Gay Rights in Africa, the Middle East and Asia

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I have previously written (here and here) about why I do not support the case against the baker in Colorado who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple, and I still stand by my defence of private property rights and freedom of association. However, this does not mean that I do not believe in formal equality for LGBTQ people, or that I am not against something as senseless as homophobia. It is something that truly boggles my mind: why somebody else’s sexual orientation bothers conservative people (although they themselves usually have something to hide).

We live in an era where gay people have the most rights they’ve ever had throughout the developed world. However, this does not mean that their rights have been fully realised. In 2016, 49 gay people were shot and killed in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Even without those 49 innocent souls lost, 2016 was the deadliest year in history for the LGBTQ community in the US. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) found a 17% increase in hate killings from the previous year. In 2017, Stonewall released data that showed that attacks on gay, lesbian, and bisexual people increased by almost 80% in the UK over a period of only four years. Eighteen percent of LGBT people in Australia report experiencing physical abuse.

But even with all these gruesome statistics showing the disrespect shown in Western society to the liberty of gay people, the picture looks a lot better than in Africa and the Middle East. This is cause for major concern.

Here’s how things stand in Africa:

In Uganda, gay people face up to 7 years in prison. The recent passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill lengthened sentences even further, extending to people “promoting” homosexuality. In January of 2014, the Nigerian president also implemented even harsher policies against the gay community in a country where it’s already illegal to be gay. Egypt has so-called “morality” laws to persecute individuals who engage in same-sex conduct. The laws are very ambiguous, but are used to target homosexual conduct between men. Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia prohibit same-sex acts by law.

In Mauritania, Sudan, Northern Nigeria, and Southern Somalia, the punishment for not having control over one’s sexual orientation is death. The death penalty alone is an asinine concept, but this takes it to new levels of atrociousness.

In total, 37 African countries have outlawed homosexuality. It should be noted that most anti-LGBTQ legislation and policies in Africa have their roots in British colonialism.

In the Middle East, the picture does not look much better. Oman, Syria, Yemen, and Gaza have laws that prohibit same-sex marriage. Kuwait and Dubai (UAE) prohibit male intercourse. Lebanon, Syria and Abu Dhabi (UAE) prohibit what they define as “unnatural” sex. These prohibitions have been used to explicitly target same-sex relations. Qatar persecutes men who “instigate” or “entice” other men to commit an act of sodomy or immorality. Bahrain also utilises ambiguous “morality” legislation to impair the freedom of gay people. Kuwait, the UAE, and Oman are countries that have criminalised gender non-conformity. It should be noted that French and British colonial “justice” systems originally brought these laws about in the Middle East.

Ironically, Israel (who aren’t really known for their respect for the natural and universal rights of all humans) are the most tolerant towards the LGBTQ community. In fact, Tel Aviv is one of the most LGBTQ-friendly cities in the world.

I think the picture that I’ve painted here just goes to show to what extent the liberty of the LGBTQ community in Africa and the Middle East are legally impaired. To conservative authoritarians who don’t grasp why this is problematic, let me explain: even if you disagree with someone’s personal lifestyle (which they cannot control), if they do not impair your freedom then you have no right to impair theirs. It is not rocket science.

Interestingly enough, there exists a strong correlation (.72) between tolerance towards the LGBTQ community, and economic development. CityLab have produced a regression analysis showing this strong positive relationship. They have also produced a map that illustrates tolerance towards gays and lesbians per country.

Clearly, things are also not looking good in Asia:

South Korea has no right to same-sex marriage. Same-sex activities in North Korea are de facto prohibited because it goes against the socialist agenda. Same-sex marriage in China is illegal, and Japan simply does not recognise it. Bangladesh punishes same-sex activity between men with life sentences in prison. In Bhutan, same-sex sexual acts are classified as petty misdemeanours. The Maldives also prohibit same-sex intercourse as well as marriage. Punishments include imprisonment, lashings, and the death penalty. Luckily, these prohibitions are rarely enforced. Pakistan throws gay people who engage in same-sex intercourse in prison. However, this is also rarely enforced. Malaysia criminalises anal and oral sex and punishes it with up to 20 years in prison. Certain states give lashes to gay people under Islamic Sharia law. Myanmar also throws gay people who have sex in jail for up to 10 years. Singapore joins the club, throwing gay people having sex in jail for up to 2 years. In Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Tuvalu, same-sex activity is illegal. Joining these countries in banning same-sex marriages are Kiribati, Fiji, and the Marshall Islands, although Fiji has anti-discrimination laws in place to protect the LGBTQ community, along with Samoa.

There is some good news, however. The Supreme Court of India recently ruled that the country’s ban on gay sex must be reviewed. Ironically enough, the ban originated out of British colonial rule. Vietnam decriminalised same-sex activity in 1945. However, same-sex partners don’t receive any legal recognition, although gay marriage is no longer explicitly prohibited as of 2014. Palau is very tolerant towards the LGBTQ community, allowing them to get married and having anti-discrimination laws in place. Nepal regards LGBTQ people as “natural persons” (to be read within a legal context).

It seems as if liberty is still an extremely conditional concept in large tracts of the world, which just totally destroys it. Liberty and property rights (which includes your own body and what you do with it) are birth rights that the state may only infringe upon when you use it to harm other people. Again, this is not rocket science, and I sincerely hope we all rise up against the anti-liberty injustices faced by the LGBTQ community.

 

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