71 countries where gay sex is illegal 

The 17th of May is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexphobia and Transphobia. IDAHOBIT, or more commonly in Belgium, IDAHOT. As it falls on a Tuesday this year and Tuesday is one of our default publishing days with Thursday and Sunday, I’d thought I’d take a look at the state of affairs regarding state-sponsored homophobia

Firstly, why the 17th of May? The founders, led by professor Louis-Georges Tin from Martinique (Overseas France), of the International Day Against Homophobia, as it was originally known, established the IDAHO Committee to coordinate grass-roots actions in different countries, to promote the day and to lobby for official recognition on May 17. That date was chosen to commemorate the decision to remove homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1990.

State-sponsored homophobia

What is state-sponsored homophobia? Homophobia organised, insitutionalised or condoned by the state. The most obvious shape state-sponsored homophobia takes are the so-called sodomy laws or anti-sodomy laws. Laws which prohibit and/or punish gay sex.

Sodomy is histrorically broader than men having anal sex with men. Sodomy used to be any form of sex which is not penis penetrating vagina. There’s no sugarcoating this. So even heterosexual fellatio (a blowjob), straight duos having anal sex or just masturbating are strictly speaking sodomy. But nowadays it is mostly interpreted as gay sex. Man-on-man action. 

Sodomy laws has one major source of inspiration: religion. Quite a few countries outlawing sodomy are predominantly or officially muslim countries. 

The other main origin of sodomy laws is the British Empire. Even today, many of the member states of the Commonwealth of Nations outlaw gay sex as an inheritance of the colonial era.

But there are other of forms of state-sponsored homophobia.

  • Barring same-sex couples to marry or refusing to recognise their household as being a family. 
  • Limiting or prohibiting the ‘promotion of alternative lifestyles‘. Think of the so-called anti-gay propaganda laws in Russia or Hungary or the now recent ‘Don’t Say Gay‘ law in Florida. Between 1988 and 2000 (Scotland) and 2003 (England and Wales), the United Kingdom had Section 28. It was a key aspect in the tv series ‘Queer As Folk‘. 
  • Some countries forbid NGO’s to advocate LGBTQIA+ issues. 
  • Some states use public decency laws to persecute homosexuals. Egypt is a notorious example. Every country has laws regulating public decency, but sometimes homosexuality in public and in private is seen as publicly indecent. 

69 to 71

69 of the 193 member states of the United Nations and 71 countries and other terrorities penalise gay sex. That’s roughly one third of the world. ILGA World uses the UN list of nations. Dedicated blog 76 Crimes takes a slightly broader approach. 

In its latest update, in December 2020, ILGA World says: “69 UN member states still criminalise consensual same-sex sexual acts between adults (67 by explicit provisions of law, 2 de facto).”

“Additionally, these acts are criminalised in one non-independent territory (Cook Islands, New Zealand) and in certain jurisdictions within two UN member states (Gaza in Palestine and certain provinces in Indonesia).”

“In 6 UN member states, the death penalty is the legally prescribed punishment for consensual same-sex sexual acts: Brunei, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria (12 Northern states only), Saudi Arabia and Yemen. In 5 additional UN member states – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Qatar, Somalia (including Somaliland) and the United Arab Emirates – certain sources indicate that the death penalty could potentially be imposed for consensual same-sex conduct, but there is less legal certainty on the matter.”

At least 42 UN member states have legal barriers to freedom of expression on sexual orientation and gender identity issues

At least 51 UN member states have legal barriers to the formation, establishment or registration of NGOs working on issues related sexual and gender diversity.

State of Queer Affairs. Map by ILGA World.

The List

Here I’m publishing Colin Stewart‘s list on 76 Crimes. 

  1. Algeria.
  2. Burundi.
  3. Cameroon.
  4. Chad.
  5. Comoros.
  6. Egypt.
  7. Eritrea.
  8. Eswatini (Swaziland).
  9. Ethiopia.
  10. Gambia.
  11. Ghana.
  12. Guinea.
  13. Kenya.
  14. Liberia.
  15. Libya.
  16. Malawi.
  17. Mauritania.
  18. Mauritius.
  19. Morocco.
  20. Namibia.
  21. Nigeria.
  22. Senegal.
  23. Sierra Leone.
  24. Somalia.
  25. South Sudan.
  26. Suda.
  27. Tanzania.
  28. Togo.
  29. Tunisia.
  30. Uganda.
  31. Zambia.
  32. Zimbabwe.
  33. Afghanistan.
  34. Bangladesh.
  35. Brunei.
  36. Indonesia (Aceh Province, South Sumatra Province and four cities in other provinces).
  37. Iran.
  38. Iraq.
  39. Kuwait.
  40. Lebanon (law ruled invalid in one court in 2014 and disqualified for use against same-sex intimacy in another court in February 2017).
  41. Malaysia.
  42. Maldives.
  43. Myanmar.
  44. Oman.
  45. Pakistan.
  46. Palestine (Gaza Strip only).
  47. Qatar.
  48. Saudi Arabia.
  49. Singapore (but top court says the law is unenforceable).
  50. Sri Lanka.
  51. Syria.
  52. Turkmenistan.
  53. United Arab Emirates.
  54. Uzbekistan.
  55. Yemen.
  56. Antigua and Barbuda.
  57. Barbados.
  58. Dominica.   
  59. Grenada.
  60. Guyana.
  61. Jamaica.
  62. Saint Kitts and Nevis.
  63. Saint Lucia.
  64. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
  65. Cook Islands.
  66. Kiribati.
  67. Papua New Guinea.
  68. Samoa.
  69. Solomon Islands
  70. Tonga.
  71. Tuvalu.

In the United States, anti-sodomy laws were ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 with ‘Lawrence v. Texas‘ but they are still on the books in 13 states: Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

Conservative state legislators refuse to repeal the laws and, in some cases, police occasionally still arrest people on the basis of them. In the recent past, more than a dozen LGBT people were arrested for violating those laws, but the arrestees were freed because prosecutors won’t seek convictions based on laws that have been ruled unconstitutional.

Military

Flag of South Korea.

There is a third list, Wikipedia. One difference there, is South Korea

On 21 April the Supreme Court there overturned the conviction of two men prosecuted under article 92-6 of the Military Criminal Act, which prohibits same-sex activity between soldiers with possible punishments of up to two years in prison, Human Rights Watch reports

Military authorities had accused the two men of engaging in consensual sex in a private residence while off duty. The charges against them were part of a wider crackdown on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) soldiers in 2017. Both were convicted and given suspended prison sentences.

In its judgment overturning the convictions, the Supreme Court said that the authorities’ use of article 92-6 to punish consensual sex outside of military settings jeopardizes the autonomy, equality, and dignity of soldiers.

Privilege of travellers

But what does that all mean to you and me? Well.

If you made it this far in this blog post, you may remember I wrote sodomy is broader than gay sex. Some countries, especially islamic states, prohibit extramarital sex. So even straight couples are barred of consensual sex. 

Yet, unmarried straight and (un)married gay couples do travel to places such as Morocco, Sri Lanka, Singapore or Indonesia. And its their white and/or tourist privilege they will not be bothered. 

I am told Iran has a vibrant gay dating scene, but it’s discrete. Grindr was very active when I was in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in 2014. 

Going gay for Malaysia.

So?

Should you not travel to these places. I am not saying that. But be knowledgable. Read up before you go-go. Look at your ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website for travel advice. Look up ‘LGBT rights in …” on Wikipedia. 

More on this subject

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