Last week, David Webb stated in his column about the recent gay cruise ship arrests in Dominica that, “homosexuality is still illegal in 76 countries and punishable by death in five of them.”
In fact, the latter figure is disputed, as some human rights groups list seven, and the International Gay & Lesbian Association (IGLA) wonders about another. But the point remains: While LGBT equality is steadily advancing in the U.S., being gay is in many nations an invitation to punishment or death.
The reasons and excuses? Religion or culture or some combination of the two.
Just days ago, for example, a reporter asked Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf about gay rights. Her answer: Decriminalizing homosexuality would be counter to cultural tradition.
Why would a 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner disparage one group? Because she is under enormous pressure to disregard our human rights. On Monday, April 9, The Informer newspaper in the nation’s capital, Monrovia, slammed her administration for opposing the Movement Against Gays in Liberia (MOGAL), which vows to hunt down, flog and kill LGBTs. The paper demanded that Sirleaf uphold African values and her “African womanhood.”
What brought on this furor is bleakly amusing. The Obama administration recently announced it would cut off U.S. aid to countries that fail to recognize gay rights. “Liberians would rather choose to die with (sic) starvation or [be] obliterated from the face of the Earth than to accept gay rights,” according to The Informer.
Fine by me.
In Uganda, American evangelicals led a 2009 conference entitled “Exposing the Truth about Homosexuality and the Homosexual Agenda.” In 2009 and 2010, MP David Bahati fought for legislation making homosexuality punishable by death. In 2011, gay activist David Kato was bludgeoned to death.
Two African nations already punish homosexuality with death: Sudan and Mauritania. Swaziland practices the death penalty by default. It has the world’s highest rate of HIV infections, a tradition of extramarital sex, and a refusal to admit either homosexuality or HIV-positive status.
Even in South Africa, despite more legal tolerance, gays experience violence. Lesbians, bisexuals, and presumably trans women are in danger of “reparative rape.” It is illegal, and of course ineffective, but human rights groups report 10 cases per week in Cape Town alone.
Moving to the Middle East, you may have read my column on Turkey awhile ago. Although proud to proclaim its secular government, Turkey marginalizes and punishes its LGBT citizens.
And you know Muslim nations treat us harshly. Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen punish gays and lesbians with death. The IGLA asserts that the United Arab Emirates may do so as well.
Still farther east, Afghanistan and Pakistan both execute LGBTs. The other ’Stans may not, but they are far from gay friendly. Human Rights Watch recently reported that Kyrgyzstan’s males are raping lesbians to “cure” them. No word yet on whether self-proclaimed straight men also rape gay men to change their sexual orientation and trans persons to change their gender identity and/or gender expression.
To the south, the picture is mixed. LGBTs seldom flaunt their sexuality, but India has some activists, and China recently allowed at least one gay Pride parade. Sexually, Japan and both Koreas keep low international profiles. Cambodia and Laos are conservative; Vietnam is less so. Tibet and Bhutan? I found no word on either.
Then there is Thailand. If you cannot afford to go, as I cannot, do yourself the huge favor of reading John Burdett’s mysteries. They feature the nation as a whole, the city of Bangkok in particular, and some Royal Thai police detectives with very interesting backgrounds and even more interesting relationships.
Meanwhile, still in the Southern Hemisphere but across the Pacific, the international gay rights group AllOut recently reported that, in Ecuadorean clinics, lesbians were subjected to “reparative rape,” otherwise tortured, and locked away. Once details of the rape rehab clinics went viral, Quito’s mayor expressed disapproval, and President Rafael Correa ordered the clinics closed.
In Chile a few days ago, the House of Deputies approved a nondiscrimination law urged by President Sebastian Pinera. Although welcome, it came a month too late for Daniel Zamudio, a gay 24-year-old who was brutally murdered in a Santiago park.
Meanwhile, most South American and many Caribbean nations sanction or punish not just women accused of loving other women, but all LGBTs.
In Central America, Honduras made the UN’s 2011 list of nations where the human rights of LGBTs are violated with appalling brutality and regularity. In the last two years, Tegucigalpa has admitted to 62 LGBT murders. A special anti-crime unit was set up in late 2011, but results so far are negligible.
More soon about what is happening in some more welcoming nations.
And so much is happening in Russia and the Baltic States that the former Soviet Union will get a column all its own.
Phyllis Guest is a longtime activist on political and LGBT issues and is a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 20, 2012.