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Religious Tolerance logo

Laws concerning homosexuals & bisexuals

Absence of past global conventions.
History of homophobia in ex-colonies.

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"GLBT" is a common acronym for Gay, Lesbian,
Bisexual and transgender/transsexual persons.

Lack of past global conventions:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was written in 1948. It attempts to protect all people of the world from discrimination on the basis of their "race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status." However, sexual orientation and gender identity were not specifically mentioned.

Just as human slavery was regarded as a normal part of the culture in many countries during the early 19th century, the denigration, oppression and imprisonment of homosexuals was regarded as normal in 1948. In many areas of the world, attitudes towards homosexuals and transgender people have radically improved. Yet, as the 60th anniversary of the UDHR passed in 2008, the document had never been expanded to include these sexual minorities.

According to Peter Tatchell of the Guardian (UK) newspaper in late 2008:

bulletNo international declaration or convention existed to protect the rights of GLBT persons.
bulletThe right to physically love the person of one's choice was nowhere enshrined in any global humanitarian law.
bulletNo convention recognized GLBT sexual rights as human rights.
bulletNone offers explicit protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
bulletThe United Nations general assembly had never considered LGBT rights.
bulletEighty-six countries, which comprise almost half of the nations on Earth, still criminalize gay male behavior.
bulletA smaller number also criminalize lesbian behavior.
bulletPossible sentences upon conviction range from a few years in jail to life imprisonment for most of these countries.
bulletAmong the 86 countries, seven predominately Muslim countries and areas -- Saudi Arabia, Iran, Mauritania, Sudan, Yemen and parts of Nigeria and Pakistan -- invoke the death penalty. 1 See a world map

Less obvious than these sentences and executions is the the threat of violence under which LGBT persons live. After all, if one's government and one's religion consider sexual minorities to be second class citizens -- or even sub-human -- there is little motivation for ordinary citizens to treat them as individuals worthy of respect.

History of homophobia in many Asian and African countries:

Many of the 86 countries that currently criminalize same-sex behavior in are in Asia and Africa. Prior to European colonialism, many had very low levels of homophobia. "...same-sex relations were variously tolerated, accepted and even venerated." 1 However, the colonizing European powers exported their homophobia with the support of their Christian churches and missionaries. Tatchell comments:

"This importation of western homophobia happened in countries like Ghana, Jamaica, Nigeria and Uganda, which now absurdly decry homosexuality as a 'white man's disease' and 'unAfrican,' while vehemently denying and suppressing all knowledge of their own pre-colonial era indigenous homosexualities."

During the discussion at the UN General Assembly on a resolution promoting the decriminalization of homosexual activity during 2008-DEC, Navanethem Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights said that just like apartheid laws that criminalized sexual relations between different races, laws against homosexuality "... are increasingly becoming recognized as anachronistic and as inconsistent both with international law and with traditional values of dignity, inclusion and respect for all." 2

Reference used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. Peter Tatchell, "A watershed for gay rights," Guardian (UK), 2008-DEC-08, at:
  2. "In a first, gay rights are pressed at the UN,", 2008-DEC-19, at:

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Home > Transgender/Transsexual > International declarations > here

Copyright © 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2009-FEB-13
Latest update: 2009-FEB-16
Author: B.A. Robinson

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