Imagine a minority group, one that has been persecuted for thousands of years, who have continuously been a target by governments, regimes, institutions, and organisations just because of who they are and what they believe in, many have been imprisoned, and large numbers from this group have sadly had their lives taken over the years. You would likely be thinking that I was talking about a group straight out of the history books, certainly not one that, even today, is still being actively persecuted in the 21st century. Sadly, this is not the case, this minority group are still being targeted, and many face risks to their lives daily. The group I am referring to is the global gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and all those questioning or from non-binary or other sexual identities, collectively known as the LGBTQ+ community. Even though some parts of the world have become much more inclusive, there are still regions and countries that are targeting, persecuting and often torturing large groups of their population and surprisingly, these brutal acts do not always feature in the news headlines, trending subjects or grab the world's attention like it should, given the size and scale of the problem.
In 2021, it is estimated that there are 203.1 million members of the LGBTQ+ community, contributing an estimated 1.3 trillion US dollars to the world economies; however, even with the growing numbers and vast spending global spending power, a spending power larger than most countries, 39.5 million or 19.5% are living in countries in which the laws and legal protection are classified as low or very low, and 13.5 million or 6.7% are living in countries that are actively persecuting members of the community and many face the death sentence if prosecuted. Some positive changes have been made throughout 2020, so let us look at the overall state of the LGBTQ+ worldwide status in 2021.
2021 Equality Status
In 2020, the most significant development was that the North African country Sudan, which still criminalises same-sex relationships, removed the death penalty as part of its judicial sentencing, lowering the number of countries issuing death sentences from 13 down to 12. Gabon decriminalised same-sex relationships, one-year after criminalising it, and South Africa implemented a rule that means that state marriage officers and magistrates can no longer decline to wed same-sex couples. Costa Rica, Montenegro, and Sark in the Channel Islands all legalised same-sex marriages, making Costa Rica the first country in Central America to allow same-sex marriages nationwide. Some countries, such as Russia and Hungary, have become increasingly hostile towards the community, reversing existing laws or implementing so called 'morality' legalisation. In 2020, Hungary amended its constitution banning same-sex marriages, same-sex couples adopting, and ended recognition of changes of gender for legal purposes on documents, whilst Russia carried out a referendum which put in place 200 constitutional amendments, which subsequently resulted in a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
From an LGBTQ+ equality status perspective, 26.6% or 62 countries ranked high or very high, 45.1% or 105 countries ranked as medium, and 28.3% or 66 countries ranked as low or very low. Europe is ranked highest in terms of equality status at 11.6% or 27 countries, followed by the Americas at 9% or 21 countries. Africa ranks lowest at 13.7% or 32 countries, followed by Asia at 8.6% or 20 countries. The number of countries that still criminalise same-sex relationships dropped by one from the previous year down to 70 countries; however, the number of countries not enforcing penalties increased by 5 up to 22 countries. Another positive development was the number of countries that introduced anti-discrimination legalisation, which increased by 10 countries or 4.3% to 36 countries or 15.5% overall.
In 2020, it was estimated that 203.1 million LGBTQ+ individuals are living in countries around the world. The population is based on conservative estimates; however, academic research predicts the population size, especially in countries such as the United States of America, as much higher. Based on the conservative estimates, 16.1% or 32.7 million people live in countries with an equality status of high or very high, whilst 19.5% or 39.5 million people live in countries with an equality status of low or very low. Asia continues to have the largest LGBTQ+ population, with 59.1% (120 million), followed by Africa with 17.4% (35.4 million) and the Americas with 13.2% (26.8 million). Oceania has the lowest LGBTQ+ population, with 0.5% or 1.1 million. Compared to 2019, Africa saw the most significant growth at 2.6%, followed by Oceania at 1.4%. Europe saw a decrease of -0.12, and the Americas saw a small increase of 0.9%.
With 12 countries still enforcing a death sentence as a maximum penalty, it is estimated that 13.5 million or 6.7% of the LGBTQ+ community live in countries and regions where they fear persecution and the danger and risk to their lives if prosecuted. Not all of the 12 countries have national-level laws relating to death sentences; however, they do not stop or prosecute vigilantes from taking the lives of people they have deemed to have committed a sin or participated in same-sex acts.
Gay Conversion Therapy
Gay Conversion Therapy is a practice in which an organisation or institution will take an individual typically under 21 and where the minor or young adults have questioned or become aware of their sexual orientation or identity. The therapy aims to change how a person thinks and feels and converts them to a heterosexual mindset. Many of the organisations and institutions carrying out the therapy believe that the LGBTQ+ community is making a conscious decision in being gay. By doing so, their decision can be reversed with the treatment. Though the practice has been condemned by many religious world leaders and national psychiatric associations worldwide, the practice continues even with public scrutiny and media attention. In 2021, only 11 out of 233 countries have nationwide laws banning gay conversion therapy. One nation, Malaysia, went one step further and made it legal and provided state approval in its application. Though some countries such as Australia, Canada, China, Spain and the United States of America either have bans in specific states, regions or provinces or cases are reviewed on a case-by-case basis; there currently is no national-level laws making the practice a crime in those countries. Research carried out by academic institutions has shown that the therapy has limited success in a small number of cases; however, most were ineffective and harmful, leading to those subjected to the treatment feeling depressed, isolated and even suicidal. Research over the years has proven that identifying as LGBTQ+ is not a choice but instead a chemical and/or physical reaction, one that is difficult for a person to change, meaning that the therapy may help to hide or suppress how they think or feel, but will not transform them into something that they are not.
Overall, the community has seen steady improvements in the last five years in terms of legal recognition and equality; however, there are still many countries with antiquated laws in place. Of the 70 countries that still criminalise same-sex relationships, 22 defend their stance by stating that they do not enforce those specific laws or sentence those found breaking them. Though it is good news for those people living in those countries that they will not face criminal persecution, lengthy prison sentences or even fines, the fact the laws still exist is the real issue. A law that is inactive today could be used at a later date, whether through the change of leadership or government or simply to target a single individual or group. Repealing laws, removing antiquated legislation is the only real and genuine way of proving to the world and the community that a country is safe, inclusive, and treats community members fairly and with respect.
Equality is not about taking the rights from one group and giving them to another or singling out and treating one group differently; equality is about treating everyone the same, good or bad. Everyone should have the same rights and access to basic human needs, such as the right to an education, healthcare, employment and most importantly, the right to love and marry whomever they wish.
We are all entitled to live freely and receive equal treatment regardless of our beliefs, who we love or how we choose to identify.