In Focus: Global LGBTQ Rights
In the U.S., advocates often use the acronym LGBTQ to describe the community. Internationally it is more common to see the inclusion of intersex people by the use of LGBTQI or LGBTI. All of these acronyms are acceptable to use, though U.S. audiences may not be familiar with the I being included in the acronym.
Laws and attitudes relating to LGBTQ people vary drastically around the world. Laws criminalizing LGBTQ people change frequently, so it is important to check the status of anti-LGBTQ laws when reporting in a particular country or context.
It is important to note that diverse sexual orientations and gender identities have existed in global cultures throughout history. Still, the concept of LGBTQ is recent and can be seen as a largely Western phenomenon. Reporting should take into account the historic, cultural, and indigenous understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity that may inform stories about legal or social acceptance in different cultures.
Since it is ruled a crime to be LGBTQ in dozens of countries around the world, and some countries continue to have largely negative attitudes about LGBTQ people, it is important to consider safety when reporting on LGBTQ people. Confirm with sources that they are OK with having their full names and locations published when reporting.
According to ILGA World’s 2020 report on State-Sponsored Homophobia (and taking into account Botswana’s 2021 decriminalization of gay relationships) , 68 countries have laws and/or policies criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual behavior and six United Nations member states punish consensual same-sex sexual behavior with the death penalty. In addition, ILGA reports that at least 13 United Nations member states still have laws on the books criminalizing “cross-dressing,” which are used against transgender people. Many of these laws are part of the legacy of British and European colonialism. Note that in a number of countries with laws targeting LGBTQ people, leaders frequently attempt to deflect criticism of their anti-LGBTQ actions or defend anti-LGBTQ laws by asserting that they are not anti-LGBTQ, and that these laws are not criminalizing or harming LGBTQ people, but criminalizing LGBTQ behavior. However, in practice, these laws do in fact criminalize LGBTQ people.
Global acceptance for LGBTQ people has become increasingly polarized in recent years. Even in countries that do not criminalize LGBTQ people, public sentiment can be very negative, creating a dangerous situation for LGBTQ people. Violence, including at the hands of police, can be a regular occurrence. As noted below, it is important to consider the safety of your sources.
However, in recent years, many countries have seen increasing positive sentiment towards LGBTQ people, as we have seen in the U.S. For example, Pew released a survey in 2020, which found double-digit growth in support for same-sex relationships in 10 countries, including Kenya, which went from 1% support in 2002 to 14% in 2019. A 2021 report from UCLA’s Williams Institute found that 131 out of 174 countries experienced increases in acceptance from 1981 to 2020.
In some countries, we see increasing support for transgender and/or intersex people while seeing increasing animosity towards gay, lesbian, and bisexual people — or vice versa. It is important to be specific in your coverage about which community members are being targeted for either abuse or support.
Journalists covering countries hostile to the LGBTQ community must investigate the source of that hostility. Often, U.S.-based anti-LGBTQ activists, having lost many battles in the U.S., have moved their attention and energy overseas, fomenting animosity and framing the LGBTQ movement as a global threat.
Polling and Sentiment Data
- Pew Polling: LGBT Attitudes & Experiences
- Williams Institute: Social Acceptance of LGBTI People in 175 Countries and Locations
- IPSOS Polling: LGBT+ Pride 2021 Global Survey
- Human Rights Watch: LGBT Rights During Covid
As of February 2022, LGBTQ couples can legally marry in 31 countries across 7 continents — up from zero less than 20 years ago. Freedom to Marry Global reports that over 16% of the world’s population — more than 1.2 billion people, including all of North America (outside of the Caribbean), most of Europe, and most of Latin America — now live in countries with marriage equality..
When reporting on partnership laws outside of the U.S., note that many other countries provide some civil protections, short of marriage equality, and those protections should not be referred to as “marriage.”
Given the dangerous conditions for LGBTQ people in many countries around the world, LGBTQ people are often forced to seek refuge outside of their home country to live safely. Often, this is not the migrant’s preference, but is rather a last resort. To do this, migrants must either obtain a visa to live in another country, apply for refugee status, or seek asylum.
Around the world, millions of refugees seek to find a safe place to call home after fleeing their country of origin. To obtain refugee status, someone must typically leave their home country to what is known as a “third country” while seeking permission to enter the country they wish to live in. Often, refugees must wait for years to be approved for entry into their new country, and many countries that serve as third countries for refugees are also unwelcoming to and dangerous for LGBTQ people. For these reasons, it is again important to confirm with refugee sources that they are willing to be named.
Each country has its own procedures and policies for seeking asylum. In the U.S., asylum policies and procedures change frequently, so check United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and/or the advocacy organizations in our Community Resources for more.
To request asylum in the U.S., a migrant must be within the United States. If a migrant requests asylum at a port of entry (airport, ship port, or border crossing), that migrant will be typically placed in immigration detention while awaiting review of their case. If a migrant requests asylum from within the U.S., they will typically not have to go to immigration detention, except in specific circumstances.
Asylum seekers often must wait for years to have their cases heard. Anything written about them during this time may affect their asylum case, so again, it is important to confirm with asylum seekers that they are willing to have their name used in any reporting.
Immigration detention in the U.S.
Immigration detention is exponentially more dangerous for LGBTQ people, especially transgender people, who may not be able to choose whether they are detained according to sex assigned at birth or gender identity, and are more likely to be placed in in solitary confinement. A report from the Center for American Progress found that LGBTQ people are 97 times more likely to be sexually assaulted in immigration detention than non-LGBTQ detained people.
Please reach out to the below organizations — or GLAAD (firstname.lastname@example.org) — to learn more and connect with spokespeople:
- Council for Global Equality
- Freedom to Marry Global
- Human Rights Watch
- ILGA World
- Immigration Equality
- International Rescue Committee (IRC)
- National Immigrant Justice Center
- Outright International
- Rainbow Railroad (Canada)
- United Nations Human Rights Office