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LGBTQ rights under legal attack around the world

August 27, 2023

As LGBTQ rights gain momentum globally, many countries are pushing back with stringent legal measures. From the US's controversial laws to Uganda's life-threatening penalties, the battle is far from over.

A hand and arm lays flowers on a rainbow flag
Queer people face discrimination everywhere, but aggressive laws are proliferatingImage: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images

US: 'Don't say gay' law for political gain

The fact that hoisting a rainbow flag is enough to get you shot these days is a sad low point in the struggle for LGBTQ rights in the United States.

That was the fate of a 66-year-old lifestyle boutique owner in California during an argument with a man over a pride flag. The perpetrator was subsequently shot dead during a confrontation with police.

Celebrities, including US actor and director Paul Feig, expressed their sorrow.

In the US, the so-called "Land of the Free," state governments are falling over each other to introduce anti-LGBTQ laws.

Ugandan could face death penalty under anti-gay law

Republican presidential candidate and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is trying to score points with voters with what critics have dubbed the "don’t say gay" law. It prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in Florida schools.

Educators who violate the ban risk having their professional certification revoked.

A croud of people with rainbow flags and signs
Large numbers of people in the US protested the so-called "don't say gay" bill, to no availImage: Martha Asencio-Rhine/AP Photo/picture alliance

Mississippi, meanwhile, is making headlines with the most anti-LGBTQ laws proposed this year. Performing gender reassignment procedures on those younger than 18 is now prohibited in the state. Those who perform the procedure face severe penalties, including losing their professional licenses.

Ohio, Georgia, Iowa, South Dakota and West Virginia have all passed similar laws. Texas even classifies gender reassignment procedures as child abuse, with parents facing potential investigation.

Tennessee became the first state to ban drag queens from performing in public spaces or anywhere in the presence of children and teens under the age of 18. Anyone caught breaking the ban faces up to one year in jail for a first offense. 

Russia: Protecting 'traditional values'

In Russia, lawmakers justified a new law curbing gender reassignment as a safeguard against "Western anti-family ideology."

Its supporters say banning "medical interventions aimed at changing the sex of a person" and the ability to alter gender identity in official documents supports Russia's "traditional values."

Marriages where one person has changed their gender will also be annulled, and transgender people are not allowed to foster or adopt children.

Last December, Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to contain what he deemed "LGBT propaganda" by signing a law prohibiting any expression of queer life in public, online, in films, books or advertising.

Gay activist flees Russia for Germany

Hungary: Orban's battle against the EU LGBTQ 'offensive'

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is also fond of fiery rhetoric on queer issues, recently warning of an LGBTQ "offensive" carried out at the behest of the European Union.

In the meantime, the country's laws make it possible to anonymously inform on same-sex couples with kids.

All of this is occurring in a country that used to be seen as one of the most liberal in the region. Homosexuality was decriminalized in the 1960s in Hungary, but under Orban, laws are becoming increasingly restrictive.

For the last two years, it has been forbidden to inform minors about homosexuality and gender reassignment. The European Commission initiated disciplinary proceedings against the Hungarian government as a result.

Since 2019, the Hungarian constitution stipulates that marriage is only possible between a man and a woman, and that a father must be a CIS-gender male and a mother a CIS-gender female.

Hungary's LGBTQ community to face even more pressure

Italy: Meloni cracks down on surrogacy

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's government is also causing problems for LGBTQ families. Even before her election last September, she had railed against the "gay lobby."

Two months ago, in the city of Padua, the public prosecutor's office ensured that the civil registration of one of the two mothers of a five-year-old girl was revoked.

Since March, mayors have been prohibited from registering parents of the same sex.

Far-right leader Meloni is also pursuing a hard line on surrogacy. The practice is banned in Italy and can be prosecuted not just in the country itself but also if conception and birth occur abroad.

For male homosexual couples, surrogacy may be the only way to fulfill their desire to have children.

Those convicted already face draconian penalties of up to two years in prison and a fine of up to €1 million ($1.08 million).

Same-sex parents in Italy face tough times

Uganda: Homosexuality punishable by death

Restrictions on LGBTQ rights in Europe are still nowhere close to the levels of discrimination and persecution in Uganda,  where queer people fear for their lives because of the state.

The recent "anti-homosexuality bill" is one of the world's most rigid sets of rules against minorities and even threatens the death penalty for "aggravated" homosexuality.

Even before the new laws, those who were denounced ended up directly in prison.

Many from the LGBTQ community flee to neighboring Kenya as a result. Although homosexuality is also prohibited there, it is only sanctioned if practiced in public.

In much of Africa, homophobia is part of everyday life: homosexuality is criminalized in 30 countries across the continent.

Indonesia: Jail for extra-marital sex

In Indonesia, the criminalization of sexuality does not end with the LGBTQ community. 

The country with the largest Muslim population worldwide is set to ban all sex outside of heterosexual marriage from 2025 and punish those who defy the ban with up to one year in prison.

This applies not only to locals but also to visitors from abroad, including vacationers to places like Bali. Same-sex marriage is illegal in Indonesia.

Indonesia is also moving miles away from its earlier policy, which, unlike many other Muslim countries, for many years at least tolerated homosexuality.

In the autonomous province of Aceh, harsher penalties have long been applied. An interpretation of Sharia law was introduced there in 2003.

These religious rules prescribe 100 strokes of the cane, stoning and public flogging for homosexual sex.

Gay couple caned in Indonesia

This article was translated from German.

Oliver Pieper | Analysis & Reports
Oliver Pieper Reporter on German politics and society, as well as South American affairs.