Anger over the rising persecution of gays, lesbians and other sexual minorities in Russia mounted around the world in the wake of new discriminatory legislation. Today, in the months leading up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, many LGBTQ-rights activists are calling for a boycott on the games to place pressure on President Putin. And yet, Russia is but one of more than 75 countries that officially prohibit or discriminate against same-sex relations, with sanctioned punishments ranging from monetary fines to lifetime imprisonment with hard labor, forced psychiatric treatment, whippings and even death by public stoning.
Worldwide, LGBTQ people are arrested every day under state-sponsored homophobia, but the precise numbers of victims are difficult to determine. For instance, while Egypt’s post-revolutionary government does not explicitly outlaw same-sex relations, police routinely harass and arrest people perceived as sexually “deviant,” charging them with “contempt of religion” or “obscene behavior.” This ad hoc harassment is not limited to Egypt, but is common in many other countries, some of which purport to be tolerant of same-sex relations. In addition, LGBTQ prisoners often suffer inferior conditions compared with heterosexuals, including insufficient medical care—especially critical for HIV-positive prisoners—and violence, even torture, at the hands of fellow inmates as well as prison officials.
Across the globe persecution on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity can take many forms, but all punishments and harassment, whether official discrimination or indiscriminate violence, are clearly against the basic tenets of international human rights law. Identifying those countries with official sanctions against sexual difference feeds an urgent conversation about how to ensure LGBTQ people basic human rights, respect and legal protection.