Being gay can still get you killed in many places around the world. News reports on Brunei’s latest decision to implement Sharia law against gays and lesbians made the nation seem like an outlier.
Homosexuality was already punishable in Brunei by a jail term of up to 10 years. Under the new laws, those found guilty of gay sex can be publicly whipped or stoned to death.
Brunei is not alone. Eight countries have similar Sharia laws against homosexuality. In those eight countries, the laws include the death penalty for being gay or lesbian. Worldwide, 76 countries have laws against sexual activity by LGBT people. That is nearly half of the world’s 195 countries.
What few Americans may know is that the United States supports some of the worst offenders with massive amounts of foreign aid. The U.S. foreign aid bill for 2017 was $50.1 billion. Within that budget, the United States gave aid to nearly half of the nations where it is illegal to be gay.
The Supreme Court of the world’s most populous democracy, India, ruled in September 2018 that gay and lesbian sex was no longer a criminal offense. The law was overturned in a sweeping legal change and the court ruled discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a fundamental violation of rights.
But India is an outlier in changing laws to favor lesbians and gay men. And while Brunei was the first country in Southeast Asia to implement Sharia law against gays, in Africa, more than half of the 57 countries have laws making it illegal to be gay or lesbian. Many of those countries are supported by U.S. foreign aid.
American evangelical groups have been active participants in promoting anti-gay propaganda in various African countries, notably Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria, where thousands of LGBT people have fled to escape anti-gay violence in recent years. All three receive U.S. foreign aid.
Closer to home, Jamaica has long been called the most homophobic place on earth. A survey by Human Rights Watch found that more than half of respondents to a 2013 survey reported having been victims of homophobic violence.
While Jamaican LGBT rights advocates have been working for change in the island nation, in the places where it is illegal to be LGBT, being an activist for LGBT rights can get you assaulted, imprisoned or worse.
One of those countries is Kenya. Ranked seventh of the 10 most populous nations in Africa, Kenya is set to rule on legalizing homosexuality on May 24. It was scheduled to make the decision in February, but the date was pushed back. The prohibition of “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” is repeated verbatim in the penal codes of dozens of African nations, not just Kenya. But if Kenya overturns its anti-gay statutes, other countries may follow suit.
One of the worst places to be gay or lesbian is Egypt. With 90 million people, Egypt ranks fifth for foreign aid from the United States. But gay men and lesbians face discrimination, abuse, being arrested, having forced physical examinations or being sentenced to time in jail just for being gay. People are routinely arrested and imprisoned on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity, according to Amnesty International. In September 2018, more than 70 people were arrested at a concert in Cairo when one man waved a rainbow flag. LGBT activists in Egypt say that just the appearance of being gay or lesbian can result in arrest.
Being gay or lesbian is punishable by death in Afghanistan and Iraq, the top two recipients of American foreign aid. According to Amir Ashour, an openly gay activist from Iraq, and reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Iraq organizes “killing campaigns” of gay people. Iraq is listed as the worst nation in the world for anti-gay violence and executions of gays and lesbians are common.
Both Iraq and Afghanistan have laws similar to those in Brunei, and Sharia law is strictly adhered to. Honor killings of lesbians have been reported in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as by U.S. ally Saudi Arabia. Ten of the 18 countries that make up the Middle East have restrictive laws against gays and lesbians. Eight of them receive U.S. foreign aid.
One of the worst places to be transgender is Honduras and LGBT murders are common, yet the United States has no policy for allowing asylum for LGBT people from that nation, which is one of the countries from where immigrants are fleeing to the U.S. southern border.
While outrage over Brunei continues and corporations withdraw from events held there in protest of the new laws, all these other nations continue to impose oppressive and even murderous laws against gay and trans people with no outcry from anyone but human rights groups.