Globally, an increase in anti-LGBTQ+ intolerance is impacting individuals and communities both online and off. The digital rights community has observed an uptick in censorship of LGBTQ+ websites as well as troubling attempts by several countries to pass explicitly anti-LGBTQ+ bills restricting freedom of expression and privacy—bills that also fuel offline intolerance against LGBTQI+ people, and force LGBTQI+ individuals to self-censor their online expression to avoid being profiled, harassed, doxxed, or criminally prosecuted.
LGBTQ+ researchers and advocates have also noted an increase in threats of violence and hate speech targeted at LGBTQ+ individuals and communities, ever increasingly with the intention of stifling trans rights and canceling drag events. These orchestrated online campaigns—often fueled by the far right—have proliferated in connection with surge of bills attacking LGBTQ+ rights. In the U.S., a report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) and Human Rights Campaign tracked a 406% increase in tweets connecting LGBTQ+ communities to “grooming” in the month after the “Don’t Say Gay” bill passed in March 2022. Moreover, earlier this year, ILGA Europe reported online hate speech as a serious issue in Armenia, Austria, Latvia, Montenegro, and Romania.
The use of slurs like “groomer,” “pedophile,” and “predator” have permeated from fringe discourses into mainstream, as well as from the online to offline environment—threatening LGBTQ+ rights from all vectors, affecting the quality of life of LGBTQ+ individuals, and leading to physical violence.
The following post highlights just six countries where limitations on LGBTQ+ expression are on the rise. This Pride—and all year round—we urge you to join us in taking a stand to support the freedom of LGBTQ+ individuals and communities everywhere.
(This post focuses on non-US content—visit our issue page for our other posts covering LGBTQ+ rights in the U.S.)
Following the outbreak of Russia's war against Ukraine, many LGBTQ+ people were forced into fleeing Russia. At the same time, Russian President Putin signed into law the country's new propaganda law in December 2022, which prohibits both positive and neutral information about LGBTQ+ people to minors and adults, and bans “gender reassignment” and the “promotion of paedophilia”. That same month, online streaming services in Russia censored scenes in TV shows like Gossip Girl and The White Lotus, and Russia’s media regulator was granted new powers to ban all websites that feature “LGBT propaganda”.
Moreover, a Moscow court fined Meta four million rubles ($47,590) for refusing to take down content that was considered to be “propagating the LGBT+ community”. A different court in Moscow also fined TikTok two million rubles ($23,599) for not removing content that was “propagating homosexual relations”. Earlier in 2022, Meta was dubbed an “extremist organization,” and users of Meta products like Facebook could be considered a member of an extremist organization and thus imprisoned for up to six years.
Indonesia has long restricted freedom of expression. The Southeast Asian country with a population of 273 million has long blocked access to certain websites, including that which the government deems blasphemous, and has laws imposing criminal or civil liability for certain online activities.
In recent years, despite homosexuality not being criminalized, the Indonesian government and some of the country’s ISPs have cracked down on LGBTQ+ expression in particular. A 2021 report from the Open Observatory for Network Interference (OONI) and Outright International named Indonesia as one of six countries restricting LGBTQ+ content. The report noted that most censorship was conducted using DNS hijacking and that it was not consistent across internet service providers, suggesting that some of it could be extralegal.
Certainly some of the country’s censorship is government-ordered, however; in one instance from 2019, Instagram removed a comic depicting the struggles of gay Muslims at the behest of Indonesian authorities. In another instance, a U.S. citizen was deported after stating on Twitter that Bali was “LGBT friendly.”
United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates enjoys a positive reputation throughout much of the world thanks to a business-friendly environment and significant investment in tourism, leading some to believe that the country is somehow liberal. But behind the façade lies severe violations of human rights: Dissent by citizens and non-citizens is not tolerated, with the government surveilling and imprisoning some of its critics.
Although there is some tolerance of LGBTQ+ expression, the UAE has a highly controlled online environment and, according to OONI and Outright’s 2021 report, its ISPs block a significant number of foreign LGBTQ+ websites, limiting the amount of information available to locals. Furthermore, the country’s 2012 Cybercrime Law—amended in 2018 to restrict the use of VPNs—imposes substantial penalties for criticizing the government or its institutions.
In May 2023, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed into law an extremely harsh anti-LGBTQ+ bill. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023—now the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023—doesn’t criminalize identifying as LGBTQ+, but introduces a 20-year sentence for “promoting” homosexuality, and a 10-year sentence for “aggravated homosexuality,” which includes sexual relations involving people infected with HIV. Since the Legislature approved of the law, the legislation severely restricts and impedes the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer citizens in Uganda. EFF calls on the authorities in Uganda to repeal this legislation and uphold human rights for all.
For many countries across Africa, and indeed the world, the codification of anti-LGBTQ+ discourses and beliefs can be traced back to colonial rule. Since then these laws have been used and implemented by authorities to imprison, harass, and intimidate LGBTQI+ individuals.
The Anti-Homosexuality Act is not only an assault on the rights of LGBTQ+ people to exist, but it also represents a grave threat to freedom of expression. And, of course, other countries may see Uganda’s bill as a blueprint for oppressing the LGBTQ+ community, empowered by the silence of the international community.
Like in Uganda, Ghanaian law already criminalizes same-sex sexual activity. But Ghana's ‘Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill, 2021’ goes much further by threatening up to five years in jail to anyone who publicly identifies as LGBTQ+ or “any sexual or gender identity that is contrary to the binary categories of male and female.” The sentence increases if the offending person expresses their gender beyond or identifies outside of the so-called "binary gender."
The bill also criminalizes identifying as an LGBTQ+ ally. The bill has a blanket prohibition on advocating for LGBTQ+ rights and explicitly assigns criminal penalties for speech posted online, and threatens online platforms—specifically naming Twitter and Meta products Facebook and Instagram—with criminal penalties if they do not restrict pro-LGBTQ+ content.
If passed, Ghanaian authorities could probe the social media accounts of anyone applying for a visa for pro-LGBTQ+ speech or create lists of pro-LGBTQ+ supporters to be arrested upon entry. They could also require the platforms to suppress content about LGBTQ+ issues, regardless of where it was created.
And as platforms that purport to support freedom of expression and the safety of its users, and who have declared themselves allies of the LGBTQ+ community, Meta and Twitter must not remain silent. At the very least, the global LGBTQ+ and ally community has a right to know if the posts they make today could one day be in the hands of government agents that will use it to imprison them.
Taking inspiration from the bills in Uganda and Ghana, a new proposed law in Kenya—the Family Protection Bill 2023—prohibits homosexuality with imprisonment for a minimum 10 years and mandates life imprisonment for convictions of “aggravated homosexuality”. The bill also allows for the expulsion of refugees and asylum seekers who breach the law, irrespective of whether the conduct is connected with asylum requests.
Kenya became a primary destination for LGBTQ+ individuals seeking refuge after Uganda sought to introduce the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in 2014. Kenya is the sole country in East Africa to accept LGBTQ+ individuals seeking refuge and asylum without questioning their sexual orientation.
If this bill passes, Kenya would limit the rights to privacy, rights to free assembly and association, and rights to free expression and information both offline and on.
EFF calls on the authorities in Kenya and Ghana to kill their respective repulsive bills, and to ensure that all LGBTQ+ are free to live without fear of persecution, prosecution, or violence just for existing.
For more information on how to fight back against these measures in Uganda, Ghana, and Kenya, follow Access Now’s campaign.
This article is part of our EFF Pride series. Read other articles highlighting this years work at the intersection of digital rights and LGBTQ+ on our issue page.