Suella Braverman speech: Which countries still persecute people for being gay?

The home secretary has suggested being gay shouldn't be considered in asylum cases, despite many countries criminalising LGBT+ people

Home Secretary Suella Braverman delivers a keynote address on global migration challenges at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC, during her three-day visit to the US. Picture date: Tuesday September 26, 2023.
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Home Secretary Suella Braverman has said being gay should not be a criteria to green light asylum claims, urging for a change to the UN Refugee Convention.

In a speech at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC on Tuesday, she urged leaders to make the rules on refugees "fit for the modern age".

But it was her comments on LGBT+ issues that sparked concern.

"Let me be clear, there are vast swathes of the world where it is extremely difficult to be gay, or to be a woman," she said. "Where individuals are being persecuted, it is right that we offer sanctuary.

"But we will not be able to sustain an asylum system if in effect, simply being gay, or a woman, and fearful of discrimination in your country of origin is sufficient to qualify for protection."

Her comments drew ire from the Refugee Council, whose CEO Enver Solomon said a world where nations "pulled up the drawbridge" to refugees over their sexuality was "a world which turns its back on a belief in shared humanity and shared rights".

Refugee campaigner Lord Dubs said: "In many countries being gay is an imprisonable offence. For some, it means the death penalty. She's repeating the shameful policy that people should not be treated as refugees if they arrive here by boat. But she's closed virtually all other means of arrival."

Yahoo looks at the countries that still persecute gay people or ban same-sex relationships.

Read more:

Europe

Same-sex marriage is legal in much of Europe, with 18 countries backing gay marriage in 2022. This number moved up to 19 in 2023 with the addition of Andorra, which previously had same-sex civil unions, and will increase to 20 countries in 2024, with Estonia set to adopt gay marriage.

Additionally, 13 other countries on the continent also recognise same-sex unions, although they have not yet legalised same-sex marriage.

However, many countries do not recognise same-sex unions of any kind, while in others discrimination is rife.

In Russia, despite homosexuality being decriminalised in 1993, the introduction of a "gay propaganda" law has seen activists, journalists, healthcare workers and others criminalised for "promoting" LGBT issues. In Italy, new rules introduced this year saw same-sex parents removed from their children's birth certificates.

Middle East

A number of countries in the Middle East criminalise LGBT+ people, with just one country in the region recognising same-sex marriages performed abroad and cohabiting couples - Israel.

In Jordan, Bahrain and Palestine's West Bank, being gay is legal, but all other countries in the region have criminalised homosexuality, according to the Ilga World Database.

Number of countries that criminalise homosexuality as of 2022. (Statista)
Number of countries that criminalise homosexuality as of 2022. (Statista)

In Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates the maximum possible penalty for being gay is the death penalty (flogging is also listed as a potential punishment in Saudi Arabia).

However, in some of these countries (Brunei and the UAE) the death penalty is not actively used as a punishment for homosexuality.

Elsewhere, sentences range from six months to seven years in prison for prosecutions for LGBT+ people.

Africa

In Africa, South Africa is the only country to have legalised same-sex marriage (in 2006), while 21 other countries on the continent have legalised same-sex relationships.

However, same-sex relationships remain illegal in the remainder of the 54 countries in Africa - with three carrying the death penalty (Mauritania, Nigeria, and Uganda), and others carrying prison time ranging from a year in prison and a fine to a lifetime sentence, data from Statista show.

The home secretary has suggested that being gay will not be enough to greenlight an asylum claim.
The home secretary has suggested that being gay will not be enough to greenlight an asylum claim. (Statista) (Statista)

According to the charity Rainbow Migration, there are several countries in Africa (and elsewhere around the world) that the British government considers safe for LGBT+ people due to local laws, but where they have reports of asylum claims that showed gay people were at risk of persecution from their communities.

Asia

Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage in 2019, while Thailand is currently considering its marriage equality bill.

Elsewhere on the continent, attitudes to same-sex couples vary, with no legal bans on homosexuality in countries including China, Nepal, India, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

However, Pakistan and Brunei both carry a maximum sentence of the death penalty for same-sex relations, while in Malaysia homosexuality carries a 20-year prison sentence and potential punishment of flogging.

Taiwan and LGBT movement flag also Gay Pride flag waving together in the wind on blue sky, tolerance to LGBT in country conception
Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage. (Alamy) (iunewind)

Americas

The United States legalised same-sex marriage in 2015, after the Supreme Court's ruling in the Obergefell v. Hodges case. However, the country's Human Rights Campaign has highlighted that an increasing number of anti-LGBT+ bills are being introduced in states across the country, while the high court's decision to overturn landmark abortion legislation in 2022 theoretically leaves the Obergefell ruling vulnerable to change.

In Canada and Central and South America, the vast majority of countries have legal rights for same-sex people, with gay marriage legalised in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, French Guiana, Mexico and Uruguay

Conversely, homosexuality is criminalised in a number of countries including Guyana, Dominica, Paraguay, Jamaica, Honduras, St Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Punishments range from life in prison (Guyana) to forced psychiatric treatment (Dominica).

Oceania

Same-sex marriage is legal in Australia and New Zealand, with no criminalisation of homosexuality on islands including Fiji and Vanuatu.

However, same-sex relationships are illegal in Tuvalu, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, where the maximum punishment stands at 14 years in prison.