Nearly 80 countries still have a total prohibition on same-sex relations. More than half of them are members of the Commonwealth and their homophobic laws were imposed by Britain in the 19th century, during the era of colonialism, and retained after independence.
The penalties for homosexuality include 25 years jail in Trinidad and Tobago, and 20 years plus flogging in Malaysia. Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Pakistan, Uganda, Bangladesh and Guyana stipulate life imprisonment.
There have also been new laws enacted in some countries, most excessively in Nigeria, which has outlawed lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) organisations, fundraising and public advocacy – and even gay-focused HIV prevention – as well as LGBTI-themed books and movies.
In these backlash countries, LGBTI people are increasingly demonised and scapegoated by demagogic politicians and fundamentalist clerics as a cheap way to win popular support.
At the start of 2016, a spokesperson for Malawi’s opposition party, Ken Msonda, sought to bolster his profile and reputation by saying: “The best way to deal with this problem [LGBTI people] is to kill them!”
Churches in Nigeria and Uganda have contributed to the witch-hunting atmosphere by supporting draconian laws. For governments, having an “enemy within” conveniently distracts public attention from economic failings and corruption.
Hate rhetoric is fuelling homophobic mob violence – sometimes perpetrated by right-wing death squads – especially in Honduras, Brazil, Mexico, Peru and El Salvador.
A disproportionately high number of victims of anti-LGBTI violence are trans people. The Trans Murder Monitoring Project says more than 1?300 trans and gender-diverse people were murdered in Latin America between 2008 and 2014.
Indian and Singaporean courts have upheld the criminalisation of same-sex relations, and Burundi has outlawed homosexuality for the first time in its history.
Despite this bleak picture, in the overwhelming majority of the world’s 193 countries, the trend is towards ever-greater LGBTI acceptance and equality.
Decriminalisation has taken place recently in Palau, São Tomé and Príncipe, northern Cyprus and Mozambique, and Vietnam lifted the ban on same-sex marriage in 2015.
Both the United Nation’s human rights council and the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights passed resolutions in 2014 calling on all countries to protect their LGBTI communities from discrimination and violence.
The backlash is a blip in the overall worldwide trajectory towards LGBTI equality. It is a reaction to the positive gains won by brave, determined LGBTI human rights defenders, many of whom risk their liberty and lives. If we were not winning there would be no need for the backlash. Take it as a backhanded compliment. – © Guardian News & Media 2016
Peter Tatchell is a human rights campaigner