Scroll Top celebrates Pride Month


The acronym LGBTIQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, non-binary, intersex and queer people. Even though the term does not encompass the whole range of gender and sex identities a person can identify with, it is nonetheless a universally recognized community composed of all those people who do not conform to the typical, rigid binary categories used to classify gender and sex.

The right not to be discriminated against based on one’s sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) is a fundamental right that was explicitly recognized by the first SOGI resolution at the United Nations in 2011. The resolution reaffirms the inclusion of lesbian, gay, trans, and gender-diverse people in the protection guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Today, LGBTIQ rights are progressing in recognition and support at the national and international levels. Yet, members of the LGBTIQ+ community around the world still find themselves victims of systemic discrimination and violence because of their non-conforming identity, for who they are.

It is the persistent work of LGBTIQ+ Defenders, active in virtually every country where human rights are most heavily violated, that has resulted essentially in the progressive recognition and respect of the rights of this community. This is why, during Pride month, wants to recognize and highlight the immense challenges this category of defenders faces and the cruciality of their work in favour of LGBTIQ rights.

The landscape of LGBTIQ rights and challenges to the LGBTIQ+ community

Arrests and persecutions for consensual same-sex sexual acts continued in 2023 in at least 32 UN Member states, most of which went under-reported. According to ILGA World database 62 UN Member states still have legislation that criminalises same-sex consensual sex acts, the vast majority of which are in Africa and Asia. Penalties range from imprisonment, physical violence, stigmatization and defamation. Same-sex sex acts are punished with the death penalty in 7 countries, namely Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Uganda, Nigeria, Mauritania.

Africa presents a particularly worrying situation, where 31 out of 51 UN Member states explicitly criminalize consensual same-sex sexual acts, and among these several criminalize diverse gender expressions de jure. In 2023, Uganda passed into law the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which prescribes the death penalty for anyone found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality” and up to 20 years imprisonment for those who promote homosexuality.

It is cultural prejudice in many cases that precedes law enforcement. It is often assumed that diverse gender expressions, contrary or distant from established cultural norms, triggers homosexual behaviors, resulting in the criminalisation and arrest of certain individuals. It is therefore more likely for people to be targeted for their appearance or mannerisms, namely for how they appear rather than because of what they do. This is what happened in 2021 in Cameroon, when a man was arrested for wearing a red thong and two Cameroonian trans women were sentenced to five years in prison. The charges were based on them spending the night in the same house and having feminine gender expressions.

Furthermore, LGBTIQ+ rights violations are on the rise in Europe and Central Asia, representing 17% of total violations against HRDs in the region, according to the 2023 Global Analysis Report of our Consortium Partner Front Line Defenders. In 2023, the Russian Supreme Court ruled to list the “international LGBTIQ movement” as extremist and to ban the movement from operating in the state. The Criminal Code of the Russian Federation punishes with a 10-year prison sentence the financing or participation in extremist movements. Georgia, Armenia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina have also recorded a worrying increase in attacks against the community.

ILGA World’s 2023 report Our Identities Under Arrest also highlights that bio-essentialist gender notions in law enforcement led to the non-recognition and criminalisation of transgender individuals, as they cannot amend their identification documents and face criminal charges for consensual sex. Transgender and trans-sexual people are targeted due to misconceptions about their physical appearance. Economic status exacerbates these issues, with lower-income individuals facing higher risks of institutional violence and prolonged detention due to unaffordable bails. Other vulnerabilities, such as ethnic, racial divides, and the citizen-refugee distinction, further increase persecution risks. The report also points out difficulties in recognizing and addressing LGBTIQ+ persecution due to irregular and undocumented judicial proceedings, complicating risk assessments in migration management and leading to visa denials as countries of origin are incorrectly deemed safe.

LGBTIQ Human Rights Defenders: Challenges and Resistance

Given this evolving and, in many cases, worrying landscape for LGBTIQ+ rights, the work of defenders and organizations has proven a source of resistance and change. The work of LGBTIQ+ defenders is varied and consists in a whole range of actions depending on the national and local reality. Defenders can be lawyers fighting criminalization and discriminatory laws, journalists investigating cases of state abuses, activists protecting individual LGBTIQ+ people from physical harm, or social organizations monitoring cases of LGBTIQ+ rights violations, denial of healthcare, education, or housing.

LGBTIQ+ Defenders find themselves in a particularly vulnerable position. They face a dual threat deriving both from their human rights work and from their identity as members of the community. Front Line Defenders’ above-mentioned report found that LGBTIQ+ defenders were the most targeted category in 2023. Physical attacks represented the most common threat defenders faced, followed by surveillance, death threats, legal action, and arbitrary arrest and detention. 14 killings in three different countries were recorded by the HRD Memorial in 2023. Africa, counting 24% of total rights violations, is recognized as the most threatening region for LGBTIQ+ rights.

Despite the threats to which they are victims because of their work, LGBTIQ+ HRDs and civil society organizations have accomplished unprecedented victories. Extraordinary progress has been made since 1988, when same-sex marriage was not permitted in any country. Now it is legal in 35 countries in four regions of the world. Thailand has recently passed the ‘Marriage Equality Bill’, becoming the first Southeast Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage. The bill is a victory for the continuous and tireless work of activists and civil society organisations. Meanwhile, consensual same-sex was decriminalized in five more countries, mostly in the Caribbean.

The protection of LGBTIQ+ HRDs within Mechanism

As we recognize the immense challenges that LGBTIQ+ HRDs face and the need for sustained and holistic support they necessitate to continue their essential work. This category of defenders, intersecting in many cases with other vulnerable categories such as defenders with disabilities and young defenders, is included between the most at risk category and receive priority support by our Mechanism.

As presented in our latest report, the support provided by significantly improved the safety and psychological well-being of a LGBTQ+ activist and her partner in Russia, who faced threats from homophobic individuals and state scrutiny. The grant allowed them to relocate to Europe, reducing immediate harm and personal risks, and providing mental and physical respite. Despite challenges like fluctuating travel costs and unfamiliar legal processes, the relocation enhanced their ability to manage future risks and continue their counselling work with LGBTQ+ individuals. The grant enabled them to persist in supporting the LGBTQ+ community through online consultations despite intensified persecution in Russia. Their experience underscores the importance of a holistic approach to security, involving relocation, transportation, family and psychosocial support. The activists are committed to supporting the LGBTQ+ community’s well-being from their new location, especially considering recent repressive laws in Russia. Meanwhile, in Uganda, where the situation has dramatically worsened this year for LGBTIQ+ rights, financially supported the implementation of a holistic project for Global Democracy Uganda, a grassroot, human rights, student-led organization promoting democracy and human rights in the country.

These cases, like many others, highlight the critical role of timely, flexible support in enabling human rights defenders (HRDs) to thrive and persist despite significant threats. On a positive note, our latest research The Landscape of Public International for Human Rights Defenders, found that funding for Women and LGBTIQ+ defenders have increased by 60% between 2017 and 2020, despite the progressive stagnation of funding for other categories of defenders. Nonetheless, LGBTIQ+ defenders and organisations in some countries continue to face challenges in accessing funds, due to the persistent mistrust of donors towards LGBTIQ+ rights, preferring to direct funding to more established and mainstream NGOs. This highlights the need to strengthen advocacy efforts on SOGI rights and expand human rights networks to reach groups and activists outside capitals and urban centers, whose needs are often overlooked because of their geographical location rather than of their minor urgency. Thus, localisation of funding, namely the process through which local actors and public institutions are returned to the centre of the humanitarian system, together with long-term and flexible funding, rather than short-term grants, should be a priority in funding programmes.

These efforts show the commitment of to sustain not only individual defenders in regions where they are mostly at risk, but to build a more enabling environment where freedom and equality can flourish. LGBTIQ+ rights have undergone a long and tortuous path of victories and setbacks, though all that has been achieved would have not been possible without the tireless work coming from activists and human rights organisations that persistently challenge established norms and push for greater equality, freedom, and justice. We stay on the side of these peoples and communities with the aim to sustain, both locally and globally, the right for everyone to freely express their identities without fear of reprisal or persecution.