Queer Freedom


Written by Peter Tatchell
19 Monday 19th May 2008

No international human rights convention specifically acknowledges sexual rights as human rights or explicitly guarantees equality and non-discrimination to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Shocking but true. All attempts to get the United Nations to affirm queer human rights have been blocked by an unholy alliance of the Vatican and Islamist states.


The right to love a person of one’s choice is absent from global jurisprudence. Love between partners of the same sex is not specifically recognised in any international law. There is nothing in any of the many UN conventions that explicitly prohibits homophobic discrimination and protects LGBT people.

There are 192 member states of the UN. So far, only a handful of these have repealed all major legal inequalities against LGBT people: the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Canada, New Zealand and, very recently, the UK.

In much of the world homophobia is still rampant. More than 70 countries continue to outlaw homosexuality, with penalties ranging from one year’s jail to life imprisonment. Six Islamist states impose the death penalty, including Saudi Arabia and Iran. In some provinces of other countries, such as Nigeria and Pakistan, Islamic Sharia law is enforced and lesbians and gays can be stoned to death. Under the new post-Saddam “democratic” Iraqi penal code, people who murder gays and lesbians to defend the “honour” of their family are exempt from punishment.


Hundreds of millions of LGBT people worldwide - even in many western countries - are forced to hide their sexuality, fearing ostracism, harassment, discrimination, imprisonment, torture and even murder. Some of this violence is perpetrated by vigilantes, including right-wing death squads in countries like Mexico and Brazil. They justify the killing of queers as ‘social cleansing’. Other homophobic persecution is encouraged and enforced by governments, police, courts, media and religious leaders, as these recent examples illustrate:

In Nigeria, in 2005, six teenage lesbians, one only 12 years old, were ordered to be punished with an agonising 90 lashes for consensual same-sex relations. Government ministers in Namibia, echoing the homo-hatred of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, have denounced lesbians and gays as unAfrican, traitors and spreaders of HIV/AIDS.

In Iraq the rise of Islamist fundamentalism has led to the creeping, de facto imposition of Sharia law, with deadly consequences for LGBTs and for women who refuse to be veiled. The US and UK-backed Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has issued a fatwa calling for the execution of lesbians and gays in the “worst, most severe way possible.” Islamist death squads of the Badr and Sadr militias are assassinating LGBT people with impunity.


Russian religious leaders have united to orchestrate hatred against the LGBT community. The Orthodox Church has denounced homosexuality as a "sin which destroys human beings and condemns them to a spiritual death." The Chief Mufti of Russia's Muslims, Talgat Tajuddin, says gay campaigners “should be bashed… Sexual minorities have no rights because they have crossed the line. Alternative sexuality is a crime against God.” Russian Chief Rabbi, Berl Lazar, has condemned gay pride parades as “a blow for morality," adding that there is no right to “sexual perversions."

The Iranian persecution of LGBTs continues unabated; including the hanging, probably on false charges of rape, of two youths in the city of Mashhad in July 2005. Another Iranian, 22 year old Amir, was luckier. He was entrapped via a gay website. The person he arranged to meet turned out to be a member of the morality police. Amir was jailed, tortured and sentenced to 100 lashes, which caused him to lose consciousness and left his whole back covered in huge bloody welts.

The western-backed regime in Saudi Arabia retains the death penalty (usually beheading) for ‘sodomites’. In early 2006 its neighbour, the United Arab Emirates, imposed six years jail on 11 gay men arrested at a private party. They were imprisoned not for sexual acts, but merely for being gay and attending a gay social gathering.

Uganda is gripped by the state-sponsored victimisation of LGBT people.

Typical is the fate of gay rights activist Kizza Musinguzi. He was jailed in 2004 and subjected to four months of forced labour, water torture, beatings and rape. Those who speak out against anti-gay violence risk dire consequences. Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo was expelled from the Church of Uganda for defending the human rights of LGBT people. In recent years, the Ugandan government has passed a law banning same-sex marriage, fined Radio Simba for broadcasting a discussion of LGBT issues, and expelled a UN AIDS agency director for meeting with gay activists.


Despite this oppression, we’ve made huge gains in many parts of the world. A mere four decades ago queers were almost universally seen as mad, bad and sad. Same-sex relations were a sin, a crime and a sickness. It was in only 1991 that the World Health Organisation declassified homosexuality as an illness, and that Amnesty International agreed to campaign for LGBT human rights.

But now, in almost every country on earth, there are LGBT freedom movements - some open, others clandestine. For the first time ever countries like the Philippines, Estonia, Lebanon, Columbia, Russia, Sri Lanka, and China are hosting LGBT conferences and Pride celebrations. Via the internet and pop culture, LGBT people in small towns in Ghana, Peru, Uzbekistan, Kuwait, Vietnam, St Lucia, Palestine, Fiji and Kenya are connecting with the worldwide LGBT community. The struggle for LGBT liberation has gone global. We’ve begun to roll back the homophobia of centuries.

Peter Tatchell has campaigned for LGBT human rights for 40 years. For more information about his campaigns www.petertatchell.net

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