May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT). Created in 2004 to raise awareness about the violence and discrimination experienced by LGBTI people internationally, it has become a worldwide celebration of sexual and gender diversities. The date of May 17 was chosen specifically to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision in 1990 to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.
This year, IDAHOT’s theme focuses on families. This focus includes both the role of families in the well-being of their LGBTI members, as well as respect for the rights of LGBTI families (rainbow families). Given the proximity in dates and values of the International Family Equality Day (IFED) in early May, this year IFED and IDAHOT were combined for joint recognition and celebration.
In honor of IDAHOT 2017, we put together a list of nine basic things that everyone needs to know about international LGBTI rights.
Internationally, the acronyms LGBT and LGBTI
(standing for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and
intersex”) are the most commonly used terms.
While many understand the meaning of the terms lesbian, gay and bisexual, some may be unfamiliar with the other terms. As defined by the United Nations’ Free & Equal Campaign, transgender (sometimes shortened to “trans”) is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of identities — including transsexual people, cross-dressers, people who identify as third gender, and others whose appearance and characteristics are perceived as gender atypical. Some transgender people seek surgery or take hormones to bring their body into alignment with their gender identity; others do not. An intersex person is born with sexual anatomy, reproductive organs, and/or chromosome patterns that do not fit the typical definition of male or female. An intersex person may identify as male or female or as neither. Intersex status is not about sexual orientation or gender identity: intersex people experience the same range of sexual orientations and gender identities (SOGI) as non-intersex people.
It is worth noting that other terms are also used when talking about LGBTI rights. In many countries, the term MSM (“men who have sex with men”) is also used, particularly in the public health context of the fight against HIV/AIDS. MSM is also used in recognition of the fact that some men engaged in same-sex relations may not identify as gay or bisexual. Different cultures also have their own terms to describe people who form same-sex relationships and those who exhibit non-binary gender identities (such as hijra, meti, lala, skesana, motsoalle, mithli, kuchu, kawein, muxé, fa’afafine, fakaleiti, hamjensgara and Two-Spirit).
SOGI stands for “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.”
As the UN states, sexual orientation refers to a person’s physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction towards other people. Sexual orientation is not related to gender identity. Gender identity reflects a deeply felt and experienced sense of one’s own gender. For transgender people, there is an inconsistency between their sense of their own gender and the sex they were assigned at birth.
Private, consensual same-sex conduct
is a crime in at least 76 countries.
Because of these discriminatory laws, millions of LGBTI persons around the world face the risk of arrest, prosecution and imprisonment every day. And in as many as 10 countries, same-sex acts can be punished with the death penalty.
Laws that criminalize private, consensual sexual relationships between adults violate the rights to privacy and to freedom from discrimination under international law. In addition to violating these basic rights, criminalization legitimizes prejudice in society at large and exposes people to hate crimes, police abuse, torture and family violence. The Advocates’ partner organization LGBT Voice Tanzania has reported that because Tanzania criminalizes homosexual conduct, police officers harass, abuse, and demean LGBTI people with impunity, and often disregard complaints brought by LGBTI persons about harassment from others. Police routinely use violence and coercion against the LGBTI community, including torture, blackmail, corrective rape, detention without charge, and arbitrary charges. Many are forced to bribe officers to get out of jail for these arbitrary charges.
Further, criminalization hampers efforts to halt the spread of HIV by deterring LGBT people from coming forward for testing and treatment for fear of revealing criminal activity.
LGBTI people and rights are not a Western export.
LGBTI people exist everywhere — in all countries, among all ethnic groups, at all socioeconomic levels, and in all communities. Further, global archeological and anthropological evidence — from prehistoric rock paintings in South Africa and Egypt to ancient Indian medical texts and early Ottoman literature — show that LGBTI people have always been a part of our communities. In fact in many parts of the world, it was Western colonial powers that imposed the criminal laws that punish same-sex conduct.
Click on the interactive map below that shows how colonization spread homophobic legislation to many parts of the world.
Some countries are passing “gay propaganda” laws
and other discriminatory laws that limit the rights
to free speech, freedom of association, and assembly.
In 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law Federal Law 135, banning propaganda to minors about “non-traditional sexual relations.” Article 3(2)(b) of Federal Law 135 imposes administrative fines and, in the case of non-citizens, deportation, for:
Propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors, including
distribution of information that intends minors to adopt non-traditional
sexual orientations, that makes non-traditional sexual relations attractive,
that presents distorted conceptions of the social equivalence of traditional
and non-traditional sexual relations, or that imposes information about non-traditional sexual relations that evokes interest in these relations.
The vague language describing the prohibited conduct and the steep fines that escalate for individuals who distribute their “propaganda” on the internet are designed to chill speech and stifle any efforts to provide support to LGBTI youth in Russia.
Nearly identical proposals have been introduced throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia, with proposals currently are under discussion in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Lithuania and Indonesia.
LGBTI persons around the world
experience widespread violence.
While official data on international homophobic and transphobic violence is difficult to obtain, the information that is available shows a clear pattern of widespread, brutal violence, often committed with impunity. Human rights violations experienced by LGBTI persons can include violent attacks, ranging from aggressive verbal abuse and psychological bullying to physical assault, beatings, torture, kidnapping and targeted killings. Sexual abuse and violence is also common, sometimes at the hands of the police. While violence can be perpetrated by individuals or groups and takes place in both public and private spaces, a common characteristic of many anti-LGBT hate crimes is their brutality. The torture and murder of Cameroonian activist Eric Ohena Lembembe in July 2013 is just one example, but one that hits close to home for The Advocates for Human Rights. Shortly before he was murdered, we partnered with Eric and his organization CAMFAIDS to write a report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people in Cameroon.
LGBTI persons around the world experience
discriminatory treatment every day, in workplaces,
schools, family homes, and health care settings.
In Tanzania, for example, LGBTI youth are expelled from school simply because of actual or suspected sexual orientation or gender identity. Most of these youth are also rejected by their families and are left to fend for themselves. Anti-LGBTI discrimination in the health sector includes denial of service, verbal harassment and abuse, and violations of confidentiality, all justified by the criminalization of same-sex conduct. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported in 2015 that national laws in most countries do not provide adequate protection from employment-related discrimination on grounds of SOGI, allowing employers to fire or refuse to hire or promote people simply because they are perceived as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Discrimination has a tremendous personal cost for those who experience it. Rates of poverty, homelessness, depression and suicide are far higher among LGBT people than in the general population. But the UN Free and Equal Campaign argues that we all pay a price: a study of 39 countries showed that the marginalization of the LGBT community was causing a substantial loss of potential economic output. “Every LGBT child thrown out of home and forced to miss out on education is a loss for society. Every LGBT worker denied their rights is a lost opportunity to build a fairer and more productive economy.”
International law protects LGBTI rights.
The right to equality and non-discrimination are core human rights principles included in the United Nations Charter, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and all multilateral human rights treaties. The equality and non-discrimination guarantee provided by international human rights law applies to ALL people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity or “other status.”
According to the United Nations, governments have core legal obligations to protect the human rights of LGBT people, including obligations to:
Protect individuals from homophobic and transphobic violence and prevent torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Countries should enact hate crime laws that discourage violence against individuals based on sexual orientation, and set up effective systems for reporting hate motivated acts of violence, including effectively investigating, and prosecuting perpetrators, bringing those responsible to justice. They should provide training to law enforcement officers and monitor places of detention, and provide a system for victims to seek remedies. Additionally, asylum laws and policies should recognize that persecution based on sexual orientation may be a valid basis for an asylum claim.
Repeal laws criminalizing homosexuality including all legislation that criminalizes private sexual conduct between consenting adults. Ensure that individuals are not arrested or detained on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity and are not subjected to any degrading physical examinations intended to determine their sexual orientation.
Prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Enact legislation that prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Provide education and training to prevent discrimination and stigmatization of LGBT and intersex people.
Safeguard freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly for all LGBT people and ensure that any restrictions on these rights – even where such restrictions purport to serve a legitimate purpose and are reasonable and proportionate in scope – are not discriminatory on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Promote a culture of equality and diversity that encompasses respect for the rights of LGBT people.
You can take action to support LGBTI rights in
your community and around the world.
May 17 is the single most important annual date for global LGBTI mobilization and awareness raising. Research has shown that 17% of all annual discussions on Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia are generated around the IDAHOT. Those discussions are happening in almost every country in the world. Please share this article and others that raise awareness about LGBTI rights on social media.
Learn more about The Advocates for Human Rights’ work on LGBTI rights here. Read Staff attorney Amy Bergquist’s article about our strategies in “Moving Forward: Four Steps and Six Strategies For Promoting LGBTI Rights Around the World.”
By: Jennifer Prestholdt, The Advocates for Human Rights’ deputy director, and director of its International Justice Program.
Learn more about #IDAHOT and ways to take action here.
We all need to keep keeping fighting for the rights of LGBTI persons, wherever they are in the world! In 2016, the UN Free & Equal Campaign released this inspiring video “Why We Fight” of courageous LGBTI activists and allies around the world and the rights that they are fighting for.
More posts by The Advocates for Human Rights on international LGBTI rights: