as gay earlier this year.
Even in countries with laws protecting gays, LGBT citizens can face extreme violence. Zoliswa Nkonyana, a 19-year-old South African, was clubbed, stoned and ultimately beaten to death by over two dozen young men. She is one of 31 lesbians that have been murdered in South Africa since 1998 – and South Africa has some of the strongest protections for LGBT rights in the globe.
The rhetoric around the laws criminalizing the LGBT community often refers to homosexuality as something brought to developing nations by the West. Nigerian Senator Nkechi Nwogu said the country’s recently-passed 14-year jail term for same sex coupling passed unanimously because “the country, our culture, tradition and the religions are against it.” She continued: “Same sex marriage has a negative effect on the health of anyone that is involved in it…It is very unfortunate that the Western countries want to force their culture on us.”
Europeans and the West have had a tangible effect on homosexuality in Africa and Asia, but not exactly in the way detractors like Nwogu imply. Europeans were the architects of many of the original colonial laws criminalizing same-sex acts that are still on the books in Africa, the same laws currently used to discriminate against homosexuals. Uganda and Kenya’s current anti-LGBT laws, for example, are a legacy of British colonial rule. They are as “authentically” African as the white wigs and black robes the Kenyan judiciary continues to use.
A recently-launched campaign called the Human Dignity Trust (HDT) is a project of a British legal rights group, a collection of UK citizens seeking to undo the colonial heritage that initiated many of the anti-gay laws. The chief executive of the HDT remarked, “The laws that criminalize homosexuality in most of the Commonwealth countries are the legacy of British colonial rule… By the time the UK decriminalized, most of those states were independent.”
Only very recently have those in the LGBT community secured any legal rights anywhere. Decriminalization of homosexuality began in the 1800s, with the Netherlands and Indonesia in 1811, and continues to today. But the fight is far from over even in relatively liberal countries. In Texas, Republicans are still fighting the repeal of an anti-sodomy law that the Supreme Court ruled illegal.
In the last year the Obama administration has advocated for greater equality for LGBT people, and the US government has criticized nations that foster LGBT violence. On the anniversary of Human Rights Day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressly advocated for rights for LGBT people, calling them the “invisible minority.” She said:
“They are arrested, beaten, terrorized, even executed. Many are treated with contempt and violence by their fellow citizens while authorities empowered to protect them look the other way or, too often, even join in the abuse. They are denied opportunities to work and learn, driven from their homes and countries, and forced to suppress or deny who they are to protect themselves from harm. I am talking about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, human beings born free and given bestowed equality and dignity, who have a right to claim that, which is now one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time. …
Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct; but, in fact, they are one and the same. Now, of course, 60 years ago, the governments that drafted and passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were not thinking about how it applied to the LGBT community. They also weren’t thinking about how it applied to indigenous people or children or people with disabilities or other marginalized groups. Yet in the past 60 years, we have come to recognize that members of these groups are entitled to the full measure of dignity and rights, because, like all people, they share a common humanity.”
LGBT Rights by Country (Source: Wikipedia)