Being Gay is Illegal in Many Countries Around the World

Hundreds of passionate protesters recently gathered outside of hotels around the world owned by the Sultan of Brunei. People came together to speak out after the leader of the small Southeast Asian kingdom passed a hateful law in April 2019 that allows for men to be stoned to death if they engage in gay sex and for women to be lashed if they participate in lesbian sex. This has highlighted the fact that being gay is illegal in many countries around the world.



Image courtesy: ILGA – the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association

Outrage over Brunei’s anti-gay laws

The anti-gay laws have sparked backlash from many Western nations and celebrities alike: the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said, “ [the new laws] would enshrine in legislation cruel and inhuman punishments that seriously breach international human rights law”; and well-known public figures, like George Clooney, Sir Elton John and Ellen DeGeneres, have called for people to boycott of popular hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei.



Image via Ellen Degeneres’ Instagram


Brunei is now one of eight countries, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan and Mauritania, in which being gay is punishable by death and one of 73 countries in which being gay is illegal. Essentially, in various parts of the globe, queer people are still fighting for equal rights.

Rising up to fight for equal human rights for all

While the law can be manipulated to oppress and persecute people; it can also be challenged and overturned to serve the greater good. Over the years, the efforts of activists and lawmakers have led to the birth of gay rights in countries around the world. Most recently, a wave of people in rainbow colours took to the streets of Mumbai, India in 2018, after the country’s Supreme Court ruled to decriminalise homosexual acts and sex. The landmark ruling found that the 160-year-old law was unconstitutional. Other countries that have recently embraced gay rights include Cyprus, Fiji, Belize, Nepal.

There’s more hope: other legal developments that could lead to gay rights:

  • On 24 May 2019, the High Court in Kenya is scheduled to rule on whether or not to uphold a law banning gay sex in the country.
  • Botswana’s High Court has officially decriminalised homosexuality. The unanimous ruling found that criminalising consensual same-sex intercourse is unconstitutional.
  • In Jamaica, laws criminalising gay relations are also being challenged. In 2006, TIME Magazine called the country “the most homophobic place on Earth”.

Same-sex marriage around the world

In 2001, The Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalise marriage for gay and lesbian couples.  More than 26 other countries, including South Africa, have followed suit. Most recently, Germany, Malta and Australia legalised same-sex marriage in 2017. What’s more, same-sex marriage is scheduled to be legalised in Taiwan on 24 May 2019.



Image courtesy: Pew Research Centre

Equality for all

It’s heartening to see that more and more countries are seeing gay rights as human rights, but we shouldn’t forget that being gay is still illegal in many countries around the world. We must also remember that even in countries that protect and recognise queer people, society’s perception of them doesn’t often change. We need to have more open and honest conversations with people around us- whether friends or family, to challenge ignorance and discrimination.