The acronyms LGBT, LGBTQ+, and their related forms refer to individuals with non-heterosexual sexual identities and/or non-cisgender gender identities. Many LGBTQ+ people around the world face inequality, discrimination, and in some cases, violence. Rights and protections for those who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community vary greatly by country or jurisdiction. Some countries are accepting, even gay-friendly, and have strong LGBTQ+ protections such as safeguards that preserve individuals' rights to marriage and employment. Other countries have poor LGBTQ+ rights and offer fewer protections. In the world's most homophobic countries, LGBTQI+ lifestyles may be illegal and punishable by prison sentences, lashings, or the death penalty.
The topic of LGBTQI+ rights is broad and multifaceted. Because of this breadth, determining each country's level of LGBTQI+ support requires the comparison of many indicators, ranging from whether gay marriage is legal to whether LGBTQI+ individuals are accepted by the general population or subjected to discrimination and possible vigilante violence. Three of the most reputable metrics that track LGBTQI+ rights are UCLA University's Global Acceptance Index (GAI), the Equaldex Equality Index (EEI), and the Asher & Lyric LGBTQI+ Travel Safety Index (TSI). In all three of these rankings, higher scores are preferable.
Top 10 Countries with the Best LGBTQ+ Rights:
|1||Iceland||Iceland [tie 1-3]||Canada|
|2||Netherlands||Canada [tie 1-3]||Sweden|
|3||Norway||Isle of Man [tie 1-3]||Netherlands|
|4||Sweden||Norway [tie 4-6]||Malta|
|5||Canada||Denmark [tie 4-6]||Portugal|
|6||Spain||Uruguay [tie 4-6]||United Kingdom|
|7||Denmark||Netherlands [tie 7-8]||Norway|
|8||Ireland||Andorra [tie 7-8]||Belgium|
|9||United Kingdom||United Kingdom [tie 9-11]||Spain|
|10||New Zealand||Australia [tie 9-11]||France|
|11||Australia||Germany [tie 9-11]||Iceland|
When examining the lower end of the rankings to seek out the worst countries for LGBTQI+ rights, it may also be worthwhile to note the possibility of capital punishment. As of 2022, six countries' legal codes specifically prescribe the death penalty for the "crime" of homosexuality and another five countries allow for the possibility of the death penalty.
Top 11 Countries with the Worst LGBTQ+ Rights:
|2||Tajikistan||Brunei [tie 2-4]||Nigeria||Saudi Arabia|
|3||Zimbabwe||Somalia [tie 2-4]||Kuwait||Brunei|
|4||Somalia||Afghanistan [tie 2-4]||Saudi Arabia||Mauritania|
|7||Mauritania||Libya||Malawi||United Arab Emirates|
|9||Jordan||United Arab Emirates [tie 9-10]||Somalia||Somalia|
|10||Moldova||Gambia [tie 9-10]||Libya||Qatar|
|11||Zambia||Sudan/Egypt [tie 11-12]||Afghanistan||Pakistan|
Definitions and variations of LGBT and LGBTQ+
LGBT and LGBTQ+ have several additional variations, including LGBTQ, LGBTQIA, LGBTQIA+, and 2SLGBTQIA+ (Two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual, with the + representing pansexual, agender, gender queer, bigender, gender variant, and pangender).
While longer variations are arguably more inclusive than shorter versions with fewer specific mentions, in actual practice all variations nearly always refer to the broadest community and tend to be largely interchangeable (i.e., a reference to the LGBT community is not confined to only LGBT individuals and can instead be assumed to include the full non-heterosexual/non-cisgender community, just as LGBTQ+, 2SLGBTQIA+, and any other variations do). LGBTQ+ communities may also be described as having diverse SOGIESC, which the United Nations defines as having "sexual orientations, gender identities, gender expressions and/or sex characteristics that place them outside culturally mainstream categories".
LGBTQ+ Rights in the United States
The US has made significant strides in LGBTQI+ rights over the years, coding an increasing number of LGBTQI+ rights into national law. Two of the most notable advancements in LGBTQI+ rights in the US in recent decades are the legalization of gay marriage and the legalization of adoption of children by same-sex couples. Gay marriage legalization expanded from one state in 2004 to all fifty states in 2015 through federal court rulings, state court rulings, state legislation, and direct popular votes. The Supreme Court struck down all bans on same-sex adoption in 2016, legalizing it in all 50 states.
Despite these and other advancements, the United States still lags behind many other countries (especially in Northern Europe) in terms of establishing and protecting LGBTQI+ rights. One particular standout example is the United States' lack of an overarching federal law outlawing discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals. This shortcoming has enabled many forms of LGBTQI+ discrimination (employment, housing, education) to remain a concern, especially in the Southern states.
The Equality Act would amend existing civil rights laws to explicitly state sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics. By including this language, the Act would provide explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people nationwide and all areas of life such as housing, education, employment, public spaces and services, and federally funded programs among other things. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been fighting for LGBTQI+ rights since 1936 and brings more LGBTQI+ cases than any other national organization.
LGQBTQ+ Rights Around the World
LGBTQ+ rights vary greatly between countries. According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association's annual report State-Sponsored Homophobia, same-sex conduct was criminalized in 67 of the United Nations' 193 member states in 2020 and was de facto illegal in two more. In other countries, homosexuality is technically legal, but promotion of "nontraditional sexual relations", whether by organizations or individuals, is illegal.
In six countries with a strict interpretation of sharia law, consensual same-sex acts are punishable by death (usually by stoning). Moreover, another five countries have laws which are less specific in the outlawing and sentencing of homosexuality, but which leave the death penalty available.
Countries Where Consensual Same-Sex Acts Are Punishable by Death:
|Explicitly Prescribed||Legally Allowed|
|Saudi Arabia||United Arab Emirates|
Conversion therapies: legal or not?
A handful of nations have outlawed conversion therapies nationwide: Brazil, Canada (some provinces), Ecuador, Mexico (some jurisdictions), Puerto Rico, and the United States (some states). Conversion therapy is also outlawed in some subnational divisions in certain countries: some of Canada's provinces, some of Mexico's jurisdictions, and roughly 50% of US states:
States Where Conversion Therapy is Banned:
Note: * indicates a state in which state-funded conversion therapy is banned, but therapy may still be funded privately.
Laws against discrimination based upon sexual orientation
A growing number of countries are passing legal protections to prevent discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals. 81 United Nations member states (42%), including most of Europe and South America, have taken steps to tackle sexual orientation-based discrimination in the workplace, and 57 UN members (30%) have passed broad anti-discrimination laws. Thus far, 6% of UN members (11 states) and one non-member territory have coded GLBTQI+ anti-discrimination protections into their constitutions: Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Fiji, Kosovo, Malta, Mexico, Nepal, Portugal, San Marino, South Africa, Sweden
Laws regarding same-sex adoptions
As of 2020, 28 UN member states (14%, largely in North America and Europe) had legally established the right of same-sex GLBTQI+ couples to adopt children. Four additional member countries had authorized "second parent" adoption by same-sex couples (second parent adoptions are those in which one member of a same-sex couple adopts the child of the other member).
in 2001, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage. As of 2022, nearly 50 countries have followed suit, the most recent of which being Switzerland in 2022. Same-sex marriage is most often legalized in the Americas and Western Europe, and is less likely to be legal in Africa and Asia. A number of these states also recognize same-sex civil unions, including Peru, Greece, and Italy. Additionally, some countries do not allow their own GLBTQI+ citizens to marry, but do legally acknowledge same-sex marriages performed in other countries.
The World's Safest Countries for LGBTQ+ People
According to the LGBTQ+ Danger Index, below are the ten best and safest countries in the world for LGBTQ+ people. The index is created by compiling country-level data on a wide range of metrics related to LGBT rights, from the legality of same-sex marriage to propaganda laws and murder rates of transsexual individuals.
2022's friendliest nation for LGBTQ+ travelers is Canada, the first country outside of Europe (and the fourth country in the world) to legalize gay marriage, which it did on July 20, 2005. Same-sex couples can adopt children in Canada, same-sex marriage is legal, and the country has constitutional protections against discrimination of LGBTQ+ people. Canada has robust protections against multiple forms of discrimination the basis of sexual orientation, and only a few countries have a more progressive stance on legal recognition of gender identity.
Another of the world's most gay-friendly countries, Sweden has legalized both marriage and adoption for same-sex couples, installed anti-discrimination protections for both gender identity and sexual orientation, encoded constitutional protections against discrimination, and criminalized violence against LGBTQ+ people.
Like Sweden and Canada, the Netherlands has one of the world's most inclusive and progressive attitudes regarding LGBTQI+ rights. Same-sex marriage and adoption are both legal, anti-discrimination rules are written into the constitution, and employment protections defend against discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBTQI+ individuals can change their government-registered gender without undergoing gender reassignment surgery.
Same-sex couples in Malta are free to marry and adopt children, hate crimes against LGBTQI+ people are illegal, and more than 75% of all LGBTQI+ individuals surveyed feel the country is a good place for them to live. Malta is also one of very few countries with a trans murder rate of less than 0.1 per million residents.
Portugal became the sixth European country and the eighth country in the world to legalize gay marriage on May 17, 2010. In 2016, same-sex couples became eligible to adopt. Additionally, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are all allowed to join the Portuguese military. The LGBTQ+ has constitutional protections against discrimination as well as worker protections for both sexual orientation and gender identity.
On March 29, 2014, the UK legalized same-sex marriage. Laws to allow same-sex couples to adopt passed in England and Wales in 2005 and Scotland in 2009. Since 2000, LGBT people have been allowed to openly serve in the military and discrimination based on sexual orientation has been prohibited since 2010. The British military also grants same-sex couples the same rights to housing and allowances that opposite-sex couples enjoy.
Belgium was the second country in the world to legalize gay marriage (after the Netherlands). Same-sex couples have the same adoption rights as opposite-sex couples and LGBTQI+ individuals are not banned from the military. Belgium offers broad protections for LGBTQ+ people against discrimination and has worker protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.
Norway has legalized gay marriage and has worker protections for both sexual orientation and gender identity. Norway has broad protections for discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, rather than constitutional protections, and has criminalized hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community. Like Sweden and Canada, Norway allows for joint and second-parent adoption for same-sex couples.
Finishing the top ten list of the most LGBTQ+-friendly countries is Spain. In 2005, Spain legalized both same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption. Spain has nationwide worker protections for sexual orientation only; however, some autonomous communities in Spain have banned discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity. Additionally, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people may serve openly in the Spanish Armed Forces.
On May 18, 2013, France became the 13th country to legalize gay marriage. Same-sex couples have also been legally able to adopt since the same-sex marriage law took effect. France offers worker protections for both sexual orientation and gender identity. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals are allowed to serve openly in the military. In 2004, the National Assembly approved an amendment to existing anti-discrimination laws to include homophobic comments as illegal.
Same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption have been legal in Finland since March 1, 2017. Finland has worker protections for both sexual orientation and gender identity and has broad protections against discrimination.
Same-sex marriage was legalized in Iceland in 2010 by a unanimous vote to define marriage as between two individuals (with no specific gender requirements). Since 2006, same-sex couples have had equal access to adoption and IVF (in vitro fertilization) as opposite-sex couples. In 2018, Iceland passed a law banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics.
- Global Acceptance Index (GAI) is a measure of overall LGBTQ+ acceptance. GAI was devised by researchers at the Williams Institute at UCLA University. Higher scores are preferable.
- Equaldex Equality Index (EEI) is a combined metric that calculated ""the current status of LGBT rights, laws, and freedoms as well as public attitudes towards LGBT people."" Higher scores are preferable.
- The LGBTQI+ Travel Safety Index (TSI) combines several factors in ten categories. Higher scores are preferable.
- Maximum penalties listed are those outlined by legal code. Individuals arrested for homosexual conduct are often subjected to additional mistreatment, from torture and forced anal exams by shady law enforcement officials to oversized sentences or extended pre-trial incarceration that can last for years.
- Years listed indicate the first year the first protection was put in place. For example, Andorra has passed employment protections in 2003, 2009, and 2018, so 2003 is listed.
- Countries that have not legalized same-sex marriage may still acknowledge same-sex marriages performed in other countries.
- Countries marked ""varied"" include a wide range of regulations depending upon which state, province, or other subdivision one is evaluating.
- Second-parent adoptions are those in which one member of a partnership adopts the child of the other member, thereby becoming the ""second parent