Recent developments in Russia, Nigeria, Uganda — and India — underscore the global divide on homosexuality.
Russia’s new anti-gay law banning “homosexual propaganda”, ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, has made the event something of a turning point for examinations of global attitudes towards homosexuality. In the past weeks, similarly regressive and even more extreme anti-LGBT legislation has been formulated by Nigeria and Uganda.
And with the Supreme Court’s decision to re-criminalise “unnatural” sexual activities between consenting adults late last year, India appears to have entered some sort of bizarre competition with countries that would more tightly embrace state-sponsored homophobia.
The continued controversy over the safety of gay athletes in Russia during the Olympic Games led President Vladimir Putin to announce that gay people “can feel relaxed and calm” in Sochi as long as they “leave children alone, please”, managing to offensively club homosexuality with paedophilia. On January 13, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed a bill criminalising same-sex relationship that is harsher than India’s Section 377.
Uganda has perhaps the most poisonous new anti-gay legislation. In December, its parliament passed a bill punishing “aggravated homosexuality” with a life sentence. Though US President Barack Obama’s condemnation of this abrogation of human rights seems to have pushed the Ugandan president to veto the bill, his accompanying remarks described gay people as abnormal, mercenary and products of “random breeding” in the West, suggesting that young homosexuals needed rescuing.
At a time when many liberal democracies, from the US to Ireland, are considering marriage equality, it is depressing to find India on the wrong side of history. In India, as in Nigeria, Uganda and Russia, anti-gay laws have often been defended on the grounds that they conform to cultural tradition and that homosexuality is a Western “perversion”. The irony is that in most of these countries, India included, it is homophobia that is the Western import.