Where it's a crime to be gay: A visual guide to where LGBTQ+ rights are repressed

Countries criminalizing LGBTQ relations
Countries criminalizing LGBTQ relations

Uganda enacted one of the harshest anti-gay laws in the world last week, a bill known as the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2023. It imposes a life sentence for engaging in "same-sex sexual acts," and the death penalty for gay sex in certain circumstances, such as while infected with an illness like HIV or for having sex with a person with disabilities or a minor. (LGBTQ+ advocates in the U.S. condemn the implication of LGBTQ+ people as groomers or pedophiles.)

It came days before the start of Pride Month, a global event in June that celebrates LGBTQ+ communities around the world. But while the Uganda law has drawn international condemnation and even sparked a fight among a couple of U.S. conservatives, it is not an outlier. The LBGTQ+ community remains heavily criminalized in many parts of the world.

Indeed, around the world, being LGBTQ+ can lead to whippings or other punishments that seem outdated. In Russia, being gay has been legal since 1983, but there are still fines for a lack of "traditional values."

Here's a global overview of where sexual and gender minority rights are threatened:

'Horrific': Biden, Cruz slam Anti-homosexuality Bill in Uganda that includes death penalty

LGBTQ+: Punished in 64 different countries

Of 193 countries in the United Nations, 64 still criminalize same-sex acts, according to a database run by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA). "Same-sex acts'' is the phrase used by this and other human rights monitoring organizations.

By region, this criminalization breaks down as follows:

  • In Africa, same-sex acts are illegal in 32 out of the continent's 52 countries. The countries where it is illegal: Algeria, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Egypt, Eritrea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

  • In Asia and the Middle East, same-sex acts are illegal in 20 countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brunei, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Yemen.

  • There are no places in Europe where same-sex acts are illegal.

  • In the Americas, same-sex acts are prohibited in Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

  • In Oceania, the region made up of Australia and other island nations in the South Pacific Ocean, same-sex acts are not allowed in Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga andTuvalu.

From whippings to fines for a lack of 'traditional values'

Across the world, criminal sentences for same-sex acts, certain forms of sexual orientation and minority gender expression can range from fines or several months in prison to life in jail, from whipping to the death penalty. In some countries, laws are vague and open to interpretation. In others, it's the exact opposite. In Russia, for example, where same-sex acts have been legal since 1993, the government actively targets LGBTQ+ people and communities through discriminatory propaganda and fines for not having "traditional values."

Where there is the death penalty for same-sex acts:

  • Brunei, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Uganda and Yemen.

Prison, fines, or whipping for minority forms of sexual or gender expression:

  • Brunei, Kuwait, Malawi, Malaysia, Oman, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Tonga, Uganda and United Arab Emirates.

Countries that in recent years decriminalized same-sex relationships:

  • Angola (2021), Botswana (2019), India (2018), Mozambique (2015), Singapore (2023).

Same-sex union: Where it's lawful

The Netherlands was the first country in the world to fully legalize same-sex marriage. It did so in 2001. The U.S. was the 17th country to legalize same-sex unions, which it did in 2015.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in 34 places around the world:

  • Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, U.K., U.S. and Uruguay.

Where same-sex marriage was legalized in the last year:

  • Andorra, Cuba, Slovenia.

Where there are pledges to legalize same-sex marriage in 2023:

  • Czech Republic, India, Japan, Philippines.

Countries in Africa where same-sex marriage is legal:

  • South Africa.

Places in Asia where same-sex marriage is legal:

  • Taiwan.

Travel: Where to go, where's a no-go

The Spartacus Blog’s Gay Travel Index advises LGBTQ+ vacationers on which countries they can expect to be most safe in, where their rights are most protected, and where to avoid. Among the criteria assessed: anti-discrimination legislation, marriage/civil partnerships, whether adoption is allowed, transgender rights, infrastructure, views on conversion therapy, religious influence, local hostility, and laws surrounding prosecution.

The U.S. came in at 35 out of 199 global destinations.

LGBTQ+-friendly travel destinations in 2023:

  • Malta, Canada, Switzerland.

Where not to go as an LGBTQ+ vacationer, according to the index:

  • Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Afghanistan.

The most LGBTQ+-friendly U.S. states in 2023:

  • California, New York, Washington, Colorado.

The worst U.S. states to be an LGBTQ+ vacation, per the index:

  • Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia. Florida also fared poorly. In late May, the NAACP issued the following travel advisory as a result of Florida governor and U.S. presidential candidate Ron DeSantis's policies: "Florida is openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ individuals."

U.S. Christian evangelicals spend big around the world

Human rights campaigners have long complained that U.S. Christian evangelical organizations have pushed policies, laws and public opinion that discriminate against sexual and gender minorities and reproductive rights for people across the world. A 2020 investigation by openDemocracy, for example, found that U.S.-based Family Watch International had, for a decade, been coaching high-ranking African politicians and religious and civic leaders to oppose sexuality education across the continent. Family Watch International also had a hand in shaping Uganda's 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Bill, according to openDemocracy.

Amount spent globally by U.S. groups on anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ+ influence campaigns since 2008:

  • At least $280 million.

Amount spent by U.S. groups on anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ+ influence campaigns in Africa since 2008:

  • At least $54 million.

Amount requested by the Biden administration in 2023 for foreign assistance programs that promote gender equity and equality worldwide for those who face discrimination:

  • $2.6 billion.

Still, according to a recent analysis by the Brookings Institution, these programs chiefly focus on "enabling conditions" for women and young girls "to exercise voice and agency in their homes, workplaces, communities and public life." There is comparatively less understanding, according to the Brookings analysis, about how to deploy these funds for international programs that close rights gaps for sexual and gender minorities.

Ugandan lawmaker John Musila wears clothes with an anti-LGBTQ message as he enters the Parliament on March 21, 2023.
Ugandan lawmaker John Musila wears clothes with an anti-LGBTQ message as he enters the Parliament on March 21, 2023.

Reactions to Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Ugandan LGBTQ+ rights activists filed a lawsuit in the country's Constitutional Court challenging the bill. The Biden administration said it was considering imposing sanctions and visa restrictions. The European Union urged Uganda to revoke the bill and protect the rights of all Ugandans and said the law would impact Uganda's ties with international partners. A coalition of major companies including Google and Unilever said the law would curb investment flows to Uganda and deter tourism. One Kenyan lawmaker applauded the bill's passage.

  • "Creating new crimes like these are a well-known way to engineer a legal basis to throw those with divergent views behind bars. It will push many into self-censorship and silence critical voices as Uganda's governance and human rights crises continue to deteriorate." − Clare Byarugaba, Ugandan rights activist

  • "Cry beloved Uganda, cry for this sad day."− Stella Nyanzi, Ugandan human rights advocate

  • "The law foresees the application of the death penalty and long prison sentences for consensual acts between adults. This law raises the risk of worsening the violence and persecution already faced by lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Uganda." − Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the United Nations Secretary-General

  • "Uganda's progress on its HIV response is now in grave jeopardy. The Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 will obstruct health education and the outreach that can help end AIDS as a public health threat. The stigma and discrimination associated with the passage of the Act has already led to reduced access to prevention as well as treatment services."−Joint statement from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief

  • "The enactment of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act is a tragic violation of universal human rights. I join with people around the world − including many in Uganda − in calling for its immediate repeal." − U.S. President Joe Biden

  • "The Uganda law is horrific and wrong. Any law criminalizing homosexuality or imposing the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” is grotesque & an abomination. ALL civilized nations should join together in condemning this human rights abuse."− U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz

  • "With a lot of humility, I thank my colleague Members of Parliament for withstanding all the pressure, in the interest of our Country. By their action, we have lived our motto: For God and our Country."−Ugandan Parliament Speaker Anita Annet Among

  • "Wow! What a leader we've in Africa! Congratulations Uganda! Kenya is following you in this endeavor to save humanity … Perversion is treated, not normalized!"−George Kaluma, Kenyan member of Parliament

Sources: ILGA database, Human Rights Watch, Human Dignity Trust, Human Rights Campaign, openDemocracy, U.S. Agency for International Development

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: US doesn't make list of safest countries for LGBTQ+ rights in 2023