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  • Writer's pictureOvith Thiyagalingam

The Wrongful Criminalization of 2SLGBTQI+ People: A Persisting Global Phenomenon

This article discusses themes of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression and may be triggering for some readers.



“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

– Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1


The Denial of 2SLGBTQI+ Rights


Despite the legal recognition and protection of 2SLGBTQI+ rights increasingly garnering international momentum over the last few decades, 2SLGBTQI+ people remain the targets of discriminatory national criminalization policies and laws in place around the world.


The United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed and agreed to by all 193 sovereign states that are members of the United Nations, declares that all people, including those who self-identify as part of the 2SLGBTQI+ community, are entitled to all the universal rights and freedoms protected by international human rights law.


Therefore, it can be understood that everyone should enjoy fundamental human rights without having to fear discrimination and persecution based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.


While around 30 countries, including Canada, legally recognize the right to same-sex marriage, however, around 70 UN member states continue to criminalize consensual same-sex conduct. In some parts of the world, individuals charged for being a part of the 2SLGBTQI+ community or for engaging in consensual same-sex conduct can face maximum criminal punishments ranging broadly from small fines to life imprisonment. In some jurisdictions, the death penalty is also legally exercised by federal authorities as a punishment for these labeled offences.


According to the Asian Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), a global coalition of over 1,800 organizations from over 160 countries campaigning for the human rights of 2SLGBTQI+ people, at least 11 countries continue to retain the death penalty as a possible punishment for criminally convicted 2SLGBTQI+ individuals. Some of these states include Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.


The imposition of the death penalty for 2SLGBTQI+ people and for consensual same-sex conduct violates 2SLGBTQI+ people’s human right to life and the right to freedom from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment.



Need for Action


2SLGBTQI+ rights-supporting state-level governments, international human rights organizations, and passionate global citizens are all demanding accountability from repressive states and legal and social policy reform to better protect 2SLGBTQI+ people.


Facing pushback, however, international human rights organizations and their efforts to advocate for 2SLGBTQI+ rights are silenced time and again. This is often accomplished through the implementation of legal policy banning all media, activism, and dialogue that support 2SLGBTQI+ rights within the country’s jurisdictional limits.


In one example, a bill proposed to Iraq’s Parliament on September 4, 2022, by the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq to criminalize the promotion of 2SLGBTQI+ rights by any individual or group, is rapidly gaining increasing support from parliament members for its implementation.


Earlier in August 2022, Uganda’s National Bureau for Non-Governmental Organizations banned Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a 2SLGBTQI+ advocacy group that had delivered education on sexuality and advocated for health services for 2SLGBTQI+ people for over 18 years.


Instead of ignoring the international calls to action to decriminalize consensual same-sex conduct and protect 2SLGBTQI+ people’s rights, states like Iraq and Uganda must commit to guaranteeing the dignity and human rights of all people by promoting equality and eliminating discrimination.


Student Action


Here's what you can do to support 2SLGBTQI+ rights:

  1. Take time to understand the adversity 2SLGBTQI+ people face and seek out a variety of different perspectives and credible information sources.

    1. Queering Identities: LGBTQ+ Sexuality and Gender Identity – University of Colorado via Coursera (Free)

    2. Health Across the Gender Spectrum – Stanford via Coursera (Free)

  2. Create a space at your school for 2SLGBTQI+ voices.

    1. For example, Q+ at Queen’s University is a student-led professional development committee that empowers 2SLGBTQI+ students by delivering professional development opportunities, community, and allyship.

  3. Donate to or get involved as an intern or student/youth volunteer for a Canadian non-governmental organization (NGO) that is working to advance 2SLGBTQI+ human rights globally.

    1. Amnesty International

    2. ARC International

    3. Egale

    4. Égides

    5. Equitas

    6. Human Dignity Trust


Note on Terminology


The Government of Canada encourages the use of the 2SLGBTQI+ acronym, which places the experiences of Indigenous 2SLGBTQI+ communities at the front as the first 2SLGBTQI+ peoples in North America. The acronym means Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and additional sexually and gender diverse people.




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