What is the state of LGBT rights in the world today? To mark International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) has released a map (above) charting the rights of homosexuals around the world. The co-secretary general of ILGA, Renato Sabbadini, spoke to RFE/RL's Claire Bigg.
RFE/RL: How does this map differ from the one ILGA issued in 2012? What have been the main changes globally in terms of LGBT rights over the past year?
Renato Sabbadini: The positive changes relate to the new marriage laws. There are several more countries, a total of 14 now, that have marriage equality laws – countries where people of the same sex can marry. We are referring to Uruguay, France, and New Zealand [as the most recent additions]. The map’s basic idea is that the whole spectrum, from deep red to deep green, evokes a traffic light that indicates which countries are safer and which countries are not safe at all for LGBT people to travel to, for instance.
RFE/RL: On this map, Russia features a “danger” symbol that was not there on last year’s map, indicating that the country has passed a so-called “homosexual propaganda” law restricting the freedoms of gays and lesbians.
Sabbadini: This is very important. It is a "danger" sign because developments in Russia are quite worrying, especially if they are imitated by other countries. Ukraine is considering a similar law. They call it "homosexual propaganda," which is a ridiculous term. Basically, we are talking about the freedom of expression of gay and lesbian activists, the freedom to talk about their fight for equal rights.
We are already beginning to see the consequences of this law. Although it does not technically criminalize homosexual behavior, it certainly sanctions the idea that gays and lesbians are second-class citizens. This will, of course, empower extremists and make them feel morally authorized to attack gays and lesbians.
RFE/RL: The former Soviet Union, with the exception of Central Asia, is represented in the same color. Are there nonetheless any disparities in the region concerning attitudes toward gays and lesbians or can we talk of a common trend in this part of the world?
Sabbadini: There is a general trend in the sense that immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union there were years of hope because there was a general feeling of freedom. This is when these countries decriminalized homosexual behavior. Unfortunately, toward the end of the 2000s, the mood changed. A rapprochement between the church and the state took place, particularly in Russia. This brought a wave of homophobia, which has unfortunately become an institutionalized homophobia. So things have changed for the worse.
RFE/RL: What about Central Asian countries, Pakistan, Afghanistan? ILGA portrays these nations as repressive toward homosexuals. What is the situation in these countries? Have gay rights improved or, on the contrary, dwindled in recent years?
Sabbadini: We have a mixture of two factors there. In several countries that were part of the British Empire, you still have a law in place persecuting homosexuals, Article 377, which was used at the time of Queen Victoria. On the other hand, political elites also try to gain the favor of religious elites, particularly in Pakistan, not to mention Iran. They are therefore very much willing to give ground to homophobia.
RFE/RL: What strikes you most when you look at this map?
Sabbadini: The title of the press release that we published on May 15 was "Happiness and Anger." Happiness because in the case of marriage, you can see a kind of fire spreading through Western and Latin American countries. More and more countries are willing to adopt marriage laws. And anger when we look at the 78 countries that persist in their blind hatred against people based on their sexual orientation.