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Countries where it is illegal to be homosexual

Country Rights | Hanky Codes | LGBTQ+ Flags | Slang dictionary | UK Gay & Lesbian History

Here we list countries where, at the time of writing (October 2023), it is illegal to be gay or lesbian. It is a complex patchwork of different laws and penalties in different countries. Some of these countries turn a blind eye, if it’s kept discrete and out of the way, while others will execute you for any homosexual behaviour. One view is that the British Empire ‘exported’ the criminalisation of homosexuality around the world in the last couple of centuries; paradoxically, the UK has often led the world in LGBTQ rights in modern times.

Commonwealth Flag
The Commonwealth Flag

Background
As the British Empire expanded around the world in the 18th and 19th centuries, a time when much of the West criminalised homosexuality in some form, it exported its own penal laws to its colonies. Some point out that before colonisation there was little or no persecution in Africa because of a person’s sexual orientation nor any criminalisation of homosexuality; the picture was not so simple: for example, this view ignores Islamic Sharia Law, which prohibits homosexuality, and other informal or non-legal customs which have been enforced in parts of Africa for centuries, especially in its northern regions. Nevertheless, while the UK has since repealed its own homosexual criminalisation laws, beginning in 1967, many of its former colonies which inherited these laws did not repeal them after gaining independence, mainly in the decades after WWII.

Today, many countries in the modern Commonwealth, an association of sovereign states who are mainly but not exclusively former British colonies, still criminalise homosexuality to varying degrees. Today 29 out of 53 Commonwealth countries still outlaw homosexuality. As mentioned, these range from countries where homosexuality is criminalised but the laws are not enforced, to countries which punish with prison terms to countries where the death penalty is law but rarely enforced and some where capital punishment is actually used.

Countries

The table below shows you a table of all the countries where it is against the law to engage in homosexual activity. Countries which are or have been in the Commonwealth are denoted by the Commonwealth’s blue flag commonwealth flag. Some former British administered territories, where there are still penalties for homosexuality never joined the Commonwealth, notably countries in the Middle East and North Africa such as Sudan and Somalia. These countries often have harsh penalties and remain in place today. Some countries take different positions on whether lesbianism is criminalised alongside male homosexuality.

Not enforced

Asia
  • Indonesia Indonesia (legal in some areas)
  • commonwealth Sri Lanka
Africa
  • commonwealth Eswatini
  • commonwealth Malawi
  • commonwealth Namibia
  • commonwealth Sierra Leone
Americas
  • commonwealth Dominica
  • commonwealth Grenada
  • commonwealth Guyana
  • commonwealth Jamaica
  • commonwealth Saint Lucia
  • commonwealth Saint Vincent
Oceania
  • commonwealth Kiribati
  • commonwealth Niue (NZ)
  • commonwealth Papua New Guinea
  • commonwealth Samoa
  • commonwealth Solomon Islands
  • commonwealth Tonga
  • commonwealth Tuvalu

Imprisonment and/or physical punishment

Africa
  • commonwealth Cameroon
  • Eritrea Eritrea
  • Ethiopia Ethiopia
  • commonwealth Gambia
  • commonwealth Ghana
  • commonwealth Kenya
  • Liberia Liberia
  • Libya Libya
  • Mauritania Mauritania
  • Morocco Morocco
  • commonwealth Nigeria (South)
  • Senegal Senegal
  • commonwealth South Sudan
  • Sudan Sudan
  • commonwealth Tanzania
  • commonwealth Togo
  • Tunisia Tunisia
  • commonwealth Uganda
  • commonwealth Zambia
  • commonwealth Zimbabwe
Asia
  • commonwealth Bangladesh
  • Egypt Egypt
  • Kuwait Kuwait
  • Lebanon Lebanon
  • commonwealth Malaysia
  • commonwealth Maldives
  • Myanmar Myanmar
  • Oman Oman
  • commonwealth Pakistan
  • Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia
  • Syria Syria
  • Turkmenistan Turkmenistan
  • Uzbekistan Uzbekistan

Death penalty

Africa
  • commonwealth Nigeria (North)
  • Somalia Somalia (possible)
  • commonwealth Uganda
Asia
  • Afghanistan Afghanistan
  • commonwealth Brunei (Not enforced)
  • Iran Iran
  • Iraq Iraq
  • Qatar Qatar (possible)
  • United Arab Emirates United Arab Emirates (possible)
  • Yemen Yemen

For further reading we recommend the Equaldex map (then click the ‘homosexuality tab’) which monitors these laws around the world.
Also How Britain’s exported homophobia continues to drive health inequalities amongst LGBTQI communities, written in April 2019.


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