Comment: Why we should reflect on the state of LGBT persecution this Christmas

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The head of the Human Dignity Trust writes for PinkNews on why we should look to other countries this Christmas, where LGBT people are still persecuted.

2014 has taken the persecution of gay men and lesbians to a new level. Not content with the existing criminal laws which already outlawed gay sex, Nigeria, Uganda and Gambia introduced new laws which criminalised simply being gay and lesbian and/or supporting gay and lesbian people. The Nigerian law even makes it a crime for gay and lesbian couples to live together. The fear is that these laws could be adopted across the globe. Russia already has in place something similar. Within days of the annexation of the Crimea, the gay pride march there was cancelled.

In August in Uganda there was a temporary reprieve when the Anti-Homosexuality Act was declared void by the courts. But this was only for technical reasons. A new Bill has emerged. If that Bill sees the light of day, along with a raft of other persecutory provisions, it will even become a crime to match-make.

The British, Americans, the EU, Canadians, Dutch and the Scandinavians have individually been critical of these new laws. But we need the international community to keep the pressure on those countries which are actively persecuting their gay and lesbian citizens. We need smart, clever and creative responses which are supported by local activists.

As the New Year dawned, news emerged that Jean-Claude Roger Mbede had died in Cameroon. Mbede was only in his early 30s. He had been convicted of homosexuality because he had texted a man and told him he fancied him. He had been released from prison on compassionate grounds due to his ill health. His family, we are told, locked him away until he died. With treatment he would have recovered.

Mbede’s story is just one of countless other experiences in 2014 in which gay men, lesbians and trans people were subjected to brutality. From Russia to Ghana, the Caribbean to India there have been gratuitous and violent attacks on people simply because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Two women were set upon by a mob in Cameroon and then they were arrested. The year ends with an attack on a Ugandan gay man who was left for dead. Luckily, he has survived. And further violence against LGBT activists has been reported in Zimbabwe.

In October, the Singapore Court of Appeal upheld the validity of the laws criminalising gay sex. Therefore, to all intents and purposes, it remains a crime to be gay there. Singapore claims to be a global business hub. How can the international business community permit this situation to continue? Discrimination is bad for business. Corporations must take a co-ordinated stand to end LGBT discrimination.

But the news in 2014 was not all bad. Northern Cyprus and Palau both decriminalised. There are now only 79 jurisdictions left that criminalise people simply for being gay. Both the United Nations and the African Commission passed very important Resolutions in 2014 calling on all countries to protect the gay, lesbian and trans communities from violence. All credit and respect to those activists who made this happen. Similar thanks to the international community for encouraging and supporting these Resolutions. The British Foreign Office has played a decisive role. The UN also continues to offer real leadership on ending the persecution of the LGBT community.

Other notable developments include: South Africa has its first lesbian cabinet Minister and also their first openly gay MP; two men who were prosecuted for being gay in Zambia where acquitted; a Malaysian court upheld the right to cross-dress; the International Olympic Committee recognised that there could be no discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation; the UK continued to acknowledge its shameful past with the granting of a Royal Pardon to Alan Turing; Botswana courts recognised the right of an LGBT organisation to be registered and the Indian Supreme Court upheld the rights of the trans community, making amends, in part, for their appalling decision in 2013 when they re-criminalised gay sex.

As we move into 2015 there are reasons for optimism. We can anticipate decriminalisation in a couple more countries. Court cases are likely to lead to better free speech, protest and association rights, and we may finally get a decision from the Belize courts. This decision will be seismic across the Caribbean, proving that human rights belong to everyone and everyone includes lesbians, gay men and trans people.

Jonathan Cooper is the Chief Executive of the Human Dignity Trust