More than 2.7 billion people live in countries where being gay is punishable by imprisonment, lashes or even death, new research obtained by the Guardian shows.
The stark figure from the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) highlights the discrimination faced by gay people around the world; the full report shows there is not a single country in the world where LGBT people enjoy equal legal rights as their heterosexual counterparts.
Five countries – Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen – still have a statutory death penalty for homosexuality, while a further 71 countries punish same-sex couples with lesser sentences of imprisonment or corporal punishment.
In total, 2.79 billion people live in countries where being gay can lead to prison or death – seven times as many as live in countries with same-sex marriage.
The figures do, however, also highlight the progress made by equal rights groups in winning new rights and protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. More than 1.3 billion people live in countries with some form of legal protection against discrimination against LGBT people, while 780 million live in countries with same-sex marriage or civil unions. More than a billion people live in countries which bar workplace discrimination against LGBT people.
Renato Sabbadini, the executive director of ILGA, said the organisation’s research – which has been turned into an interactive graphic by the Guardian – was of the “greatest interest” and reflected the organisation’s efforts over a decade, but that more work was still needed.
“Mapping the legal situation, albeit important and very informative in terms of measuring advances or regressions, constitutes only part of the picture,” he said.
“It is becoming more and more important to find the human and financial resources to start a mapping exercise in relation to violence based on (perceived) sexual orientation and gender identity, as the fact that a country adopts progressive legislation is not necessarily a guarantee of the fact that the lives of LGBTI [LGBT plus intersex] people living in it will improve or cease to experience discrimination and violence.”
The research reflects a year of disparate advances and regressions for the daily lives of gay people across the globe. Uganda stepped up prosecutions of people accused of being in gay relationships, while Russia’s new law against a gay “propaganda” law drew worldwide ire during the Sochi Winter Olympics.
At the same time, US courts even in traditionally conservative states have struck down bans on gay marriage, while equal marriage became law in the UK with the support of all three major political parties.
Other gay rights battles have received less attention: Kyrgyzstan, for example, is currently considering a gay propaganda law modelled almost word-for-word on the Russian ban, while Brunei is set to impose sharia law criminalising homosexuality, which is attracting international pressure, including a threatened boycott from Elton John.
Other countries face battles to extend gay rights. In Peru, the Movimiento Homosexual de Lima (MHOL), is fighting to introduce civil unions to the country, where homosexuality is legal but highly stigmatised.
Jorge Chávez, the president of MHOL, says support for civil unions sits at around 40%, and his organisation has gathered 100,000 signatures in support of the motion – but opponents have gathered still more.
“In Peru, since 1920 there are no laws that make homosexuality a crime or a misdemeanour, but police consider any homosexual public display of affection like an ‘indecency’ and take repressive measures,” he said.
“We have some data that shows some discrimination against gays and lesbians at work, and gay and lesbian children and teens are usually victims of bullying at schools. Some of them undergo ‘gay cure’ attempts by their parents.
“Since the civil union campaign [#UnionCivilYa] began, homophobic attacks on social networks have risen, especially from religious people.”
All Out, a global campaign for equal rights, welcomed the research report but said it highlighted the difficulties faced by gay people across the world.
“As a lesbian, gay or trans person, there is nowhere you can go on the planet to be treated equally under the law. It is unfair and it is untenable,” said executive director Andrew Banks.
“But, the laws don’t tell the whole story. Everywhere you go, there are millions of people who reject the notion that your ability to live openly and free from torture and discrimination should be an accident of your birth.
“All Out is channelling millions into a global movement speaking out for love and equality. We know that when more of us speak out, our friends and families and eventually our governments will join us. That’s what will fuel the change in our cultures and our laws to protect every person, no matter where we are, who we are, or who we love.”
ILGA plans to continue its research into rights around the world with a project looking at state-sponsored transphobia later in 2014.
George Arnett contributed to this report