In many countries throughout the world, it remains socially and legally unacceptable to identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
Throughout the last several decades, vast progress has been made in expanding LGBTQ+ rights and combating the oppression of queer individuals. In 2022 alone, Cuba legalized same-sex marriage and Spain passed groundbreaking transgender rights protections.
However, many countries and regions across the world remain unaccepting of LGBTQ+ rights. According to the Pew Research Center, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa are less friendly to — if not completely intolerant of — LGBTQ+ individuals.
In August of this year, a United Nations human rights expert warned that LGBTQ+ rights both in the U.S. and around the world are deteriorating.
“I am deeply alarmed by a widespread, profoundly negative riptide created by deliberate actions to roll back the human rights of LGBT people,” said Victor Madrigal-Borloz, U.N. expert.
In addition to a rollback of LGBTQ+ legal protections, many countries are increasing legal penalties for those who defy gender and sexual norms. It is illegal to be transgender in 13 countries, including Indonesia, Lebanon, Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates. According to The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Assosciation, same-sex sexual activities are still considered a punishable crime in 70 countries. Some of these 70 countries impose the death penalty for such activities, including Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Pakistan.
However, it does not take participation in same-sex acitivies to trigger governmental wrath. Within the last year, both Saudi Arabian and Qatari authorities seized rainbow-colored clothing, accessories and toys from stores for supposedly encouraging homosexuality to children. Officials for both countries announced that the stores are set to face legal penalties for selling the products.
Yet, other influential countries have trended in the opposite direction and have become more friendly to the LGBTQ+ community in recent decades. South Korea, South Africa, Mexico, India, the U.S., Western European and Latin American countries are more accepting of LGBTQ+ rights now than in the early 2000s. Many of these countries now have legal protections in place for queer individuals, with more than 30 countries now allowing same-sex marriage.
The renewed rise of far-right politics in North America and Europe are compounding concerns about the continuing erosion of LGBTQ+ rights. Florida’s recent “Don’t Say Gay” law and Italy’s continued refusal to allow same-sex marriage are just two examples of the many challenges that queer people are now facing in traditionally accepting places.
According to Human Rights Watch, human rights and LGBTQ+ rights activists are now focusing on combating discrimination and violence based on gender identitiy and sexual orientation. While most countries take an individualized approach to LGBTQ+ rights, activists are pushing for an overarching set of legal protections implemented through international law. Such laws would hypothetically prevent countries from oppressing LGBTQ+ people, or at least issue punishment to countries that do so.
To implement these laws or protect LGBTQ+ individuals globally, powerful countries and organizations — like the U.S. and U.N. — are needed to lead the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken addressed the U.N. in September 2022 to encourage U.N. members to undertake new efforts to underpin LGBTQ+ rights.
“Any system where some groups are treated as less than simply because of who they are is fundamentally flawed,” Blinken said.