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Countries where it is illegal to be homosexual
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.
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 Nevertheless, while the UK has since repealed its own homosexual criminalisation laws, beginning in 1967, many of its former colonies which inherited these laws did not repeal them after gaining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.
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 . 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.
- Indonesia (legal in some areas)
- Sri Lanka
- Sierra Leone
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent
- Niue (NZ)
- Papua New Guinea
- Solomon Islands
Imprisonment and/or physical punishmentAfrica
- Nigeria (South)
- South Sudan
- Saudi Arabia
- Nigeria (North)
- Somalia (possible)
- Brunei (Not enforced)
- Qatar (possible)
- United Arab Emirates (possible)
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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