Half the world. After indicting the media last week for not focusing on homophobia in Asia, I thought it only prudent that this week this column lifts the lid a little on gay rights on that continent. A lot of attention has been given to Russia’s anti-gay clampdown, but not that much has been said about the countries surrounding Russia, where homophobia is similarly rife, moving south and east, into Asia and all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
Let’s start in Central Asia and the Middle East: not a lot of column inches have been dedicated to the fact that in most of the countries in this region gay sex isn’t legal and carries jail time or in a few drastic cases the death penalty (here’s looking at you, Yemen). This is understandable when you remember that most of these countries are predominantly Muslim and influenced by Shariah law, but even in those countries in the region where gay or lesbian sex is legal, gay men and women have absolutely no other rights that are recognised by the law.
For example: this past week a Kuwaiti parliamentary panel offered to help people with same-sex attraction, seemingly in an attempt to cure them of such attraction. Gay sex in Kuwait carries a prison sentence of up to six years. And the week before that Kyrgyzstan, in Central Asia, introduced a bill in its parliament limiting the spread of information about homosexuality, following a Russia-inspired trend spreading through that region. Gay sex is legal in Kyrgyzstan, however. (Note: Israel is an exception to all this which has a very liberal LGBTQ rights record).
Moving south and east across the Asian peninsula, even in countries where Islam isn’t the dominant faith, gay sex is often outlawed: India and Singapore being high-profile examples of this. However, it does become more accepted practice as you travel east. But while gay sex has been decriminalised in many nations (China, South Korea, Thailand, Nepal to name a few), there is still no legal recognition of same-sex relationships, nor are there anti-discriminatory laws (except in Hong Kong and Thailand) in place to ensure openly gay people aren’t, you know, retrenched or ridiculed or beaten. The only country that does recognise same sex relationships is Vietnam and in fact the Vietnamese government will this year debate legalising gay marriage, so there is that light in the darkness. But other than that, there does not seem to be any intent to move towards a more liberal stance by any of the governments of Asia.
This means that stretching from the eastern edge of Europe institutionalised homophobia is rife in almost every country until we hit California. Isn’t that kind of shocking? That is in addition to most of the African continent, where, with a few notable exceptions, the situation is the same. That is an incredible number of gay men and women who cannot express love in a healthy and supportive way. How much anger and resentment that must breed, and how much tragedy, I don’t even want to comprehend.