Countries where it is illegal to be gay: Colonial legacy and change

Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.” —Harvey Fierstein.

If you live in Canada or the US, you live on the happier end of the queer spectrum. Queerness is still frowned upon in most parts of the world, thanks to my dear old friend colonialism. As a black queer Indian American individual, I can tell you from firsthand experience that being queer is not all rainbows and sunshine, especially in a developing country. As an adult, prior to the whole Covid-19 debacle, I have been to India like 5 times, and let me tell you, before the decriminalization of homosexuality or section 377, it was hard to be an openly queer individual there. Now, the times are changing, and even in a conservative country like India, the tides are changing, but there is still a long way to go before we as queer people are free to travel the world free without fearing for our life. So, let’s take a trip down memory lane and see how homosexuality has been criminalized because of colonialism and its aftermath.

Where is it illegal to be queer?


You can be criminalized and persecuted in 71 countries if you are queer worldwide and obtain the death penalty in 11 of these countries; you can learn more about all these countries and the laws that criminalize homosexuality on And I am talking about consensual sexual relationships between 2 male adults. A lot of these countries don’t criminalize consensual sexual relationships between 2 female adults, though because the prior monarchies didn’t believe that women were able to have sexual intercourse with each other, well, this is one case where misogyny and patriarchal ideologies actually worked in favor of the oppressed. It is also thanks to the male British ‘scholars’ of the time who couldn’t believe or imagine two women having sex without the presence or need of a man. Only 43, which is still 43 too many, countries criminalize ‘lesbianism,’ and 15 countries criminalize trans-identifying individuals, drag impersonators, and/or ‘cross-dressers’. These are only countries that explicitly criminalize queer people in other places of the world like the US and England; conversion therapy is still legal even though these countries supposedly protect the rights of their queer citizens.

The 11 countries where it is the most dangerous to be queer and that you should be cautious when traveling to as a queer traveler are:

  1. Afghanistan
  2. Brunei
  3. Iran
  4. Mauritania
  5. Nigeria
  6. Pakistan
  7. Qatar
  8. Saudi Arabia
  9. Somalia
  10. United Arab Emirates
  11. Yemen

Homophobia- A legacy of colonialism


Okay, let’s start with this, homosexuality is natural, but homophobia isn’t, and you can fight me on this one, but just know I have a degree in English and Linguistics with a minor in queer studies, so I know what I am talking about. Homosexuality or same-sex behavior is found in over 1500 species, and how is it only unnatural when it comes to humans then when scientifically speaking, our closest cousins are primates. And how can something that is found in nature be unnatural? Make it make sense. The answer to most evils in modern times is deeply rooted in colonialism. Thanks, England and their precious monarchy; you did us a solid on this one. If you check, you will see that most countries that criminalize homosexuality are found mainly in Africa and Asia; funny isn’t it when these are the continents that were mostly affected by colonialism. These homophobic laws that these countries now enforced are a gift and were inherited by colonial rule. In pre-colonial societies like India and Ghana, homosexuality and other forms of gender expression other than male or female were widely accepted. So, to say that homosexuality is a Western construction and that homophobia stems from the East is a gross and Eurocentric notion of history.


Remember respecting other is doesn’t cost you a thing. At the end of the day, we are all people trying to make it in life, and if I love someone of the same sex or don’t fit in the heteronormative binary of gender expression, why should it matter to you, and how does this make me less of a human being?

Sound off in the comments section below and tell us if you want to read more about how the law has been affected by colonialism. I’d like to end with a quote from Aubrey Lorde, a self-proclaimed ‘black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet’:

My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.”


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