A Rainbow or a Shadow over the White House Summit for Democracy II?

by Susan Dicklitch-Nelson, Mark Bromley, Erin Hallenbeck, and Erin Maxwell

On March 29 and 30, more than 100 invited countries will convene in Washington for the second White House Summit for Democracy. Attending nations are expected to share democratic values and norms and embrace fundamental universal human rights principles. However, many have failed to do so, especially when it comes to protecting some of their most vulnerable citizens: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) people.

In fact, 60% of invited countries have earned a failing grade on the 2022 LGBTQI+ Human Rights Report Cards (HRRCs).  The report cards, created by the F&M Global Barometers in partnership with  The Council for Global Equality, measure the extent to which countries provide legislative protection for their LGBTQI+ citizens. Countries are scored on three dimensions: Basic Rights, Protection from Violence, and Socio-Economic Rights. The 30 items of the report card grade countries from an A for “Excellent” (90-100%) to an F for “Failing” (0-59%).

Only four of the 100+ Summit attendees received an A score for “Excellent”: Malta, Greece, Canada, and Uruguay. Malaysia and Nigeria have the unenviable distinction of earning zero on their report cards, while Dominica, Ghana, Indonesia, Malawi, Maldives, Senegal, Solomon Islands, and Tonga all follow closely behind at 3%. Overall, 47 Summit countries improved their LGBTQI+ score from 2020, while eleven countries experienced a decline in their HRRC scores. 52 countries experienced no change over the two-year period.

Angola and Barbados saw significant improvements, including a 30% increase in Angola’s score, which reflects both countries’ decriminalization of same-sex relationships and the related improvements in the security context. Chile saw a 20% increase and the United States a 17% rise because of Chile’s introduction of same-sex marriage and the improved legal landscape for trans, intersex, and non-binary citizens in both countries.

Recent attacks on LGBTQI+ people have cast an ominous shadow over the year of action and the invited democracies. Transgender rights are under attack across the United States. (Indeed, the improved U.S. score reflects improvements at the federal level even as state legislatures are debating and, far too often, passing hundreds of transphobic bills.) Ghana, which already criminalizes homosexuality, has a cross-party group of MPs advancing a bill that would criminalize gender identity and intersex corrective therapy and imprison any person or group seen as promoting LGBTQI+ identities. In Zambia, one of the five countries that will host regional meetings of the Summit for Democracy on March 30, four women were recently arrested for “holding a march against gender-based violence that police claim was used to ‘champion homosexuality.’” Zambia earned a grade of 7% from 2020 to 2022 on the HRRCs. Lawmakers in Kenya have proposed a dangerous anti-LGBTQI+ bill that is suspiciously similar to Ghana.  And Uganda didn’t earn an invitation to the Summit for Democracy, but its parliament just passed one of the most aggressive anti-LGBTQI+ bills anywhere, which awaits its president’s signature.  

Still, there are other notable advances. Nine countries instituted a ban on so-called gay conversion therapy, and eight countries strengthened their freedom from arbitrary arrest based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Gender identity and intersex rights have also improved in several places: Chile banned medically unnecessary, non-consensual surgical interventions and New Zealand removed barriers to legal gender recognition. While Kenya maintains its criminalization of homosexuality, it passed a landmark ruling in 2022 that granted equal rights and recognition to intersex people.

Legislation is not the sole indicator of how successful a country has been in protecting its most vulnerable citizens, but it is an important first step in guaranteeing that LGBTQI+ individuals have the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts. If countries believe in democracy, they cannot ignore legislative protections for their LGBTQI+ citizens, which are a baseline safety net to ensure that LGBTQI+ individuals have an opportunity to participate as equal citizens in their country’s democracy. When 25 participants in the Summit still criminalize homosexuality, and thus deny full rights to a vulnerable set of citizens, how can they be truly considered to be democratic?

However, democracy, citizenship, and human rights are not only about laws. What happens when we compare the lived LGBTQI+ human rights reality with the legislative reality?  Based on a six-question survey launched in the summer of 2022, the F&M Global Barometers LGBTQI+ Perception Index (GBPI) is the first truly global study of the lived human rights reality of the LGBTQI+ community worldwide. The survey focuses on safety, acceptance, police harassment, violence, safety in gathering, and discrimination. The survey measures the global LGBTQI+ population and the magnitude of the responses (over 167,000), and in doing so, it reveals the lived realities of LGBTQI+ people as juxtaposed with the legislative reality.

For example, although both Ghana and the United States earned a grade of “F” on their Report Cards, Ghana scored 34% on the GBPI and the United States scored a 70%. Malta scored a 100% (A), but its GBPI score was a 79% (C).

In reverse, Japan scored higher on the GBPI (74%) than on the HRRCs – a failing grade of 30% – because Japan has no specific laws in place to protect LGBTQI+ people from violence or socio-economic discrimination. While 30% is not a particularly high mark, it shows that despite the lack of legislative protections, LGBTQI+ people in Japan perceive their realities to be better than the legal protections they are denied.

Comparing perception with the reality of legislation shows that the health of a democracy is closely linked to how a society protects its most vulnerable populations, including LGBTQI+ people. While no country scored an “A” on the GBPI, all of the highest scoring GBPI countries, with the exception of Czechia and Malta, are categorized as “full” democracies according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index (2022).

The lowest-scoring nations are considered “flawed” or “hybrid” democracies, with the exception of those not scored by the EIU, and Iraq, which is classified as “authoritarian.” Our data tells us that the healthier the democracy, the better the lived human rights realities for LGBTQI+ individuals. The inverse is equally true: where LGBTQI+ citizens report a greater sense of safety and security, democracy itself is stronger and more inclusive.

We encourage you to watch the March 22 discussion, Advancing Inclusive LGBTQI+ Citizenship Globally, that we hosted with the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, featuring Tamara Adrían, a lawyer, professor, and former lawmaker at the National Assembly of Venezuela (2016-2021); Mark Bromley, Co-Chair of the Council for Global Equality; Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the U.N. Independent Expert on Protection from Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity; Jessica Stern, the U.S. Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexuals, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons; and moderator Dan Baer, the Senior Vice President for Policy Research and Director of the Europe Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

To view the complete results of the LGBTQI+ Human Rights Report Cards and F&M Global Barometers LGBTQI+ Perception Index, visit www.lgbtqiperceptionindex.org.

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