Combating LGBTQ+ Discrimination in Countries Where it is Illegal

Written by Juliet Nnaji

In a world that is always evolving, conversations about diversity and inclusion play a crucial role in shaping a more understanding society. Recognising the importance of continuing the conversation on LGBTQ+ issues and how they navigate a complex landscape of discrimination in all corners of the world, we will delve into the complexities faced by the LGBTQ+ community, examining discrimination that stretches across borders and impacts lives in diverse ways.

“As a bisexual woman, I’ve faced challenges centred around people questioning my sexuality. For a period, I hesitated to pursue relationships with men due to the complications and judgement I anticipated. Conversations about my sexual preference often led to responses like “you’re just confused” or judgmental remarks about it being a “sin,” with references to my Catholic background. This made me reluctant to explore that aspect of my sexuality,” Vanessa, a bisexual Nigerian woman, said.

“Aside from the fact that my parents and siblings are against my sexuality, I have had no discrimination from outsiders. At work, none of my colleagues know about my sexuality, and I intend to keep it that way for now,” Onyinyechukwu, a queer woman from Nigeria, added.

Geographical boundaries do not prevent discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community; it exists everywhere. In Nigeria, for example, the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act criminalises same-sex relationships and imposes harsh penalties on individuals involved. “The law was passed by former President Jonathan sometime in 2014. That law is ridiculous—sentencing a human to 14 years in prison for choosing whom to love? That law is a contributing factor for discrimination,” Onyinyechukwu stated. 

When asked about her plans to marry her female lover, Vanessa admitted that she had accepted that she did not stand a chance. “Don’t laugh, but my partners and I have often joked that if need be and we wanted to settle down, then he could just marry the both of us, me as the first wife and my girlfriend as the second wife, just so we don’t lose what we have,” she said. 

Ghana, too, grapples with legal constraints, as its criminal code criminalises “unnatural carnal knowledge,” a term often used to target LGBTQ+ individuals. In Russia, the “gay propaganda” law forbids the promotion of non-heterosexual relationships, leading to censorship and limited campaigning for LGBTQ+ rights. Similarly, in Saudi Arabia, those engaging in same-sex relationships face severe punishments, including fines and jail, under the strict interpretation of Islamic law (page 135).

Moving on to Asia, Malaysia has a strong societal reluctance to identify and accept LGBTQ+ identities, with legal laws criminalising gay activities. In India, despite recent legal advancements, LGBTQ+ individuals continue to face societal discrimination, impacting aspects of their personal and professional lives.

In Latin America, in countries like Jamaica, the LGBTQ+ community faces a difficult environment defined by cultural attitudes and legal prohibitions. Anti-sodomy legislation in various Caribbean countries contributes to an environment in which discrimination continues.

In addition to legal barriers, cultural stigmas compound the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ communities. Instances of discrimination in Nigeria include forced outings, where individuals are exposed against their will or catfished, leading to job loss and strained relationships. 

When asked how LGBTQ+ discrimination has affected her life, relationships, or professional experiences, Vanessa described how she was made an outcast at school and how her relationship with her best friend was severed. “I suppose I knew I was different and wanted other things from an early age, but I grew up in a Catholic environment and attended a Catholic boarding school, so I was taught that it was a sin to pursue any kind of relationship with the same sex. I struggled to accept myself, and after I did, I struggled even more with society’s acceptance of me. I remember telling a classmate, “I think I might like girls.” I was much younger, by the way, and this girl told her friends, who told their friends, and soon everyone found out, and I became an outcast. Some seniors in school even had to do an intervention for me and during prayers, they prayed that my “sinful thoughts be forgiven.”

That affected my mental health badly because I ended up having trust issues. Then during my teenage years around 18-19, I started to explore my sexuality and I started being more open about it. I realised being with women felt more comfortable and safe because most of the girls I was with accepted the other side of my sexuality but being with men was a different case; some of them found it intriguing and even requested threesomes. I remember one particular incident where my girl best friend had confided in me that she might be a lesbian and she didn’t know how to break it off with her boyfriend. I had met this boyfriend before and he seemed reasonable but we were wrong because this guy went to her parents house the next morning to tell them that my bestie and I were in a lesbian relationship and I was the one that influenced her, which was a lie. Her parents stopped us from talking to each other. The following year, they relocated to a different state,” she narrated.

In Ghana, recent developments reveal a concerning setback for LGBTQ+ rights. In order to severely restrict LGBTQ+ individuals, Ghana’s parliament passed an anti-LGBTQ bill with the support of religious and traditional leaders. The anti-LGBTQ bill, which is currently pending presidential approval, proposes imprisonment for engaging in LGBTQ+ activities. The bill reflects a harsh reality for Ghana’s LGBTQ+ community, legalising discrimination and fostering an environment of fear and persecution.

“In addition to the restrictive same-sex marriage ban, religious factors play a significant role in LGBTQ+ discrimination. Personally, attending church becomes a difficult experience when the sermon revolves around condemning and criticising same-sex relationships, adding an emotional layer to an already complex journey,” Vanessa stated, when asked if there are any specific laws or cultural practices that contribute to LGBTQ+ discrimination.

These examples underscore the global and multifaceted nature of LGBTQ+ discrimination, highlighting how legal restrictions and cultural stigmas intersect to create complex issues faced by the community worldwide.

Cultural norms, which are sometimes deeply ingrained, also shape the lens through which LGBTQ+ individuals are viewed, influencing acceptance or rejection within society. The impact of cultural attitudes on LGBTQ+ discrimination is profound, influencing societal perceptions and contributing to the challenges faced by the community. Media and cultural narratives further perpetuate these attitudes, either challenging or reinforcing the stereotypes. The power dynamics embedded in these cultural beliefs then create an environment where LGBTQ+ individuals may encounter prejudice, exclusion, or even violence. Understanding these cultural intricacies is crucial for eliminating discriminatory practices and creating a more inclusive society that embraces the diversity of sexual and gender identities.

When asked if she believes education can help create understanding and acceptance, Onyinyechukwu responded that she does not. “Many individuals consider LGBTQ+ relationships to be sinful; thus, no matter how educated and exposed one is, they cannot embrace the gay community. In fact, they treat us as outcasts,” she explained.

The devastating impact of discrimination on LGBTQ+ people’s mental health cannot be overstated. Many LGBTQ+ people face societal prejudice, shame, and exclusion, which has a negative impact on their mental health. Discrimination can cause heightened levels of stress, anxiety, and depression, creating a recurrent emotional burden. The fear of rejection, discrimination, or violence, can also contribute to a constant state of hypervigilance, negatively impacting both self-esteem and overall mental health. The psychological toll is amplified when discrimination intersects with other factors such as race, gender, or socioeconomic status, further intensifying the challenges faced by individuals within the LGBTQ+ community.

When asked how discrimination has affected her mental health, Vanessa responded, “On a personal level, discrimination has had a significant impact on my mental health, causing anxiety and self-doubt. However, self-care methods such as interacting with supportive friends and my partner, as well as writing, provide me with comfort. I like writing; it helps a lot.”  

Allies, both within and outside the LGBTQ+ community, also play an important role in combating LGBTQ+ discrimination. Allyship is not about grand gestures; it is about acknowledging the struggles faced by the LGBTQ+ community and taking small, meaningful actions in everyday life. In response to the importance of allies in the fight against LGBTQ+ discrimination, Vanessa said that in her opinion, allies can effectively assist the LGBTQ+ community. “By actively educating themselves on LGBTQ+ issues, listening with empathy to understand individual experiences, and leveraging their privilege to amplify marginalised voices,” she said. “Being visible in their support, standing up to discrimination, and fostering inclusive environments all help to create a more affirming world for everyone,” she added.

In an interview with Addae, an LGBTQ+ ally who wishes to remain anonymous, an open discussion of her opinions on LGBTQ+ issues took place. Addae acknowledged the constant societal judgement faced by the LGBTQ+ community around the world, emphasising the widespread discrimination against their choice of sexuality. Witnessing incidents of discrimination prompted Addae to start viewing LGBTQ+ individuals as humans with their own unique reasons. “In this part of the world, I feel like the LGBTQ+ community is constantly looked down upon for their choice of sexuality,” she went on to say. Addae expressed her indifference to friends, family members, or colleagues who identify as LGBTQ+, preferring neutrality in her relationships. She also acknowledged having open conversations with members of the LGBTQ+ community and recognised the importance of sensitization in countering stereotypes.

Addae also discussed her transition from being a critic to adopting a more accepting stance, emphasising a personal journey towards learning and overcoming preconceived notions. In the collective effort against discrimination, Addae’s evolution from being a critic becomes a testament to the transformative power of unlearning harmful stereotypes and discrimination. It highlights the possibility for individuals to evolve, transcend biases, and contribute to fostering a more inclusive society.

Combating LGBTQ+ Discrimination in Countries Where it is Illegal: The Way Forward

Combating LGBTQ+ discrimination in countries where it is illegal requires diverse strategies and collaborative efforts that cut across legal, cultural, and societal boundaries. It begins with raising awareness about LGBTQ+ rights. Raising awareness both online and offline is an effective method for shifting societal perspectives and breaking down deeply ingrained stereotypes and prejudices. The power of storytelling—sharing LGBTQ+ people’s lived experiences—helps to humanise the community by creating empathy and compassion, which can eventually debunk stereotypes, build understanding within communities, and reduce discriminatory attitudes. By challenging and overturning discriminatory laws, we can create a world that respects and defends the rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, or identity.

“By portraying diverse LGBTQ+ characters and authentic storylines, the media can challenge stereotypes, normalise different identities, and foster empathy. Furthermore, highlighting positive and empowering narratives can inspire understanding and acceptance, shaping a more inclusive societal perspective,” Vanessa explained when asked how media and storytelling can contribute to a more inclusive narrative.

International pressure is also a powerful weapon in the fight against LGBTQ+ discrimination. By collaborating together, international organisations, governments, and influencers can exert diplomatic pressure on countries with discriminatory legislation. By bringing LGBTQ+ rights to the forefront of international conversation, we not only hold oppressive regimes accountable, but also form a united front in support of equality.

Community-based organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) also play an important role in providing information, counselling, a safe haven, and advocacy to the LGBTQ+ community, ensuring that they have a network of support to help them overcome the issues they face and creating safe spaces where people can connect, share experiences, and find solidarity. When asked if she had found any useful support systems or communities, Onyinyechukwu responded yes; she had come across certain groups, such as LGBTQ Naija, that provide funds for LGBTQ+ people who are in need of aid, shelter, or even employment. “It’s so good to know you are not alone,” she said.

“In facing discrimination for your LGBTQ+ identity, my personal advice would be to seek a supportive community or individuals who understand and accept you. Surrounding yourself with allies can provide both emotional strength and practical guidance. Additionally, keep in mind that embracing your authentic self is a potent act of resilience and that others’ opinions do not determine your worth,” Vanessa responded when asked what advice she would give to someone facing discrimination because of their LGBTQ+ identity.

The fight for equality is a collective responsibility that transcends borders and ideologies. Through collaborative efforts, we can strive for a world where every individual is not only legally protected, but also embraced and celebrated for being their authentic selves. It is a journey that requires effort, empathy, and a shared commitment to dismantling oppressive systems that perpetuate discrimination. Together, we can create a world where every person is free to express their identity without the pervasive shadow of fear and persecution.

Imagine a world where everyone understands that equality is more than just a checkbox, but an ongoing mission. Imagine a world where the fight for equality is like a team sport and everyone understands that we all have a role to play. Imagine a world where everyone understands that discrimination against one person has a ripple effect on the entire community. It is about understanding that by standing together, supporting one another, and advocating for change, we become allies in the shared goal of creating a world where every individual can express themselves without fear.

Every piece in this puzzle of dismantling oppressive systems—legal reform, awareness, international pressure, supportive communities, and mental health initiatives—contributes to the bigger picture. It takes collective effort and shared accountability, but by working together, we can gradually turn a discriminatory world into one where everyone is free to be their true authentic selves without fear, worry, or doubt.

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