LGBTI rights

Around the world, people are under attack for who they love, how they dress, and ultimately for who they are.

In too many countries, being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) means living with daily discrimination. This discrimination could be based on your sexual orientation (who you’re attracted to); gender identity (how you define yourself, irrespective of your biological sex), gender expression (how you express your gender through your clothing, hair or make-up), or sex characteristics (for example, your genitals, chromosomes, reproductive organs, or hormone levels.)

From name-calling and bullying, to being denied a job or appropriate healthcare, the range of unequal treatment faced is extensive and damaging. It can also be life-threatening.

In all too many cases, LGBTI people are harassed in the streets, beaten up and sometimes killed, simply because of who they are. A spate of violence against trans people has claimed the lives of at least 325 individuals between October 2016 and September 2017. Many intersex people around the world are forced to undergo dangerous, invasive and completely unnecessary surgeries that can cause life-long physical and psychological side effects.

Two people hold an “End Homophobia” wrist band for World AIDS Day in Nairobi, Kenya, December 2010. © Felix Masi/Demotix

Sometimes, hostility directed at LGBTI people is stoked by the very governments that should be protecting them.  A state-sponsored campaign in Chechnya led to the targeting of gay men, some of whom have been abducted, tortured and even killed. In Bangladesh, LGBTI activists have been hacked to death by machete-wielding armed groups, with the police and government taking little interest in delivering justice to the families of victims. In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, LGBTI people continue to live in fear of being found out, and attacked or even murdered.

Same-sex sexual activity is a crime in 72 countries, and can get you a death sentence in eight countries, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen. And even where these restrictive laws are not actually enforced, their very existence reinforces prejudice against LGBTI people, leaving them feeling like they have no protection against harassment, blackmail and violence.

How are people tackling this discrimination?

LGBTI advocates have overcome enormous challenges and risks to their own personal safety to call out abuses of the human rights of LGBTI people, and force changes to laws that discriminate against them. From the introduction of the concept of Pride and global recognition days like the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (also known as IDAHOTB), LGBTI people are forging alliances and promoting pride in who they are worldwide. The collective efforts of activist organisations around the world has paid real dividends. Today, at least 43 countries recognise homophobic crimes as a type of hate crime.  And as of May 2018, 24 countries have made same-sex marriage legal.

Definitions: 7 answers to popular questions about what it means to be LGBTI

What does sexual orientation mean?

A person’s sexual orientation refers to who they are attracted to and form relationships with. Everyone’s sexual orientation is personal and it’s up to them to decide how – and if – they want to define it, and for some people this changes over time.

Sexual orientations include lesbian (women who are attracted to women), gay (usually men who are attracted to other men, bisexual (attracted to men and women), pansexual (attracted to individuals, regardless of gender), asexual (not sexually attracted to anyone).

Marielle Franco, a bisexual human rights defender in Brazil, fought tirelessly for the rights of LGBTI people, women and the many people in Brazil who suffer from police brutality. She was assassinated on 14 March 2018 while she was returning home from a speaking event. © Amnesty International/Mídia Ninja

What does transgender mean?

Transgender (or trans) people are individuals whose gender identity or gender expression is different from typical expectations of the gender they were assigned at birth.

Not all transgender people identify as male or female. Some identify as more than one gender or no gender at all.

Some trans people decide to transition, which is the process of living your life as their true gender. There is no single transitioning process. Some people may adopt new pronouns, change their name, apply for legal gender recognition, and/or undergo gender affirming surgery or hormone therapy.

Being transgender has nothing to do with a person’s sexual orientation. You can be a trans man and be gay – or be a trans woman and be lesbian.

Where can transgender people get legal gender recognition?

In some countries, transgender people can have their gender legally recognised. However, in most cases they must endure humiliating processes, including getting a psychiatric diagnosis and undergoing irreversible sterilization, that violate their human rights. Just seven countries don’t have processes that do this. They are: Argentina, Belgium, Colombia, Denmark, Ireland, Malta and Norway.

Sakris Kupila is a transgender activist from Finland who is fighting to change laws that force transgender people to be sterilized before receiving legal gender recognition.

What does intersex mean?

When someone is born with sex characteristics that differ from what is typically seen as female or male traits, they are known as intersex. For instance, in some cases, a person’s body has both male and female characteristics. Another instance is where a person’s chromosomal make-up is neither typically male nor female. These characteristics might be present at birth or become more apparent during or after puberty.

Many intersex people are subjected to invasive, non-emergency and irreversible “normalising” surgeries, often when they are children but sometimes later in life. These procedures leave people with devastating and long-term physical or mental difficulties.

Where is same-sex sex criminalized?

Having sex with a partner of the same sex is illegal in 72 countries. In Ethiopia, India, Malaysia and 11 other countries you could go to prison for anywhere between 14 years and life. Eight countries punish homosexuality with death: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen.

Where is same-sex marriage recognised?

As of May 2018, same-sex marriage is recognised in 24 countries, including: Argentina, Canada, Ireland, Malta, South Africa and Uruguay. Taiwan recently pledged to say yes to equal marriage, although it is yet to enact this in law, and Amnesty is calling on Japan to follow suit.

What is Pride?

Pride takes many forms – from carnivalesque marches, to film screenings and debates – and serve a moment of celebration of people who are marginalized by strict definitions of what it means to be a man or a woman. Events are organized throughout the year, depending on where you are. In the Americas and Europe, the season usually kicks off in June, while February to March is Pride season in South Africa. Whatever the event, it’s a moment for LGBTI people to show that they are out and proud to be who they are. Pride festivals are banned in several countries around the world, including Russia, Saudi Arabia, Uganda and most recently Turkey. Pride celebrates the LGBTI movement in all its diversity, and amplifies the call to respect and protect LGBTI rights.

Activists in Turkey have been organizing and attending Istanbul Pride since 2003. But in 2016, the festival was banned. © Getty Images

Why are LGBTI rights important?

Everyone should be able to feel proud of who they are and who they love. We all have the right to express ourselves freely. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which set out for the first time the rights we’re all entitled to) protects everyone’s right to express themselves freely.

Bringing an end to homophobia and transphobia will save lives. Anti-LGBTI harassment puts LGBTI identifying people at a heightened risk of physical and psychological harm. Everyone has the right to life, freedom and safety.

By embracing LGBTI people and understanding their identities, we can learn how to remove many of the limitations imposed by gender stereotypes. These stereotypes are damaging across society, defining and limiting how people are expected to live their lives. Removing them sets everyone free to achieve their full potential, without discriminatory social constraints.

LGBTI people, especially transgender and gender non-conforming people, are often at risk of economic and social exclusion. Fighting for laws that are more inclusive of people of regardless of their sexual orientatio

Amnesty supporters around the world stood up for LGBTI rights in Russia in reaction to news that gay men were abducted, tortured and killed in Chechnya. © christophemeireis.com

What is Amnesty doing to promote LGBTI rights?

We are committed to standing up to discrimination against LGBTI people around the world. We give recommendations to governments and other influential leaders on how to improve laws and protect people’s rights regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

After a global Amnesty campaign, the highest court in Taiwan ruled that banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Once the ruling is written into law, Taiwan will be the first country in Asia to recognize same-sex marriages.

In other areas, our work has strongly influenced new laws in GreeceDenmark and Norway that allow people to have their true gender legally recognized by the government.

While there is no doubt that the LGBTI movement has made significant progress, there is still work to do. Amnesty helps activists around the world by producing resources on various issues that affect LGBTI people, such as an advocacy toolkit that can be used to combat discrimination in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Body Politics series aimed at increasing awareness around the criminalization of sexuality and reproduction.