More than 70 countries make being gay a crime

People are being killed for their sexual orientation, despite progress made by some nations, including Britain, to eliminate prejudice

Emily Dugan
Sunday 01 August 2010 00:00 BST
(John Lawrence)

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Acomprehensive study of global lesbian, bisexual and gay rights, seen by The Independent on Sunday, reveals the brutal – and, in many instances, fatal – price people pay around the globe for their sexuality. The research, which was conducted by the charity network the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), shows that 76 countries still prosecute people on the grounds of their sexual orientation – seven of which punish same-sex acts with death.

On a global scale, the nations doing something positive for gay rights are dwarfed by those behaving negatively. While 75 countries will imprison you if you are gay, only 53 have anti-discrimination laws that apply to sexuality. Only 26 countries recognise same-sex unions.

In the 10 years since the IoS published its first Pink List, Britain has made impressive strides towards sexual equality. In a single decade of progress, gay people have the right to adopt children, an equal age of consent, legislation to protect them from discrimination and can even tie the knot in civil ceremonies.

But homophobia remains a scar on Britain's social landscape. Around the world, hundreds of people are killed every year just for being gay. Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the UK lesbian gay and bisexual rights organisation Stonewall, said: "We are mindful that however remarkable the progress we might be making in Britain is, there are countries around the world where people still live in fear of their lives just because of the way they were born. Helping to support them sensitively is a critical obligation of anyone who cares about human rights in the wider world."

The picture in many other parts of the world may make Britain look comparatively welcoming, especially on a day when we celebrate 100 influential figures who are open about their sexuality. But as the Prime Minister, David Cameron, writes today on page 39, the Pink List also reminds the UK not to sit on its laurels.

"As well as being a celebration, the Pink List is a challenge and a reminder that we must go further," he said. "Yes, the UK is a world leader for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality, but we cannot be complacent. As long as there are people out there feeling marginalised or threatened, we must continue to tackle prejudice."

The broadcaster Clare Balding, who last week was dismissed by the Sunday Times writer A A Gill as a "dyke on a bike", writes in today's paper that being gay in Britain "is still not plain sailing". She was told in a letter from The Sunday Times that the homophobic piece was equivalent to the criticism Jeremy Clarkson gets about his dress sense.

Mr Summerskill added that the key is to challenge prejudice. "People are still being murdered for their sexuality on the streets of London, which is meant to be the most progressive city in the country. When Jeremy Clarkson or Chris Moyles say 'What are you complaining about?', the answer is, 'Why don't you try walking down the high street holding hands with another man?'"

Social pressure to be "straight" in Britain has yet to be eliminated. When the X Factor winner Joe McElderry, 19, came out as gay yesterday, it was after previously feeling unable to admit his sexuality. Even when someone hacked into his Twitter account to "out" him last month, he still insisted he was straight. According to Stonewall, almost two-thirds of young lesbian, gay and bisexual people experience homophobic bullying in Britain's schools.

ILGA's study of global gay rights shows that, elsewhere, admitting to being gay is still a matter of life and death. In much of Africa, the past decade has seen the lives of gay people go "from bad to worse", the report says. More than 50 per cent of African states have taken action to criminalise homosexuality and religious homophobia is rife. The picture is not much brighter in Asia, where 23 countries have made being gay a crime.

Latin America and the Caribbean are also home to many governments with a similar outlook. In Jamaica, sex with another man is described in the statute book as an "abominable crime".

Widney Brown of Amnesty International lists sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe as the regions which give them the greatest concern for gay rights. Ms Brown also warned against Western nations becoming complacent. "The US is the only country in Nato with a prohibition of being openly gay in the military."

Renato Sabbadini, co-secretary general of ILGA, said: "The unworthiness rests entirely on these states, for theirs is the shame of depriving a significant number of their citizens of dignity, respect and the enjoyment of equal rights."

Unlawfully deported: 'Nothing can make up for what I went through'

A gay asylum-seeker from Uganda has been awarded £100,000 in an unprecedented compensation award from the Home Office after it admitted breaking the law by deporting him and putting his life in danger while his case was still pending.

John Bosco Nyombi, who now has leave to remain in the UK, was beaten and bundled on to a plane to Kampala by security staff working for the Home Office in 2008. The Independent on Sunday reported last year that High Court judges ruled his removal had been "manifestly unlawful", obliging the Home Office to bring him back to Britain. The 39-year-old fled to the UK in 2001, because being gay in Uganda can result in life imprisonment. More than one gay inmate has been killed while serving time in Ugandan prison.

Mr Nyombi had an outstanding application for a judicial review on his case when he was sent back. When he tried to resist the team sent to deport him and asked for a lawyer, the British removal officers allegedly dragged him by handcuffs and hit him in the groin and shoulder.

Within moments of his arrival in Kampala, Mr Nyombi was interrogated by border police. He escaped an initial arrest after paying a bribe and spent six months in hiding, twice getting caught and being put into prison where he was beaten by staff and inmates.

Mr Nyombi, who now lives in Portsmouth where he is a care worker, said: "It's really good news, but sometimes it's not about money. Nothing can make up for what I went through, and, despite everything they have offered, they will still not apologise. They think an apology is money but it's not." He plans to give some of the money to the charities that campaigned to bring him back to Britain.

His solicitor, Shamik Dutta of Fisher Meredith, said: "John Bosco Nyombi is one of many innocent victims who have suffered assault and false imprisonment at the hands of our mismanaged immigration system. The unlawful conduct of the Home Office in this case is a stain on our national reputation."

Emily Dugan

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