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Relentless opposition marring progress made towards equal rights for LGBTI people, says ILGA World

To date, one-third of the world continues to criminalize consensual same-sex sexual acts: 60 UN member States by law, and 2 more de facto. Although three UN member States (Singapore, Mauritius, and Dominica) and one non-UN member (Cook Islands) have decriminalized since the beginning of 2023, regressive, regional developments have been emerging.

Relentless opposition is marring progress made towards equal rights for LGBTI people, ILGA World said, as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex lives continue to be at the centre of legal debates across the world.

ILGA World’s new publication Laws on Us documents the intense amount of legal developments that affected communities based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics between January 2023 and April 2024 in all 193 UN member States, several non-UN member entities, and numerous subnational jurisdictions.

“Our communities celebrated important victories during the past two years,” said Lucas Ramón Mendos, Research manager at ILGA World and Laws on Us’ lead co-author. “And yet, resistance and detraction have materialized almost everywhere.”

To date, one-third of the world continues to criminalize consensual same-sex sexual acts: 60 UN member States by law, and 2 more de facto. Although three UN member States (Singapore, Mauritius, and Dominica) and one non-UN member (Cook Islands) have decriminalized since the beginning of 2023, regressive, regional developments have been emerging. During the same period, Uganda imposed the death penalty for some forms of consensual same-sex sexual acts, and Iraq codified the criminalization that existed de facto. Reports surfaced of extreme forms of capital punishment actively enforced in Afghanistan and Yemen. Regressive bills were announced in at least five UN member States, and discussions to criminalize or aggravate penalties took place in four more.

Alongside these reversals, we are also witnessing positive advances in many parts of the world. Seventeen States now allow people to see their gender reflected in their documents based on self-identification at the national level. Despite the escalating anti-gender movement and the setbacks seen in many jurisdictions, since January 2023 five more UN member States have adopted legal gender recognition based on the principle of self-identification: Ecuador, Finland, Germany, New Zealand, and Spain—along with the state of Yucatán in Mexico. Challenges to surgical requirements have succeeded within diverse court systems, particularly in East Asia.

In a worrying development, laws regulating speech, or restricting organisations’ spaces to advocate the rights of entire communities have become increasingly prominent mechanisms for criminalisation.

“We have seen an alarming rise in restrictions on freedom of expression and association,” added Laws on Us lead co-author Dhia Rezki Rohaizad. “This has resulted in censorship, arrests, and persecution in many UN member States.”

Over the past 16 months, for example, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan and Uganda have formally implemented legal provisions targeting the so-called “promotion” of “homosexuality”. Belarus has begun to classify content related to sexual and gender diversity as “pornography”, and Russia designated the “international LGBT movement” as “extremist”.

“In 2024, half of the global population will head to the election polls, and States are trying to restrict the civic space for non-governmental organisations – in particular those addressing sexual and gender diversity,” said Julia Ehrt, Executive Director at ILGA World. “Even talking about our lives in public is becoming increasingly difficult in a growing number of States. This trend is extremely concerning: history has shown us multiple times that the advances our movements have made worldwide are often just an election or a downturn away from being reversed.”

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The tension between actual or potential progress and acute setbacks is visible also in other legislative areas. While the number of UN member States enacting regulations against “conversion therapies” continued to grow, State-sponsored “rehabilitation” made inroads in Africa and advanced as official policy in Malaysia.

Progress in enacting new anti-discrimination legislation remained limited, but multiple bills await legislative approval in several countries. The same is true for hate crime legislation inclusive of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics, and for provisions sanctioning incitement to hatred, violence, and discrimination on the same grounds.

When it comes to the recognition of same-sex couples, during the past sixteen months four UN member States (Andorra, Estonia, Greece, and Slovenia) made marriage equality a reality, and Nepal issued an interim order to facilitate such unions. Bolivia and Latvia legalised same-sex civil unions, and Japan has seen several prefectures follow suit.

Overall, ILGA World’s Laws on Us paints the complex picture of an uphill journey towards progress for LGBTI people globally.

“Our research continues to document legal landscapes, facilitate access to information, and empower everyone committed to working together to advance equality worldwide,” concluded ILGA World co-Secretaries General Luz Elena Aranda and Tuisina Ymania Brown. “Every day, the lives of LGBTI people are used as wedge issues to distract, mobilise, and divide. In concerning times like these, it is paramount to have reliable evidence on the laws worldwide affecting our communities and a clear understanding of the challenges that lie ahead and around us.”

Key figures (as of 30 April 2024)
Access thematic maps and information on the ILGA World Database

Criminalisation

  • 62 UN member States criminalise consensual same-sex relations: 60 of them criminalise de jure (laws criminalising consensual same-sex sexual acts); 2 criminalise de facto (in practice, relying on other laws)
  • The death penalty is the legally prescribed penalty for consensual same-sex sexual acts in 7 UN member States: Brunei, Mauritania, Iran, Nigeria (12 provinces), Saudi Arabia, Uganda, and Yemen. In 5 more (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Qatar, Somalia, and the United Arab Emirates), there is no full legal certainty

Freedom of expression and freedom of association

  • At least 59 UN member States have laws, rules, and regulations that outlaw forms of expression related to sexual and gender diversity issues. In at least 19 of them, laws are specifically designed to apply to education, and in 30 they specifically regulate content disseminated through media
  • At least 59 UN member States present legal barriers to registering and operating organisations openly advocating the rights of LGBTI people

Protection against discrimination in employment
UN member States with provisions that explicitly protect people from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics in employment

  • ·based on sexual orientation: 77
  • ·based on gender identity: 46
  • ·based on gender expression: 20
  • ·based on sex characteristics: 18

‘Conversion therapies’

16 UN member States have nationwide bans on ‘conversion therapies’. In addition, 7 have indirect regulations, and 6 have subnational bans only

Marriage and adoption

  • ·Marriage equality is a reality in 35 UN member States and Taiwan
  • ·Same-sex couples can adopt a child together in 36 UN member States. A person in a same-sex couple can adopt the child of their partner in 37 UN member States

Restrictions on interventions on intersex minors

9 UN member States ban non-vital medical interventions on intersex children; 2 have enacted restrictions at the sub-national level

Legal gender recognition

  • ·17 UN member States allow legal gender recognition based on self-determination at the national level
  • ·Non-binary gender markers in identity documents are available in up to 18 UN member States.
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