In some countries gay pride marches are mainstream and gay politicians, actors, and pop stars are out and proud, but homophobia is growing across the world, with increasing numbers of countries making homosexuality punishable by death. A new book published by human rights group Amnesty International says that despite widespread acceptance of gays and lesbians in some countries, violent persecution of gays is on the rise and has reached "epidemic" levels. "Lesbian and gay people who form or join organisations, be they political or social, are being violently persecuted in many parts of the world where before they might have been unnoticed," writes Vanessa Baird, the British author of Sex, Love and Homophobia." She singles out Uganda, Zimbabwe, Jamaica, El Salvador, and the rest of Latin America in particular, where she says "the targeting and killing of transgender people has become an epidemic on streets."
The book offers an overview of the experiences of gay, lesbian, and transgendered people around the world and provides a snapshot of their status in various societies today. One British gay man interviewed describes how he was subjected to "aversion therapy" as a teenager in the 1960s because his mother could not accept that he was gay. "I was locked up alone in a mental institution for 72 hours with supposedly gay pornography and given drugs to make me vomit and become incontinent," he said.
In the United States, Baird notes an increasing polarization of attitudes. "While San Francisco boasts the largest openly gay community of any city in the world, anti-homosexual movements in Kansas, Ohio and Colorado advocate as a 'Christian duty' the rejection, and in some cases even killing, of gay people," she writes. "And this is not all just a small group of nutters in the Midwest," she told Reuters. "This kind of evangelism is growing, and unfortunately a substantial part of it is homophobic and says homosexuality is a sin or a disease."
Baird's book also focuses on countries where homosexuality is punishable by death, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Mauritania, Sudan, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and northern provinces of Nigeria. Baird quotes Iran's 1991 Islamic penal code, which states "sodomy is a crime" and "punishment is death if the participants are adults, of sound mind and consenting." South African archbishop Desmond Tutu condemns homophobia as "every bit as unjust as that crime against humanity, apartheid," in a foreword to the book. "I could not have fought against the discrimination of apartheid and not also fight against the discrimination homosexuals endure," he wrote. South Africa became the first country in the world in 1996 to include a clause in its constitution to guarantee freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.