LGBTQI+ torture around the world

We can't celebrate #Pride without educating ourselves about the LGBTQI+ fight for equality, past and present. Many of the people we support were tortured because of their sexuality. Find out more about the systemic torture of the LGBTQI+ community around the world. 

Key facts

  • Identifying as LGTBQI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (or: queer), intersex) is punishable by death in nine countries
  • Criminalised in 70
  • 32 States have laws restricting freedom of expression on sexual orientation and gender identity issues
  • Same-sex marriage is only legal in 27 countries
  • In 2018, 5% of asylum applications in the UK were claimed on the grounds of sexual orientation

Why are people tortured for their sexuality?

People seeking asylum because of their sexuality are fleeing from persecution and oppression. They seek stability and freedom.  

The persecution of the LGBTQI+ community is more likely to happen in countries where homosexual acts are illegal, where homophobia, lesbophobia, biphobia and transphobia exist systemically. This might be because of cultural, religious or political bias where the condemnation of homosexuality and conservative social attitudes, portray homosexuality as an illness or character flaw.

The targeting of sexual minorities is common in times of conflict, where they are often subject to moral cleansing campaigns at a time of wider social unrest.

How does being LGBTQI+ affect an asylum claim? 

Too often in the asylum system, sexual identity is not identified as a legitimate reason to seek refugee status.

People who identify as LGBTQI+ often face discrimination when claiming asylum if they do not fit into the caseworker’s usual perception of gender or sexual identity.

Perceived norms, therefore, can make an asylum claim more difficult and can mean that individuals are subjected to extremely invasive questions to prove their sexuality.

The University of Sussex has just published a report claiming that 4 in 10 LGBT claimants were rejected because they were not perceived to be at risk of persecution on return on account of their sexuality.

One in three were refused because officials simply did not believe their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

The research calls for a major overhaul of the way LGBT asylum seekers are treated in the asylum system.

Pride

Where have LGBTQI+ people been tortured for their sexuality?

Iran

In Iran, both state and private actors persecute sexual minorities

Security forces in Iran, including the police and parliamentary Basij (the group who acts as the eyes and ears of the regime), are legally able to clamp down on sexual minorities to detain and torture real or suspected LGBTQI+ individuals.

Evidence supplied because of torture is used to convict those suspected in engaging in consensual same-sex offences, which puts then puts people at risk of execution.

The laws criminalising homosexuality enable the use of torture and justify the systemic witch-hunt of the LGBTQI+ community in Iran.

In 2019, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif defended the execution of gay people because of “moral principles.”

Some human rights activists and opponents of the government in Iran claim between 4,000 and 6,000 gay men and lesbians have been executed in Iran for crimes related to their sexual orientation since 1979.

Cameroon

In Cameroon, same-sex activity is a criminal act.

The media and religious leaders associate homosexuality with Satanism,  and in turn, the LGBTQI+ community are widely discriminated against. 

Consequently, the LGBTQI+ community are at risk of criminal prosecution, which could lead to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. 

The law that criminalises homosexuality, subjects suspected individuals to different forms of torture, including forced anal examinations, which will supposedly prove if the individual has performed same-sex acts. 

There have been many incidents of arrests of groups of gay men at certain locations known by the gay community. 

For example, in 2018, 25 men were arrested and tortured in the in the capital city of Yaoundé after the police raided various institutions popular with the gay community.

They were taken to the police station and tortured until conclusions about their sexuality were reached.

In Cameroon, you can be imprisoned for up to 5 years if you are convicted of homosexuality.  

Chechnya

Police in Chechnya appear to have absolute impunity for violence against the LGBTQI+ community.

In 2017, there was an ‘anti-gay’ purge by Chechnya’s law enforcement. Men suspected to be gay were rounded up, detained and tortured. 

The Police exposed their sexuality to their families and encouraged honour killings to take place around the country. 

It has been documented that torture is still being used against the LGBT community as recently as 2019.

Nigeria

In 2014, Nigeria passed the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, making life even more challenging for the Nigerian LGBTQI+ community. 

The law has been used to legitimise violence against LGBTQI+ people inciting physical and sexual violence against them.

It has been reported that torture is used to bully and extract information from individuals who are suspected sexual minorities to gather information about where other LGBTQI+ individuals might be.

The law has made the formation of any groups or organisations and displays of public affection a punishable offence by up to 10 years in prison.

In Nigeria, virulent and systemic homophobia prevents 4 out of 10 homosexual men from accessing healthcare, as they are afraid their sexuality will be discovered.

What can be done?

Torture and inhuman or degrading treatment is illegal under international law.

In order for the discrimination of LGBTQI+ people to end, states should: 

•    Repeal laws that criminalise same sex activity between consenting adults
•    Remove laws that criminalise transgender gender expression

In order to protect LGBQI+ individuals who have been persecuted when they reach the UK, we must have a fair asylum system that recognises and respects sexuality as a valid reason for claiming asylum and believes claimants when they recount evidence of torture on the basis of their sexuality. 

In 2019, we published our Lessons Not Learned report, which charts a 15-year history of criticism levelled against the Home Office to identify patterns in the mishandling of asylum claims and to question why lessons have not been learned.

It found that a culture of poor decision has led to the failure to protect LGBTQI+ asylum seekers as well as the wider asylum-seeking community in the UK.

The report documented that there is no objective way of proving one’s sexual orientation or gender identity, the variety of LGBTQI+ people’s lives, experiences and identities.

For example, one applicant was repeatedly asked to explain his emotions when first having a sexual experience age 13. The Home Office has denied such applications for asylum on the basis that claimants have been unable to provide information about the emotional development of their sexuality which is inconsistent with their claim.

For LGBTQI+ asylum seekers to be properly protected in the UK, we need root and branch reform at the Home Office.

How can you help?

We campaign for international accountability holding torturers to account globally – so sign up to our mailing list and join our campaigns.

To help support LGBTQI+ torture survivors rebuilding their lives in the UK, you can donate to us.