June 4, 2016

Being Gay is Illegal in these Countries,How Would you BehaveThere?

Map courtesy of ILGA (http://ilga.org)
This is a 2012 map. How has it changed? The most important and noticeable change is that
beige in our hemisphere is now dark green for recognition and the beige in the Western hemisphere
is now red for persecution. Even tough you have gay marriage in the US, Gay sex is prohibited in 17 states.US Supreme Court has ruled those laws unconstitutional but still they are kept on the books.

 Globalisation has seen companies hop borders like never before. Iran, in from the cold after agreeing to limit its nuclear programme, has become the new hotspot for businesses sharking for frontier-market funds. Fine, but you really do not want to be gay in downtown Tehran.

Most companies will find an apartment for you, but I fell in love with Georgia. And, almost 10 years on from when I was asked to leave — after a Georgian MP called me the Lord Haw-Haw of the Caucasus — I am now considering buying a flat overlooking the Black Sea coast.
Now that the legal snarls thrown up when the dictator fled to Moscow with a large chunk of the state budget have been ironed out, my main concern is the level of homophobia in Georgia. Do I want to buy a flat in a country where I could be a target?

The world is much smaller if you’re gay. Laws criminalising homosexuality still exist in 78 jurisdictions worldwide, out of a total of 320. In five countries — Mauritania, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan — simply being gay is punishable by death.

Others, such as Uganda, are equally off the property menu. Which is a shame, as the country is particularly lovely at this time of year: a balmy 28C, little rain and clear blue skies. Property is relatively cheap, with an island listed for sale with 134 acres by Lake Victoria for just $2m.
One small snag: Uganda is virulently homophobic, its parliament having attempted to pass a “Kill the Gays” bill in 2013. One brief respite, following a huge international outcry, was that the mooted death penalty was transmuted to life imprisonment. But, either way, it remains illegal to be gay or lesbian in the country.

But Uganda and other homophobic countries are missing a trick. It is a cliché — but one that’s true — that when the gays move in, the neighbourhood applauds, safe in the knowledge that property prices are set to rise. US academic Richard Florida devised the Gay Index, which showed the positive effect of having gay neighbours. “The point is that a gay couple will move in next door and plant flowers,” says Dave Carlos at property advisory company JLL, only slightly tongue in cheek.
Studies have shown that diversity in the workplace — more women on boards and a greater tolerance for sexual identity — can be positive for the corporate bottom line. It can also work for bricks and mortar: you want the gays to move in next door.

But while the world is awash with gay-friendly resorts and even retirement homes, there remain far too many places to avoid if you are LGBT.
Certainly, large swaths of Syria and Iraq, now under the control of the so-called Islamic State, have recently become even less appealing. But even more mainstream countries are increasingly out of bounds.

India recriminalised homosexuality in 2014. Yet, interestingly, it legally recognizes hijras (people whose birth sex is male but who identify as female) as a third gender — one of the very few countries in the world, alongside Pakistan and Bangladesh, to do so.

When I was in and out of Russia in the early noughties, taxi drivers were happy to say which gay club was the best in the city. Now I wouldn’t dare ask
Russia is quite another issue. I’ve long wanted to live in Moscow. Part of the reason behind my move to Georgia was to use it as a springboard to head northwards. Yet LGBT rights in Russia — along with the general attitude of the population towards homosexuality and, indeed, the Eurovision Song Contest — are at an all-time low. When I was in and out of Russia in the early noughties, taxi drivers were happy to say which gay club was the best in the city. Now I wouldn’t dare ask.

The UK, by comparison, has a growing tradition of tolerance. On my way to work in London, I walk past a blue plaque, unveiled in 2013, to mark the former home in Bloomsbury of Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park, better known as Stella and Fanny. Just as it grappled with gay rights in the 1980s and 1990s, the UK is now coming to terms with a greater understanding of the trans community.
In the US, Keep Austin Weird was launched a few years ago to promote local businesses in the Texan city but also to resist the blandification under way in many of America’s larger urban areas. Homeless activist and cross-dresser Leslie Cochran, who died in 2012, was often seen as the personification of the campaign.

Keeping it weird works. The writer James Baldwin always said you can judge a country on the treatment of its minorities — and, indeed, my former dictator was very good at promoting religious tolerance. Just not so good on gay rights.
For many LGBT people, the solution to moving to a homophobic country is still the one I devised 15 years ago: you simply stop being gay.

Hugo Greenhalgh is the FT’s wealth correspondent

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