Civil Society

This is the state of LGBTI rights around the world in 2018

Participants' shadows are seen on a rainbow flag during a march in support of gay marriage, sexual and gender diversity in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, June 10 2018. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

Only 5% of Russians are in favour of same-sex marriage, according to a recent survey. Image: REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

Rosamond Hutt
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Transgender people will no longer be considered mentally ill after the World Health Organization reclassified 'gender incongruence.'

In a new catalogue, covering some 55,000 diseases, the condition is no longer listed under "mental, behavioural and neurodevelopmental disorders" but instead under "conditions related to sexual health".

The reclassification "will reduce stigma so that it may help better social acceptance for these individuals," according to the WHO.

It follows several significant moments for LGBTI rights so far this year.

On New Year’s Eve, rainbow fireworks cascaded from Sydney’s Harbour Bridge to celebrate the start of 2018 – the first year in which same-sex couples could marry in Australia.

Then recently, in a landmark ruling, the European Court of Justice granted same-sex spouses of EU citizens the same residency rights as heterosexual spouses under the bloc’s freedom-of-movement laws.

LGBTI rights have made significant progress over the past few years – but only in some parts of the world. In many places, LGBTI people still face widespread stigmatization and persecution, and in a surprising number of countries the penalty for same-sex relationships is prison or even death.

Where homosexuality is illegal

There are 73 countries – mostly in the Middle East, Africa and Asia – where homosexual activity between consenting adults is illegal, according to Equaldex, a collaborative LGBTI rights website.

Image: Equaldex

Some countries only criminalize sex between men but a growing number have recently expanded their laws to include bisexual and lesbian women.

And in some nations where homosexuality has been decriminalized, LGBTI people can still face violence, arbitrary arrest, imprisonment and torture, according to Amnesty International.

Where LGBT+ people risk the death penalty

There are currently eight countries in which homosexuality is punishable by death, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association’s (ILGA) latest State-Sponsored Homophobia report.

These are Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen; parts of Somalia and northern Nigeria, under sharia law. The death penalty is applied by non-state actors, including Islamic state, in Syria and Iraq.

In theory the death penalty could be handed down under sharia law in Mauritania, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, though it does not appear to have been implemented, the report says.

Where same-sex couples can marry

Australia officially became the 26th country to legalize same-sex marriage in December 2017. Germany also changed its laws last year to allow same-sex marriage, as did Malta, Bermuda and Finland.

Australia is the 26th country to legalize marriage equality. Image: REUTERS/Steven Saphore

Austria’s high court ruled that same-sex couples can marry from 2019. However, most Central and Eastern European countries have not legalized it.

A Pew Research survey of 18 countries in Central and Eastern Europe found that public opinion is broadly opposed to same-sex marriage. Just 5% of Russians and 9% of Ukrainians were in favour.

In 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, effectively bringing marriage equality to all 50 states.

The above map makes clear the East/West divide on same-sex marriage, with the exceptions of South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Latin America.

Where rights are under threat

Russia’s “gay propaganda” law, which prohibits the “promotion” of homosexuality among minors, has been widely criticized for fuelling homophobia in the country.

Since it was adopted in 2013, the law has been used to detain LGBTI activists and to stop pride marches.

Similar laws are also in place in 18 other countries, according to the ILGA report.

Since 2016, Indonesia’s gay and transgender communities have experienced homophobic rhetoric from politicians and clerics, attacks on LGBTI campaigners and arrests of hundreds of consenting adults in raids on hotels, clubs and saunas.

Indonesia’s parliament is considering amendments to its criminal code that would make sex outside marriage, including gay sex, illegal, and impose prison sentences of up to five years.

Meanwhile, in the US there is worry about a rollback of LGBTI rights under the administration of President Donald Trump. The latest in a series of rights reversals prompting concern include banning transgender people from serving in the US military in most circumstances and removing protections for transgender prison inmates.

Recently the US Supreme Court ruled in favour of a Colorado baker who would not make a wedding cake for a gay couple.

Although the case stopped short of setting a precedent that would allow people to claim exemption from anti-discrimination laws for religious reasons, it highlighted tensions in the US between conservative Christians and the proponents of LGBTI rights.

LGBT+ supporters at California's Resist March in 2017. Image: REUTERS/Mike Blake

Where discrimination is illegal

Only five countries in the world – Bolivia, Ecuador, Fiji, Malta and the UK – have constitutions that explicitly guarantee equality for citizens on the basis of sexual orientation as well as gender identity, according to a 2016 UCLA study.

Five countries – Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal, South Africa and Sweden – have constitutions that provide protections based on sexual orientation.

But globally, there are few constitutional protections for LGBTI rights compared to provisions to protect against gender or racial discrimination, says the study.

Image: Equaldex

General disclaimer: The designations employed and the presentation of material on this map do not imply the expression of any opinion on the part of the World Economic Forum concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

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