Uganda’s proposed “kill the gays” bill has attracted a fair amount of media coverage. Apparently, the prospect of receiving the death penalty simply for being gay struck a chord for a lot of people. But while we have world's attention, it is important to acknowledge that the unsafe climate for LGBT people reaches much further than the border of Uganda. The devastating truth is that, compared with other nations in the region, Uganda is closer to the rule than the exception.
Homosexuality is illegal in 80 nations across the globe. No, that is not a typo. In 80 countries, the government mandates imprisonment for those who are perceived to be gay. Uganda is already one of these nations –- the current penalty is life in prison. The proposed bill would make Uganda the ninth country to hand down a death sentence to gay citizens, joining Sudan, Mauritania, Nigeria, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and Iran.
Think this is a case of countries having archaic laws on the books that aren’t really enforced? Unfortunately, this is not the case. Right now in Iran, 12 young men (including 8 teenagers) are awaiting execution after being convicted of sodomy.
As awful as this is, the shocking truth is that, for most LGBT people in these countries, the non-governmental condemnation can be much more horrific and far deadlier.
In Iraq, "death squads" search the streets for anyone exhibiting "unmanly behavior." Anyone perceived to be gay is promptly kidnapped, beaten and tortured. For those being tormented, the worst part comes when their families are called. The shame of having a gay son is considered unbearable.
All over the Muslim world, this "shame" leads to so-called "honor killings," where the gay person is killed by a family member to protect the honor of the family. Most honor killings are not widely publicized, but last month The New York Times profiled a 26-year-old openly gay man in Turkey, whose father traveled over 600 miles to hunt him down and kill him.
Even in countries that have enjoyed progress on LGBT equality, the situation is far from ideal. Gay and lesbian couples in South Africa have been able to legally marry since 2006, but there is currently an epidemic of lesbians being gang raped all over South Africa. It is being called "corrective rape" because the perpetrators believe that after being with several men, the women will be "cured" of their homosexuality.
The list of travesties goes on and on –- in every corner of the globe (including the U.S.), LGBT people are living in unsafe and unjust situations. As we continue the fight for marriage equality, federal nondiscrimination policies, and the dissolution of anti-gay military policy, it is imperative that the gay rights movement not forget our global LGBT family members who are simply trying to survive.
Start fighting global anti-gay violence right now by adding your name to the petition condemning the Uganda "kill the gays" bill.