For people who self-identify as gay, lesbian, or transgendered, life can often prove different even in the most tolerant of environments. Feelings of alienation and detachment from a social order that emphasizes traditional values in areas including sexuality, marriage, and parenting can leave gay and transgendered individuals feeling isolated and depressed. Indeed, a study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) indicates that people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) community are “almost three times more likely” to experience mental health issues including depression and anxiety. These conditions might stem from conflicted feelings over coming out to family and friends as well as encounters with prejudice and discrimination. Unfortunately, the aforementioned issues also lead to increased rates of substance abuse and suicide in the LGTBQ community as well.
Implementing consistent and institutionalized acceptance of LGBTQ individuals presents as ongoing challenge to progressive societies in many parts of the world. But where open-minded cultures and communities continue to come to terms with new attitudes regarding relationships and sexuality, a number of places around the world meet that very same challenge with extreme prejudice and brutal repression. In fact, in Bangladesh, the editor of that country’s first ever LGBT magazine was recently hacked to death by terrorists because of his work as an activist for gay rights.
A May 2015 publication by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) identified 75 countries in which same-sex relations are criminalized, along with a number of other nations that effectively legalize the harassment and abuse of LGBTQ individuals. Violations of these laws can result in extreme punishments including imprisonment, torture, and even death.
Truth be told, even in the 21st century, it can be difficult to exist as a gay or transgendered person almost anywhere in the world. But some places are better than others, and other places are the absolute worst.
Like a number of predominantly Muslim countries, Malaysia is patrolled by cadres of “morality police” who enforce the tenets of Sharia Law. In some cases, this is accomplished by confronting citizens on the street for seemingly minor infractions including how a headscarf is worn or the length of a dress. But with regard to the LGBTQ community, Malaysia’s religious officers can be far more intrusive. As per a report by the BBC, Malaysian religious officers recently raided a transgender beauty pageant, arresting “several people.”
According to another infamous story about Malaysia’s “morality police,” in 2014 religious officers raided a hotel in the city of Johor, arresting two women after finding a sex toy in their shared hotel room. Under a Malaysian law criminalizing sexual relations between adult women, they faced up to three years in jail, six lashes, and a hefty fine.
9. Trinidad & Tobago
The Caribbean island nations of Trinidad and Tobago bar LGBT individuals from entering their territory through strict immigration laws. While same-sex relations are not explicitly restricted by law, the countries have enacted a criminal code against certain types of sexual contact, known colloquially as “buggery offenses.” Penalties for violating these laws range from 5 to 25 years in prison.
Gay and lesbian individuals are also prevented by law from inheriting the estates of their deceased partners, unless the matter is decreed by a written will. Same-sex marriages in Trinidad and Tobago are considered void under the law and anti-discrimination laws in these Caribbean nations are written in such a way that LGBTQ individuals are “explicitly excluded” from protection.
At a speech during his visit to the United States back in 2007, then president of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad infamously told reporters “We don’t have any gays in Iran.” Of course, his words were really little more than wishful thinking on the part of Iran’s socially conservative ruling clique, which punishes violations of anti-LGBTQ laws through corporal punishment and execution. An estimated 4,000 to 6,000 gays and lesbians have been executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. In cases where people can prove they are “repentant” for violating anti-gay laws, a judge might still impose a jail sentence up to a year in length and 99 lashes.
Socially conservative attitudes in Ethiopia have led to criminal codes the ban consensual sexual contact between people of the same gender. Representatives from the Catholic Church as well as the Orthodox Church in Ethiopia have lobbied the country’s government to maintain anti-gay laws over the course of recent years and at present, those who violate these statutes face up to 15 years in prison.
The African nation’s harsh laws are not the only sources of concern for LGBTQ Ethiopians. According to a report by the United States Department of State, many gays and lesbians feel urgently compelled to change their sexuality to avoid overt discrimination and prosecution.
The relatively small South American country of Guyana is one of just a few nations in the Western Hemisphere that still imposes criminal penalties on consenting adults from the LGBT community. Indeed, sexual contact between individuals of the same gender can still garner penalties including jail time. Discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgendered people is also reportedly common.
A report by The Huffington Post indicates that cross-dressing by men was effectively decriminalized in 2014, provided that the act was not in furtherance of an “improper purpose.” Because the language of the court decision was somewhat vague, men who identify as female are still taking a chance by wearing women’s clothes in public.
5. United Arab Emirates
Although the United Arab Emirates is one of America’s staunchest allies in the Middle East, the nation does not embrace Western ideas when it comes to matters of gender and sexuality. The city of Dubai even has a special police task force that patrols beaches monitoring the environment for “indecent” acts. A 2011 report by the United States Department of State noted that same-sex relations are prohibited under he civil law of the state as well as by Sharia law. Persons prosecuted by the government for engaging in “homosexual activity” might receive compulsory referrals to psychological counseling or treatment. But as per the tenets of Sharia law, those accused of engaging in same-sex relations can also be sentenced to death.
Cross-dressing is also a criminal offense in UAE. The State Department reported that foreigners have been deported for such activity, while citizens have been prosecuted through the country’s court system.
The African nation of Mauritania enacted a particularly harsh penal code in 1983 specifying that “[a]ny adult Muslim man who commits an impudent act against nature with an individual of his sex will face the penalty of death by public stoning.” A method of public execution dating back to Biblical times, a victim is typically buried up to his or her chest or neck in an open field and pelted with rocks by a mob until death. According to an account of this practice by Psychology Today, stoning is intended to inflict a slow and painful death upon victims.
Although Mauritania’s law purports to uphold the laws of Islam, there is no specific provision in the Koran for the practice of stoning as a means of punishment.
Homosexual activity between men is punishable by a prison term of up to three years in the Central Asian country of Uzbekistan and fear of prosecution has apparently become the basis for rampant extortion. Uzbek police forces reportedly extort thousands of dollars at a time from individuals who have allegedly engaged in illegal sexual acts, even subjecting the accused to forcible medical examinations. Those who cannot pay exorbitant bribes to public officials face the loss of their jobs and families as well as social ostracism.
A report by the Canadian government indicates that homophobia is deeply ingrained in Uzbek society and that establishments which might be considered friendly to the LGBTQ community are often forced to close. Homosexuality is one of a number of “forbidden” topics in Uzbekistan and journalists are discouraged from writing stories about LGBTQ issues.
2. Saudi Arabia
The penal code of Saudi Arabia is notoriously strict, imposing forcible amputations for theft offenses and publicly beheading offenders for more serious crimes. Same-sex encounters and relationships as well as cross-dressing are forbidden under the law. A first “offense” might garner fines, a jail sentence, and public whipping. Individuals who are brought before authorities a second time for violating anti-LGBTQ laws face possible execution. Over a six-month period, one Saudi newspaper chronicled the prosecution of 35 “cases of homosexuality” and 50 incidents of cross-dressing and other so-called “sexual perversion.”
Under the laws enacted by the Sunny monarchy, even a simple expression of solidarity with the LGBT community also carries heavy consequences. In early 2016, a man was arrested for merely raising the rainbow flag outside of his home in Jeddah.
Uganda passed one of the most draconian anti-LGBTQ laws in the world in 2012, mandating a sentence of life in prison for the offense of “aggravated homosexuality.” The country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act came to be known abroad by its detractors as the “Kill the Gays” bill. It was not just the act of sexual relations between a same-sex couple that was criminalized through the legislation, as even seeking a same-sex relationship could be prosecuted as a felony. Although the law was nullified in 2014, much of Ugandan society remains openly hostile to LGBT individuals. According to a 2015 report by Pink News, police and groups of private citizens have publicly attacked and beaten members of the LGBTQ community.