By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly
It’s easy to get impatient with the pace of progress for LGBTQ rights in the United States, but as older activists explain — and a June 4 report by the Pew Research Center confirms — public opinion is actually shifting rather quickly.
In fact, acceptance of homosexuality has increased 11 percentage points here since 2007 — an increase only exceeded by South Korea. But despite the rate of progress, only 60 percent of Americans believe homosexuality should be accepted. Of the 39 countries surveyed, the United States doesn’t even make the top 10.
So which countries are the most accepting of gays and lesbians, and which have the furthest to go? And how do those attitudes translate into tangible legal protections? Let’s take a look.
Claiming the top spot in the Pew survey is Spain, where 88 percent of those questioned believe homosexuality should be accepted and only 11 percent think it should be rejected. With numbers like that, it’s possible Spain has fewer homophobes than homosexuals.
Spain legalized same-sex marriage in 2005 — the same year Americans re-elected George W. Bush — through a bill supported by the country’s newly-elected social democratic government and passed by parliament. At the time, 66 percent of Spaniards supported marriage equality.
But it’s not just marriage — in 1979 Spain legalized gay sex and passed anti-discrimination laws. By 2005, the country not only allowed same-sex couples to wed, it permitted adoption, military service, and blood donation by gays as well as the rights of trans citizens to legally change their gender.
Just behind Spain is neighboring Germany, coming in at 87 percent acceptance of homosexuality. It has the highest rate of acceptance of any country that has not yet passed marriage equality. However, same-sex couples have been able to register their partnerships since 2001.
Interestingly, Germany allows people in same-sex relationships to adopt their step-children, but joint adoptions are not permitted. Commercial surrogacy is banned for all couples, regardless of sexual orientation.
Gays have been openly serving in the military since 2000, which is the same year Germany recognized the right to change one’s legal gender.
Tied with Canada for third place at 80 percent acceptance is the Czech Republic. Surprised? The small European nation was an early adopter of the decriminalization not only of homosexuality (1962), but also gay prostitution (1990).
Same-sex couples still can’t marry there, but they’ve been able to register their partnerships — and obtain some of the rights of marriage — since 2006. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been banned in the military since 1999 and in the rest of society since 2009.
Czech law provides protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and allows for the legal change of gender — transsexuality is not classified as an illness, but gender confirming surgeries may be covered by health insurance.
Oddly, gays may only adopt if they are single. Public polls consistently show significantly lower support for adoption rights than for marriage rights.
According to the Pew survey, the country with the lowest acceptance of homosexuality was Nigeria, where just 1 percent said they believe it should be accepted and 98 percent supported its rejection. Whether attitudes reflect laws or vice versa is not clear, but the situation for LGBTQ Nigerians appears dire.
It is illegal to be gay in Nigeria. The maximum penalty for homosexuality for those governed by Shari’a law is death by stoning. In secular areas, gay sex can get you 14 years in prison. Lawmakers recently passed a bill making same-sex marriages illegal as well. Nigerian law also prohibits men from dressing in women’s clothing in public.
As a result, LGBTQ Nigerians exist mostly in secret. However, they are welcomed at the House of Rainbow Metropolitan Community Church, and targeted services exist for HIV-positive men who have sex with men.
Just 2 percent of the Pakistanis surveyed believe homosexuality should be accepted. While gay and lesbian Pakistanis have no legal protection and their sex lives are criminalized, the country’s government did move in 2009 to recognize the rights of transgender citizens.
Pakistan’s anti-gay laws are part hold-overs from British outdated penal codes (as is the case in many nations formerly colonized by Britain) and partly influenced by Shari’a law. Gay and lesbian culture exists largely in the shadows. Hijras, a third gender identity common in South Asia, are more visible due to their established in the culture prior to colonial times.
(Check out: Pakistan Gay Rights Movement on Facebook.)
As in Pakistan, LGBTQ Tunisians face strict laws and unwelcoming attitudes. Only 2 percent of Tunisians think homosexuality should be accepted, and gay sex is illegal. Though most Tunisians are Muslim, the country does not follow Shari’a law and homosexuality is not punishable by death — just three years in prison.
In 2012, Human Rights Minister Samir Dilou said that gays need medical treatment for their “perversions.”
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Though South Korea has seen a 21-point increase in cultural acceptance of homosexuality in the last five years, it’s still not a wildly accepting environment. According to the Pew survey, a majority of South Koreans still think homosexuality should be rejected (59 to 39 percent).
Gay sex as well as gender confirmation surgeries are legal in South Korea, though same-sex couples have no protections. The recent up-spike in support may be, in part, attributable to an increase in LGBTQ visibility in popular media. Entertainers such as Harisu and Hong Seok-Cheon have come out as transgender and gay in recent years, bringing LGBTQ issues to the forefront.
In 2013, a Seoul court ruled that gender confirming surgery is not required to change one’s legal gender. Also this year, in May, South Korean filmmaker Kim Jho Gwang-soo announced plans to marry his partner of nine years. Perhaps the tide is turning.
For the full report from the Pew Research Center, visit pewglobal.org.