A report by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) found that the first homophobia-related rejection faced by Asia’s LGBT community, up to and including violence, is often from their own family members.
The US-based organization, which focuses on improving the lives of LGBT people around the world, spent three years on the project—first interviewing people from Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, then compiling and analyzing the data. While IGLHRC acknowledges that the findings listed in the report, “Violence: Through the Lens of Lesbians, Bisexual Women and Trans People in Asia,” may not be representative of all LGBT peoples’ experiences, they still uncovered “patterns of violence that require serious attention and redress.”
According to the researchers, homophobia and transphobia-related violence “is under-reported in many Asian countries…[and]one reason for the under-reporting is precisely the ‘private nature of the violence.’” Not only does the victimization occur in private, but said ill treatment is encouraged by the stigmatization, or even outright demonization, of LGBT people within the larger sphere of mainstream society.
Unsurprisingly, whatever form the violence took—physical, emotional, sexual, or some combination thereof—had the most severe impact on victims when the perpetrator was a family member.
In each country studied, IGLHRC found few to no mental health options for LGBT people. Additionally, organizations that are queer-friendly cannot overtly announce it, or else they risk anything from community backlash to government closure.
The main coordinator of the project, Grace Poore, told the Independent European Daily Express that rejection at home and discrimination outside of it left LGBT youth at considerable risk for self-harm and suicide.
She said, “What stood out was that in countries that had a dominant religion… there was definitely greater violence. Whatever was going on outside the family seemed to be mirrored or reflected back within the family.”
Even in countries without explicitly anti-gay directives, the report notes, anti-discrimination laws usually “do not extend protections” to LGBT people. “For instance, laws meant to protect women from domestic violence and sexual violence are often not applicable to LBT people who are similarly victimized. This is the case even when the law recognizes de facto (i.e., non-married) couples.”
Furthermore, in areas where the law might technically be on an LGBT person’s side, “victims fear reporting violence because their experience with police and law-enforcement tells them such reporting invites mistreatment—in the form of humiliation, rejection, discrimination, or possibly even criminalization.”
In addition to laws against homosexual sex, the report notes that “Pakistan and Malaysia have sharia or Islamic laws that also penalize homosexuality, cross-dressing, non-conforming gender expression, and any form of intimacy deemed to be ‘sexually inappropriate’ and therefore defying Islamic teachings.” In countries where law enforcement have unusually broad powers, often in the name of “anti-terrorism” laws, LGBT people “are particularly vulnerable to physical, verbal and sexual violence by police, officers of state religious departments, and members of security forces.”
Poore also told the Daily Express that in Malaysia, “The education ministry of each state asks teachers to identify effeminate boys,” who are then sent away “for religious instruction.”
Though not all of them are enforced, more than seventy countries around the world have laws on the books classifying same-sex relations as criminal acts, punishable by anything from prison time to the death penalty. This list includes Malaysia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
The same is not true of Japan or the Philippines, which do not have any explicitly anti-gay laws. However, the Philippines has on occasion used its Penal Code prohibition regarding “grave scandals” to penalize same-sex conduct, and in Japan the pressure to conform to what society expects is enormous compared to other countries.
In the report, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, is quoted as saying, “No personal opinion, no religious belief, no matter how deeply held or widely shared, can ever justify depriving another human being of his or her basic rights…we should recognize that underlying all of this violence and discrimination is prejudice. We know from experience that you don’t eliminate prejudice by changing the law alone; you must change people’s hearts and minds as well.”