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In many parts of the world lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender peoples’ (LGBT+) rights are not protected. As at July 2019, engaging in same sex sexual relation is illegal in 69 of the UN’s 193 member-states(36%), in others it may be punished through different laws.
According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Organization (ILGA), in 2020 Africa was the continent with the smallest proportion of states where same sex sexual activity is legal: 22 out of 54 (41%).
ILGA reports that in 2020 there were six UN member states where the death penalty was the legally-prescribed punishment for consensual same-sex sexual acts: Brunei, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria (12 Northern states only), Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Deeply-embedded homophobic and transphobic attitudes, being sometimes a hangover from colonialism, or rooted in interpretations of particular religious writings, contribute to societal discrimination – whether in access to housing, employment opportunities, or healthcare provision. People may even be disowned by their own families and communities.
While recent decades have seen much progress in terms of social attitudes and political acceptance of LGBT+ people, this is by no means universal. In some countries, our research shows that previous progress is being reversed.
International legal obligations
All states have legal obligations to protect their citizens regardless of their status, grounded in international human rights law.
Although the human rights obligations, when they were written, did not explicitly include protection from discrimination for LGBT+ groups, those obligations outlawing discrimination have since been interpreted as including protection for LGBT+ groups and sexual orientation. Notwithstanding, there are some international human rights provisions that are not open ended, and may need to be updated to afford that protection. As the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) notes in its publication Born free and equal:
“These core principles are reaffirmed through international human rights covenants and treaties, many of which contain open-ended provisions against discrimination, and have been interpreted to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics.”
In 2016, the UN Human Rights Council created a new role– an Independent Expert on protection from violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender—whose role includes investigating and reporting on human rights violations against LGBT+ people.
In 2019, the OHCHR notes that while there has been progress in some areas of LGBT+ rights, it is uneven:
“Recent years have seen uneven progress – advances for lesbian, gay and bisexual persons in a growing number of countries, more limited progress on the rights of trans people, increased awareness but few concrete measures to protect the rights of intersex people”
UK Parliament and Government
Successive governments have said that the promotion and protection of the human rights of LGBT+ people internationally is a priority.
The UK Government had planned to host the international conference, Safe to Be Me, in June 2022 to bring together countries, businesses and international civil society organisations to address global LGBT+ inclusion.
However, following the Government’s decision to introduce a ban on conversion therapy for gay or bisexual people but not for transgender people in the 2022 Queen’s Speech, many UK charities withdrew from attending. The Government subsequently announced it would cancel the June 2022 conference.
This landing page features a series of Commons Library briefings on LGBT+ rights and issues across different regions of the world. The ‘+’ symbol is used to include people whose identities do not fit typical binary notions of male and female, or who decide to identify themselves using other categories to describe their gender identity or their sexuality. Within each region we have focused on a range of countries. Within each country we look at what rights and protections are provided for LGBT+ people and report on recent events. We also look at any relevant parliamentary material and at UK Government actions.
It is a snapshot, rather than an exhaustive account of all the issues, and nor is every country covered. Briefings should be read as correct at date of publication
New regions will be added periodically.
Same-sex marriage in the UK’s Overseas Territories, 4 April 2022
LGBT+ rights in south and central Asia, 31 March 2022
LGBT+ rights and issues in Pacific islands, 21 March 2022
LGBT+ rights and issues in Europe, 28 February 2022
LGBT+ rights and issues in the Middle East, House of Commons Library, 9 February 2022
LGBT+ rights and issues in the Caribbean, House of Commons Library, 27 January 2022
LGBT+ rights and issues in North Africa, House of Commons Library, 21 December 2021
LGBT+ rights and issues in sub-Saharan Africa, House of Commons Library, 21 December 2021
ILGA World’s State-Sponsored Homophobia International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Organization (ILGA) December 2020 World map on sexual orientation laws ILGA December 2020 World’s Trans Legal Mapping Report ILGA September 2020
Human Rights Watch Country Profiles: Sexual orientation and gender identity, Human Rights Watch 2021 World Report, April 2021.
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