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5 countries where every day is Groundhog Day when it comes to respect and equal rights for LGBT+ people

Emma Powys Maurice February 2, 2021
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In these countries, every day is Groundhog Day for LGBT rights and dignity

Inmate in a Sri Lankan jail (Sena Vidanagama/AFP/Getty)

When every day feels like Groundhog Day in a pandemic, the prospect of a large furry rodent foretelling an end to the monotony is definitely appealing.

But in far too much of the world, it’s a perpetual Groundhog Day when it comes to LGBT+ rights.

A total of 71 nations still criminalise homosexuality, with punishments ranging from fines to flogging, imprisonment and even the death penalty.

35 of these countries are found in the Commonwealth thanks to the strict anti-gay penal codes that are a lasting legacy of the British Empire’s homophobia. Another Groundhog Day-style throwback.

While equality campaigns are being fiercely fought in countries like Singapore, Botswana and Israel, many seemed trapped in a time loop when it comes to LGBT+ rights, and others are shockingly moving backwards.

As Punxatawney Phil and Groundhog Day reminds us to look to the future, these countries would be wise to remember the past or be doomed to repeat it.

Saudi Arabia

Homosexuality and atheism have long been illegal and punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy that is considered to have one of the worst LGBT+ rights records in the world.

The law punishes acts of homosexuality or cross-dressing with fines, public whipping, beatings, vigilante attacks, chemical castrations, life imprisonment, capital punishment and torture.

Although crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is beginning to impose a more moderate form of Islam, he made it clear that won’t include his LGBT+ citizens when the country’s security agency labelled homosexuality as a form of “extremism”.

Even the act of supporting groups classified as extremist organisations can lead to imprisonment, which immediately puts any activists at risk.

Russia

A world leader in homophobia, Russia remains among the worst places on the planet to be an LGBT+ person.

Although homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993 it is still viewed as taboo by the majority of the population, and LGBT+ people are openly discriminated against as there are no laws preventing it.

Indeed, Putin’s hateful regime has implemented several laws specifically intended to discriminate, including his notorious “gay propaganda” ban which forbids the distribution of anything viewed as vaguely pro-LGBT+.

Critics say it’s so broad that it can be used to ban Pride parades, Pride flags and arrest people for even identifying as LGBT+ on social media.

The atrocities committed against Russian LGBT+ community are sadly numerous, but perhaps most horrifying is the ongoing Chechen “gay purge” which has seen queer people imprisoned, beaten, tortured and killed in gay concentration camps.

Local authorities deny the crackdown ever happened – “We don’t have any gays,” said Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov – despite countless refugee reports detailing the violent abuses they have suffered.

Poland

Poland has seen a shocking rollback of LGBT+ rights in recent years as the governing party, PiS, employs a virulently homophobic rhetoric to secure populist votes.

This dizzying spiral has been amplified by a state media that is twisted into a propaganda arm of the government, as well as by Catholic clergy leaders and the country’s extreme right-wing president, Andrzej Duda.

Anti-LGBT+ sentiment has grown so severe that more than a third of Poland has declared itself “LGBT free” after around 100 local authorities adopted hostile resolutions against equal rights.

According to ILGA-Europe’s 2020 report, the status of LGBT+ rights in Poland is now the worst among all EU nations. Homosexuality is technically legal, but same-sex marriage and civil partnerships are not, nor are IVF, adoption or surrogacy by same-sex couples.

The ugly crusade against equality continues with a recently-submitted bill proposing an outright ban on Pride parades throughout the country.

Hungary

Another country that seems determined to go back in time on LGBT+ rights is Hungary.

Nationalist prime minister Viktor Orbán has overseen a slew of attacks on queer people over the past few years, pushing through a new constitution that bans same-sex unions, as well as laws ending same-sex adoption and the legal recognition of transgender people.

Lawmakers from Orbán’s Fidesz party have been accused of fuelling a “moral panic” on LGBT+ issues after labelling inclusive storybooks a “provocative act” and an attack on children.

By the end of 2020, LGBT+ Hungarians were fleeing the country in droves to seek a better future in countries that don’t position them as enemies of the state.

Uganda

Homosexuality was accepted and commonplace in pre-colonial Uganda, but the British rule left virulently homophobic laws which remain to this day.

Now both male and female homosexual relations are criminalised, carrying a potential of life imprisonment for men.

Police are accused of turning a blind eye to the tragically common reports of vigilante executions, beatings, and torture, with at least one LGBT+ activist being beaten to death in recent years.

Uganda has been ruled since 1986 by president Museveni, who actively encourages discrimination, compares homosexuality to bestiality and shows no inclination of changing public policies.

The hostile climate worsened ahead of the recent election as Museveni used an openly anti-gay rhetoric against his opponent, who was dogged by rumours of homosexuality and funding from “homosexual groups”.

The hateful tensions predictably backfired on LGBT+ Ugandans, and many advocacy groups reported increased harassment making people afraid to vote.

Related topics: criminalisation of homosexuality, Homophobia, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Uganda

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