Out in the World: Anti-LGBTQ bills, laws are spreading around the world

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Wednesday April 17, 2024
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Human rights activists stand outside the constitutional court in Kampala, Uganda. Photo: Hajarah Nalwadda/AP
Human rights activists stand outside the constitutional court in Kampala, Uganda. Photo: Hajarah Nalwadda/AP

Anti-LGBTQ bills and new laws are spreading around the world, including in several African nations and the former Soviet republic of Belarus.

The proposed or approved legislation in these various countries seek to criminalize same-sex relationships and gender identity, ban promoting LGBTQ rights, and censor media outlets.


Prominent Ugandan LGBTQ activists Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, and Jacqueline Kasha Nabagesara on April 16 filed an appeal against the East African country's court decision upholding most of the new anti-LGBTQ law. According to the Washington Blade, 22 other queer and transgender activists joined in the appeal.

The country's Constitutional Court upheld on April 3 most of the country's draconian Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the bill into law last May, reported the Bay Area Reporter.


Congolese legislator Constant Mutamba, an opposition member of the Dynamique Progressiste Révolutionnaire party, proposed a bill to criminalize homosexuality in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in an April 4 memorandum, reported Mamba Online.

Mutamba asserted, "Any form of homosexual orientation is in no way tolerated in Congolese culture," according to the South African lesbian news outlet.

Erasing 76 Crimes broke the news April 8.

According to Erasing 76 Crimes and Mamba Online, the former Belgian colony never criminalized homosexuality, though it is socially frowned upon. In 2006, the central African country banned same-sex marriage and same-sex relationships are not legally recognized.

If the bill becomes law, LGBTQ people charged with gay sex could face between five and 10 years in jail with forced labor and a fine of 7.5 million to 15 million Congolese francs ($2,600 and $5,300 USD).

Similar to a portion of Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023, Congo's law proposes sanctions of 15 years' penal servitude and a fine of 30 million Congolese francs ($10,600) for "any recruiting, employer or any other person exercising hierarchical power or belonging to the medical profession who imposes homosexual relations on a job seeker during the hiring process, or on an employee or subordinate with a view to maintaining his or her job or obtaining a promotion, or on a patient entrusted to his or her care," the news outlet reported.

The bill increases provisions on rape, indecent assault, and public indecency with sections specifically targeting LGBTQ people. Each carries penalties of up to 15 years imprisonment.

Erasing 76 Crimes reports that the average salary in the Congo is $49 a month.

According to Erasing 76 Crimes, the bill is the fifth proposal to criminalize homosexuality to be considered in the last 21 years in the Congo. Others included 2010's anti-homosexuality bill that would have sentenced people engaging in consensual same-sex sexual relations to three to five years in prison, reported the Blade. The bills never became law.

Mutamba, who placed sixth with approximately 0.2% of the vote in a 2023 bid for president, introduced the bill in the name of "cultural sovereignty" and to fight against "neo-colonialism," reported Erasing 76 Crimes. Mamba Online reported Mutamba claims that the anti-LGBTQ legislation is needed to protect "the unity and stability of the family" and to protect children against external cultural aggression..."

The Congo is the second largest country on the continent, according to Mamba Online. The central African nation has a population of nearly 112 million people, according to the World CIA Factbook.

Many Congolese seem to support the bill and have applauded Mutamba for drafting it, reported the Blade.

Congo LGBTQ organization Rainbow Sunrise Mapambazuko launched a petition on All Out to fight back against the bill.

"The consequences of this proposal criminalizing love between people of the same sex and 'all actions assimilated to homosexuality' would be devastating, reinforcing discrimination and violence against an already vulnerable community," Rainbow Sunrise Mapambazuko told Mamba Online.

The Congo is the latest African country in recent years to follow Uganda and other countries — Burundi, Ghana, Tanzania — in proposing to legally criminalize homosexuality.


Belarus's Culture Ministry amended its decree on "erotic materials," classifying queer and transgender people as "non-traditional sexual relationships or behavior," Human Rights Watch reported April 12.

The ministry's 2007 erotic materials regulations define and regulate the distribution and sale of items such as pornography. The government agency defines pornography as "content with a 'vulgarly naturalistic, disgustingly cynical, indecent fixation on sexual intercourse' that 'insults the honor and dignity of the individual, reducing them to the level of animal instincts.'"

The new regulations criminalize "homosexualism, lesbian love," bisexuality, polyamory, as well as many other types of "non-traditional sexual relationship or behavior," reported HRW and Novaya Gazeta Europe. HRW added that the amended policy also criminalizes the "desire to live and be seen by others as a person of an opposite sex," referencing transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming people. The new policy was published in Belarus's legal portal on April 11, reported Novaya Gazeta Europe.

Public displays of pornography are punishable in Belarus with up to four years in prison. Child pornography is punishable with up to 13 years behind bars.

The amendment does not clarify what kinds of depictions of LGBTQ people could fall under the new definition of pornography, HRW reported.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1994, the same year the authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka came to power. That was four years after Belarus gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. However, LGBTQ rights hasn't progressed in the country in the 30 years since, according to ILGA's 2023 Belarus country report. Instead, it's worsening.

Belarus has cracked down on its LGBTQ community for the past four years. The amended decree is the latest assault on Belarus's LGBTQ community, which has been under intensified attacks. It classifies LGBTQ people and acts of expression of sexual orientation and gender identity behavior alongside those criminal acts, as they may constitute pornography.

In February, Belarus Prosecutor-General Andrey Shved announced a draft law introduced to lawmakers to criminalize homosexuality by punishing the "promotion of nontraditional relationships," same-sex relationships, and gender identity, and addresses liability for "pedophilia and the voluntary refusal to have children," reported Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Last year, in a political speech to European Union leaders, Lukashenka called gay men "perverts" and said that it's "better to be a dictator than gay," reported RFE/RL.

In 2020, Belarusian police arrested peaceful protesters demonstrating against Lukashenka.

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association-Europe ranks Belarus 45th out of 49 countries for LGBTQ rights.

Russia, which neighbors Belarus to the east and northeast, has continued to strengthen its anti-gay laws, including labeling the international LGBTQ movement as "extremist" and banning it in the Slavic country, as the B.A.R. previously reported.

HRW called on Belarus to annul the amendments and to stop "cynically" targeting LGBTQ people in the Eastern European country.


Lawmakers in Kazakhstan, also a former Soviet republic, proposed an amendment to the central Asian country's criminal code to criminalize same-sex relationships.

Members of Parliament Yedil Zhanbyrshin and Samat Musabayev want to add the language "including by propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" to Article 174 of the code, which deals with the "incitement of discord," reported Times of Central Asia.

If enacted, those who violate the law could face up to seven years in prison and fines between $16,200 and $57,500, reported the newspaper.

Times of Central Asia reported Amanat Party legislators Majilis Askhat Aimagambetov and Zhanarbek Ashimzhanov proposed a media ban on mentioning LGBTQ people. Any media outlet that mentioned LGBTQ people would face suspension or being shut down. The proposed amendment is already included in a draft of the "On Mass Media" bill, which is currently being considered.

On hold

Iraqi lawmakers on April 15 paused voting on an anti-LGBTQ law that included the death penalty.

Parliament was in session and ready to vote on the bill, which was second on the agenda, hours before Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani was to meet with President Joe Biden in Washington, D.C., reported Reuters.

The vote was postponed due to time constraints and some disagreements that remained over proposed amendments, according to Reuters.

If passed, the anti-adultery bill that includes criminalizing LGBTQ people would impose the death penalty or life imprisonment for anyone caught having gay sex or anyone who swaps their wife with someone else for sexual purposes, Reuters reported.

"Iraq's proposed anti-LGBT law would threaten the lives of Iraqis already facing a hostile environment for LGBT people," stated Rasha Younes, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Iraqi lawmakers are sending an appalling message to LGBT people that their speech is criminal and their lives are expendable."

The bill would also ban promoting homosexuality. Violations would be punishable by a minimum of seven years in prison.

The Iraqi parliament delayed action on similar anti-LGBTQ bills in 2022 and in 2023, according to Erasing 76 Crimes.

In the past year, major Iraqi parties have been increasingly critical of LGBTQ rights. Rainbow flags were frequently burned in protests by both ruling and opposition conservative Shi'ite Muslim factions last year, reported Reuters.

Representatives of three Western countries lobbied Iraqi authorities not to pass the bill, based on human rights concerns.

"We were very, very direct: if this law is passed in its current form, it would have catastrophic consequences for our bilateral and business and trade relations," one senior diplomat, who asked for anonymity due to the subject's sensitivity, told Reuters.


President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana continues to await the West African country's Supreme Court decision on the challenge to the "Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill, 2021" (originally named, "The Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values"). Ghana's Parliament passed the act and sent it to Akufo-Addo's desk in February, the B.A.R. previously reported.

The situation is so dire, with anti-LGBTQ laws spreading through Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa, that LGBTQ petition group, All Out, has created a campaign to expose the global network of groups funding these anti-LGBTQ measures. It is asking the public to share with it any information on far-right groups involved in the legislative attacks and other anti-LGBTQ initiatives that have been proposed.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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