In today’s modern world, so many things have progressed impressively, with advances in medicine, technology, AI, and even space exploration coming thick and fast. However, one area that hasn’t progressed as much as it should have is the controversy and acceptance of sexuality and gender identity. While in some countries, there are provisions in place to ensure members of the LGBTQ+ community are protected and treated with equality, there are still plenty of places around the world where people face discrimination, abuse, imprisonment, and sometimes violence and death, all because of their sexuality and/or gender identity.
To truly appreciate how much work still needs to be done, it’s important to look at a rough overview of the LGBTQ+ rights timeline from the 1950s.
It’s at this point in the timeline where things get interesting, and not in a positive manner. As much as progress is being made, many places refuse to make these changes in the first place or actively try to reverse them, very much in a ‘one-step forward, two-steps back’ kind of manner.
For example, in the same year that conversion therapy as a method to cure people of being LGBTQ+ was banned in Canada, India, most states within the US, and even in some regions of Mexico and Chile, Afghanistan has made it almost impossible to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community without persecution. As it stands today, it’s illegal in Afghanistan to be openly gay, give blood if LGBTQ+, serve in the military, be seen promoting an LGBTQ+ lifestyle, and more. These supposed infractions are punishable by death within Afghanistan, making it a truly dangerous place to live.
Additionally in the same year that the UK, Canada, and much of Western Europe legalised blood donations from LGBTQ+ donors, many Eastern European countries uphold and, in some cases, strengthen their anti -LGBTQ+ donor legislation. Moreover, in mere months after the US makes serving in the military while openly gay legal, Panama bans same-sex couples from adopting and Uganda declared all homosexual activity illegal and punishable by life imprisonment.
That’s not to mention the issues within Russia and the LGBTQ+ community living there. As of 2020, Putin amended the constitution banning same-sex marriage, following this up in 2022 with a law banning any propaganda between adults promoting or spreading information about LGBTQ+ rights. If you’re caught breaking this law, you can be fined up to 400,000 roubles, which is just over £4,700 sterling. It comes as no surprise that this law is being used to excuse discrimination and violence against the LGBTQ+ community, making those who live there fear for their lives, and in some cases, immigrate to more accepting countries.
The idea of LGBTQ+ censorship is rising in some countries, with many focusing on schools to stop LGBTQ+ propaganda from spreading. In the US, Tennessee recently passed a law stating that schools must receive written consent from parents before teaching pupils about sexual orientation or gender identity within the curriculum. This is concerning as any young people who may identify with the LGBTQ+ community might not be able to receive important information on advice on emotional and sexual health practices, know where to find peer support, and increases the potential of prejudice against LGBTQ+ pupils who already attend schools in the area. This is something that Hungary has also adopted, having passed a law which bans schools from featuring LGBTQ+ people in any educational material.
Lastly, as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the LGBTQ+ community has faced a rise in day-to-day discrimination. OutRight Action International published a report that found there was a definite rise in violence, exclusion, and poverty during this already difficult time. Daina Rudusa, the senior communications manager at the organisation stated “Vulnerable communities become more vulnerable during times of crisis and, for LGBTQ+ people, this is amplified even more so exponentially.” The organisation also reports that while dealing with the fear, uncertainty, and isolation that came with the global pandemic, the LGBTQ+ community reported food and job insecurity, as well as difficulty accessing government and/or humanitarian support out of fear of being mistreated due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Most shockingly, there are currently seven countries in the world where LGBTQ+ conduct can result in being sentenced to death – Brunei, Yemen, Iran, Qatar, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan.
LGBTQ+ Rights And Travel
If you’re going to travel to different counties for a holiday, or even to join in with a Pride event, it’s important to know which places are dangerous if you identify as LGBTQ+ in any way. Here’s some information on some popular countries to visit and their take on LGBTQ+ rights.
While Malaysia is a popular tourist destination due to its heritage sites and beaches, homosexuality is highly punishable here, making it a tricky place for those who identify as LBGTQ+ to visit. If found to be gay, you can get sentenced to up to 20 years imprisonment. You can also be whipped or fined a large sum of money. If this wasn’t harsh enough, there are talks about increasing these punishments to make them more harsh.
You might be surprised, then, to hear that there are gay bars in Malaysia’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur, one of which was raided in 2018 by police as they feared the LGBTQ+ culture would somehow incite immorality within society. People also try to demonstrate for LGBTQ+ rights, such as those who attended the Woman’s Day as members of the LGBTQ+ community. These people were condemned by Minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa, who condemned them as a ‘misuse of democratic space.’ Around the same time as these events, two women were accused of ‘attempting lesbian relations’ and were sentenced to being caned in public.
It’s unlikely that Malaysia will experience a Pride march any time soon and if you are LBGTQ+ and visiting the country, it’s important to keep under the radar and don’t travel alone. If you know someone familiar with the area you will be visiting then it’s best to ask them the safest routes and places to visit to ensure you’re as safe as possible during your visit.
Jamaica is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the Caribbean, and yet LGBTQ+ rights within the country are sorely lacking. Jamaica has a ‘buggary law’, which can see someone convicted serve 10 years in prison and/or work hard labour as a punishment. The country is particularly harsh on transgender issues, specifically male-to-female trans women.
However, regardless of this intolerance, Jamaica held its first Pride march in 2015 and continues to take steps, no matter how small or slow, to help protect those who identify as LGBTQ+ within the country.
Darren, writing for TravelGay.com in 2020 states ‘there is no single experience for LGBT people who live here or who visit…put simply, it often depends on how people perceive you.’ Darren goes on to explain this, stating that the situation is ‘nuanced’ and people with more influence or from upper and middle-class communities tend not to experience any homophobia, whereas those with less social standing and from poorer communities do.
Darren advises, however, that it’s important to research LGBT-friendly spaces, but assures readers that visitors to Jamaica are generally left alone and not subjected to any homophobia or transphobia, as there has been a lot of work done on tourism, with the Tourism minister Edmund Bartlett in 2017 reassuring tourists that any LGBTQ+ visitors will be welcome and safe during their stay. It’s noted, however, that public displays of affection, such as holding hands, prolonged cuddling, kissing, etc, are not normal regardless of sexual orientation.
From the 1st-6th of August, Jamaica has its Pride celebrations, which include faith-based events, sports events, health fairs, concerts, art events, and beach parties, with an average of 3000-5000 people attending each year.
Often thought of as a romantic getaway for anyone regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, it’s important to remember that this stunning holiday spot has a few anti-LGBTQ+ laws. For example, homosexual acts up to and including intercourse carries a sentence of up to 8 years imprisonment and/or a whipping of up to 100 lashes. For this reason, it’s important to be careful when visiting any Maldivian cities, as there are strict rules on public displays of affection etc regardless of sexual orientation.
Any LGBTQ+ tourists needn’t worry too much, however, as holiday resorts tend to ignore these laws and make all visitors feel safe and welcome as much as they can. Although I couldn’t find any exact information on any planned Pride celebrations in the Maldives, I’m sure there would be something small, such as a Pride disco night, at one of the many holiday resorts.
An obvious tourist destination would be Egypt, with its towering pyramids and a multitude of historical and religious tourist sites. Many people return to time and again, unable to get enough of the unique culture the country has to offer.
It’s disappointing, then, that Egypt is unsafe for LGBTQ+ people. Same-sex acts of any kind can result in 3 years imprisonment and/or a hefty fine. Merely being in possession of any LGBTQ+ materials also carries a punishment of up to 2 years imprisonment and a fine. Generally, if anyone is travelling to Egypt and identifies as LGBTQ+ in any way, it’s better not to disclose your sexuality to anyone, as whistleblowers have been known to entrap people and turn them in. Additionally, police have been known to make catfish profiles on dating apps, hoping to entrap LGBTQ+ travellers hoping to engage in any homosexual acts.
Although there are no Pride marches in Egypt, there are several activists who try to help LGBTQ+ people navigate the country, spread awareness about LGBTQ+ discrimination, and, in some cases, flee to safer countries if necessary.
It’s important to remember the tragic fate of Sarah Hegazi, an Egyptian LGBTQ+ rights activist. She suffered sexual violence, torture, and imprisonment for WAVING THE RAINBOW FLAG DURING A CONCERT in Cairo in 2017 – something which is taken for granted in many more accepting countries. Once Hegazi was freed, she fled to Canada, where she suffered PTSD from her horrific treatment. Ultimately, at the age of 30, she died by suicide due to her experiences in Egypt.
Famous for Mount Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti, so it’s not a surprise that Tanzania has a massive tourism trade. However, in terms of LGBTQ+ rights, Tanzania isn’t the best place to visit. Any homosexual acts whatsoever can result in being sentenced to 30 years imprisonment, with the government growing more and more vigilant at identifying any potential LGBTQ+ activity whatsoever.
Although the once-in-a-lifetime scenery and attractions are tempting to visit, it’s advisable to hold off visiting the country until more progress has been made on LGBTQ+ rights.
It’s important to remember that, as much as Pride month is one huge party for a lot of people, with nothing but positive associations and memories all packed up in the shape of a rainbow flag, there are so many LGBTQ+ people being persecuted around the world simply for being born the way they are.
The Pride movement is integral to spreading positivity and much-needed awareness of the constant struggle LGBTQ+ people face across the world every day. Not everyone can celebrate Pride, and when you raise a rainbow flag at a Pride event this month, it’s important to remember those who can’t out of fear of physical and sexual violence, lengthy prison sentences, and even death. That’s not to say you should feel bad about celebrating while others can’t, but rather it’s an encouragement to hold your rainbow flag that little bit higher, embrace your peers that little bit tighter in support, and yell that little bit louder that LGBTQ+ people deserve equal rights to everyone else, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.