Where are the most dangerous places in the world to be LGBT?
As you read this, there are still 71 countries or territories across the world that criminalise homosexuality.
The death penalty for same sex relations is at least a legal possibility in 11 countries, at least six of which implement it, says the Human Dignity Trust.
Meanwhile 15 jurisdictions still persecute trans people for expressing their gender identity, usually under ‘cross-dressing’, ‘impersonation’ and ‘disguise’ laws.
These are all bleak figures that show that much more work is needed to protect the rights of people around the world who simply want to be their true selves.
But LGBTQ+ people being criminalised is only part of the picture – as in many more countries they risk sexual violence, assault, and torture from hostile members of the public.
Some countries ‘refuse or are unable to protect those who suffer or are at risk of violence’ from gangs, their communities or even their own families, said UN refugee agency chief Filippo Grandi.
‘Confronted with this reality, many LGBTIQ+ people have no choice but to flee’, the UN agency chief said.
‘Yet, even as they try to find safety, they often continue to face risks, including violence or sexual abuse. Discrimination is often the one thing LGBTIQ+ refugees cannot leave behind.
‘In many cases it follows them across borders as they continue to face barriers to finding a safe place to live, a job, or even seeing a doctor.’
Despite these supportive words, the UN refugee agency has itself been accused of failing to protect LGBT+ refugees from mob violence and police harassment in the Kakuma camp in Kenya.
Creating a definitive ranking of the most dangerous places for LGBTQ+ people would be practically impossible, as countries with the worst records often collect little data on hate crimes.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of countries as there are far too many, but here is a snapshot of the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ people around the world.
Even before the Taliban took back control last year, life in Afghanistan was never easy for LGBTQ+ people.
They faced harassment and violence from both citizens and the police, and risked so-called honour killing, being denied healthcare services or being fired from their jobs.
Organisations that protect LGBTQ+ people couldn’t register with the government and had to work underground, says a report published by the US Department of State in 2020.
That same year, transgender activist and artist Saboor Hussaini died at a hospital in Herat in December after being beaten by an unidentified group of men. Even still, the outlook in Afghanistan has dramatically worsened since the Taliban took over.
In January, a report by Human Rights Watch and OutRight Action International documented a sharp rise of LGBTQ+ people being targeted with murder, mob attacks and gang rape.
One interviewee said he was beaten up as he tried to collect a paycheck from his office. He was then loaded into the back of a car and taken to another location where he was gang raped for eight hours.
When he was released, they told him: ‘From now on anytime we want to be able to find you, we will. And we will do whatever we want with you.’
Now many LGBTQ+ people in Afghanistan have either gone into hiding or are desperately trying to flee the country. Many cannot even trust their own families or their neighbours not to turn them in to the Taliban.
Same-sex sexual activity is prohibited under the Afghanistan’s 2017 Penal Code, which criminalises acts of ‘sodomy’, ‘inciting sodomy’, and other forms of intimacy.
There is a maximum penalty of two years, however the code also allows for the implementation of Sharia law, under which same-sex sexual activity is punishable by death.
Lawmakers in Nigeria are currently trying to pass legislation that would see people who dress outside expected gender norms be jailed for up to six months.
Protesters have bravely taken to the streets to rally against the proposals, despite already being at risk of violence and discrimination over their identities.
Just weeks after the proposed ban, reports emerged of a cross-dresser being beaten up by ‘area boys’ (low level street gangs) at a Lagos motor park.
While some on social media decried the beating a ‘inhumane’, others claimed it was a ‘well deserved’ punishment for trying to ‘recreate’ himself.
Nigeria criminalises acts of ‘carnal knowledge against the order of nature’ and ‘gross indecency’ – both laws inherited from Britain’s colonial rule which were retained after independence.
Same-sex unions and LGBTQ+ advocacy are also banned. Members of the community face up to 14 years in prison under national legislation.
But in Nigeria’s northern states, they could be punished under Sharia law, which carries the maximum sentence of stoning. Trans people could also be prosecuted under this system.
Beyond the law, which is regularly enforced, there are frequent reports of LGBTQ+ people facing assault, mob violence, harassment, extortion and the denial of basic services.
While it isn’t illegal to be gay or transgender in Russia, that doesn’t mean members of the community don’t face any dangers.
Just weeks ago, judges shut down the country’s largest LGBTQ+ organisation, claiming it has ‘carried out political activities using foreign property’.
The court accused the Charitable Sphere Foundation of damaging ‘traditional values’. Russian activists took this as a sign that the crackdown was all about homophobic ideology and nothing to do with the law.
Homophobia is nothing new in Russia, with people facing discrimination, threats, abuse and violence for a long time – often from members of their own families.
But since a ‘gay propaganda’ law banning the ‘promotion of nontraditional sexual relations to minors’ was passed in 2013, this social hostility is rising, says Human Rights Watch.
The law has been used to shut down websites providing valuable information and services to teenagers and ban LGBTQ+ support groups for young people.
It has also been used to sack LGBTQ+ teachers and criminalise any public advocacy of LGBTQ+ rights on the grounds that young persons under 18 might witness it and be influenced.
The law has also interfered with mental health professionals’ ability to offer honest and factual advice.
Moscow taking a position that LGBTQ+ people are somehow a threat to the country has only added to a climate of horrific vigilante violence inflicted in the name of ‘protecting’ children.
In 2019, a homophobic group named Pila said it was behind the fatal stabbing of Yelena Grigoryeva, 41, who’d previously recently received death threats.
She was stabbed eight times in the face and back near her home in St Petersburg. Police only decided to investigate the possibility of a hate crime after pressure by activists.
Pila had circulated a ‘Saw list’ – named after the series of American horror films – containing names of LGBTQ+ campaigners, supporters and even journalists, who readers were encouraged to hunt down.
Russia is ranked by the ILGA-Europe advocacy group as being among the worst places in Europe to live for LGBTQ+ people.
Same-sex sexual activity is criminalised in Uganda under the same laws left behind from its days as a British colony, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Mass arrests are often carried out, leading to arbitrary detention in unsafe conditions and forced anal ‘examinations’.
Even though successful prosecutions are rare, that hasn’t stopped police storming into group meetings under the guise of indecency laws.
In recent years there have been consistent reports of LGBTQ+ people being subjected to assault, murder, harassment and extortion, with little or no police action.
This climate has also been fuelled by the government’s staunchly homophobic rhetoric.
‘Homosexuality is not natural to Ugandans, but there has been a massive recruitment by gay people in schools, and especially among the youth, where they are promoting the falsehood that people are born like that,’ ethics and integrity minister Simon Lokodo in October 2019.
‘We want it made clear that anyone who is even involved in promotion and recruitment has to be criminalised. Those that do grave acts will be given the death sentence.’
Days later, the government rowed back on claims it wanted to introduce legislation known colloquially as a ‘Kill the Gays’ bill which would impose the death penalty for some offences.
But even still, many in the community are at risk of death just for being themselves, including LGBTQ+ activist Wasswa John, who was brutally murdered in October 2019.
He was beaten to death in his home with hoes and machetes and spent two days in hospital before dying of his injuries.
None of his biological family were thought to have visited him, as activists claimed they had disowned him for being gay.
While anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination is illegal in Honduras, it can still be a very dangerous place for members of the community.
On February 2, Jonathan Gabriel Martínez was shot dead in his San Pedro liquor store along with his partner César Gustavo Zúñiga. The killers were dressed as police officers, according to local reports.
In another murder that same day 18-year-old María Fernanda Martínez, was shot dead in the city of Comayagua.
She was reportedly hit with a rock at the door of her home and shot more than 10 times. According to Reportar sin Miedo, she had hopes of seeking refuge in the US, and had joined a migrant caravan.
At least 405 LGBTQ+ people have been murdered in Honduras since 2009, according to lesbian human rights group Cattrachas.
In January trans rights activists Thalía Rodríguez was shot dead outside her home in the central American country.
The 45-year-old leader of the trans rights group Asociación Cozumel Trans was shot in the head by attackers.
‘Murders of LGBTQ+ people are not investigated by the authorities and as a consequence, most of the cases go completely unpunished,’ Cattrachas said at the time.
‘Honduras is a hostile and dangerous country for LGBTQ+ people and the government has not done enough to face this reality.’
By some counts, the country has one of the world’s highest rates of murders of transgender people.
But its government may be starting to wake up to the scale of the problem, after President Xiomara Castro acknowledged last month the state’s role in the death of Vicky Hernandez.
The sex worker and trans activist was killed in San Pedro Sula in June 2009 during a military coup. In 2012, LGBTQ+ rights organisation Cattrachas Lesbian Network filed a petition to hold the state responsible for her murder.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights found Honduras took on the case and in March 2021 found the Honduras government responsible for the killing.
Only men are criminalised under a ban on same-sex sexual activity in Ghana, but all LGBTQ+ people face many dangers there.
In March last year, a group of eight MPs introduced a private member’s bill aimed at criminalising the ‘promotion of LGBT+ rights’ – essentially banning any advocacy.
The ‘Family Values Bill’ received its first reading in August and increases the maximum available penalty to 10 years in prison.
It also would mean that merely discussing LGBTQ+ issues in public or identifying as a member of the community would be enough to land you in jail.
The bill has been widely condemned by the international community but has received plenty of support from within Ghana, including from its Catholic Church.
Human Rights Watch said the bill represents a ‘witch-hunt against LGBT people’ and takes all of the bad parts from similar legislation in Russia, Nigeria, Uganda, and Hungary and adds some of its own.
As of March 2022, the Bill was still under review in Parliament, but authorities have already been cracking down on activists.
Security forces raided and shut down the office of an LGBTQ+ group in the capital, Accra, after politicians and religious leaders called for its closure in February 2021.
A few months later, 21 people were arrested for ‘advocating LGBTQ activities’ after attending a conference in the southeastern city of Ho.
All of this only adds to the hostile environment LGBTQ+ people in Ghana are forced to live in.
Members of the community are regularly subject to harassment, physical violence and extortion, and it is often either carried out or endorsed by police or other authorities.
LGBTQ+ people are regularly subject to blackmail attempts, which sees perpatrators threatening to expose gay and bisexual men as criminals under Ghanaian law.
LGBTQ+ people face up to five years in prison in Cameroon, where homosexuality is illegal for both men and women.
Mass arrests are common and people often face violence and torture after being taken into custody. In April last year, Human Rights Watch reported an uptick in police action against LGBTQ+ people.
In the space of around three months, at least 24 people had been arbitrarily arrested, beaten or threatened by security forces for gender non-conformity or alleged same-sex conduct.
At least one of those people, a transgender woman, was subjected to an HIV test and forced anal examination.
During this wave of arrests, police raided HIV organisation, Colibri, which saw 13 people detained and later released.
In May 2021, two transgender women, YouTuber Shakiro and her friend Patricia, were sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.
They were arrested while dining a restaurant and after they were released from prison pending an appeal against their conviction, they were subjected to a violent mob attack.
The maximum penalty for same-sex sexual activity in Iran is death.
And this punishment is enforced, with the Islamic Republic hanging two gay men ‘for the crime of sodomy’ and other charges in January.
Mehrdad Karimpou and Farid Mohammadi had spent six years on death row, after an unfair trial, before they were killed.
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell told the Jerusalem Post at the time that the execution ‘follows a long-standing regime policy’ of ‘state-sanctioned murder of gay men’.
According to Iran Human Rights, defendants accused of ‘sodomy by force’ are ‘usually tortured during detention to obtain a confession’.
The NGO adds that sometimes the cases are ‘processed hastily without the presence of a lawyer or defence counsel’. In July last year, two other men were executed for the same offences.
While same-sex acts have historically been criminalised in Iran and its predecessor states, there is evidence that they were largely tolerated before the 1979 revolution.
Now it is one of the most repressive places in the world for LGBTQ+ people, even if they manage to stay clear of the law.
In May 2021, Ali Fazeli Monfared, known on social media as Alireza, was reportedly kidnapped and murdered by male relatives who’d discovered his sexuality.
His partner Aghil Abyat told CNN that he’d had dreams of escaping the repression of his country and modelling or becoming a make-up artist overseas.
Police wouldn’t comment on his death at the time, but his body was reportedly found dumped by a palm tree.
That was a day after his mum was told her son was dead and instructed where to find his remains.
Alireza had planned to fly to Turkey to join Aghil after receiving his military exemption in the hope of seeking asylum in Europe.
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