As a queer person of color, I was stunned to hear that Brunei was implementing a Penal Code that would allow stoning to death for same-sex acts. As a human, I was concerned that such a cruel law would go into effect, allowing the Brunei authorities to restrict the rights to freedom of expression, religion, and belief. As someone who works in the region, I thought: could I be killed in the streets for being who I am if I travel to Brunei? More importantly, I then thought about the countless LGBTQ+ activists in Brunei who must be in fear of backlash. I thought about their fear for their lives and the lives of their family and community — and whether they have the potential to seek safety and asylum in other countries.
The developments out of Brunei must be a wake-up call. We need to come out and speak out, not just for Brunei, but for LGBTQ+ people all over the world. When we speak out for human rights in Brunei, we must speak out for human rights elsewhere. The situation for LGBTQ+ people globally reminds us of the wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”
At Amnesty International USA, we mobilize our strengths, weaknesses, fears, and hopes and turn them into action. And while it is right to be shocked by what is happening in Brunei, we must remember the intersectionality of all our struggles and injustices and lock hands with our LGBTQ+ family wherever they may be in human rights struggles around the world. Here are some places we can direct our attention and action toward.
The Northern Triangle
The injustices El Salvadorians, Guatemalans, and Hondurans face gets worse everyday. As Amnesty has documented, the LGBTQ+ community in the Northern Triangle faces increased and targeted violence and threats as authorities in their countries fail to protect them, leaving them with no choice but to flee their countries and face further dangers on the road to safety seeking asylum in Mexico. Our reaction to the humanitarian crisis at the border must be shaped by our concern for LGBTQ+ people who just want to live in safety.
Or take Finland, where invasive requirements force trans and gender nonconforming folks to be declared as having a “mental disorder” in order to have their gender reassigned. 21-year-old Sakris Kupila has never identified as a woman, but under Finnish law is forced to be diagnosed with a “mental disorder” in order to have a new name. For Sakris, the choice is clear. He opposes this humiliating treatment and is demanding a change to the law. The rights of LGBTQ+ rights in Finland should be part of our struggle as well – we can start by signing this petition.
We must also fight for the release of Egyptian transgender activist Malak al-Kashef, who was seized from her home for participating in a peaceful protest. In Egypt, authorities have waged a menacing campaign targeting LGBTQ+ people and carried out dozens of arrests and forced anal examinations used to track “chronic homosexuality.” These examinations amount to torture, in blatant violation of basic human rights.
In Taiwan, same-sex marriage rights and LGBTQ+ inclusive schools initiatives were just rejected in a public referendum. However, the state is obliged to amend discriminatory same-sex marriage laws, so a legal path forward does exist.
Similarly, in Malaysia we saw the sentencing of caning and a fine for two LGBTQ+ members having sexual relations. Reform in a country like Malaysia (or Taiwan as well) require top-down and bottom-up approaches to protect and affirm LGBTQ+ rights — they too demand our attention.
Across the African continent, legal rights are diminishing for LGBTQ+ people as homophobia is on the rise and sanctioned by the authorities. Ugandans still are imprisoned under “life sentences” for the “crime” of being gay.
In what's being described as a "new wave of persecution" in Chechnya, LGBTQ+ people are being abducted from their homes, by both governmental and non-governmental means, and tortured, jailed, or killed. This has been going on throughout the history of Chechnya. There have been at least two deaths and 40 detained LGBTQ+ Chechens since December of 2018. Amnesty International is calling the claims as valid credible despite silence from Russian leadership.
Hundreds are in hiding, and thousands live in fear everyday in Dar es Salaam where a recent crackdown on anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has swelled. Many queer activists fear violence and have fled their area or remain shut in their homes after Paul Makonda, the city’s administrative head, put together a list of over 100 names after receiving thousands of tips from the general public.
The United States
This makes what is happening in our country for LGBTQ+ rights even more linked to our foreign policy. The United States can’t speak out against these injustices when we are not embracing universal human rights here at home. The Trump Administration’s continued anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, such as its erasure of queer and trans folks from policy and their .gov site, the banning of transgender people from the military, and a memo that sought to force citizens to adhere to their gender assigned at birth are among some of the worst offenses, but there are far more. These attacks all strike at the heart of the question we are now asking about Brunei: where can LGBTQ+ people be safe? Whether in Brunei, the Northern Triangle, Finland, or the United States, defending the rights of LGBTQ+ people is our collective responsibility.