Lesbian Day of Visibility: Human Rights Violations Persist

Issues impacting the lesbian community all around the world are often silenced, unaddressed, and sidelined. In this patriarchal, misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic world, lesbians face double discrimination: first for identifying as women and second for their sexual orientation. Lesbians who express themselves as butch, are gender non-conforming, or present themselves outside of society’s accepted gender constructs, can often face even harsher victimization.

This Lesbian Day of Visibility, it is important to recognize some of the human rights violations experienced by lesbians every day.

In 45 countries around the world simply being lesbian is an outright crime punishable by imprisonment. Even in countries where laws do not specifically outlaw lesbian sexual or romantic behavior, social attitudes against this community cause lesbians to face widespread discrimination, violence, and even murder.

OutRight’s human rights documentation reports from Iran to Sri Lanka show that lesbians face situations of public harassment, sexual abuse, are forced into heterosexual marriages, and suffer domestic abuse by spouses or family members who refuse to accept their sexual orientation.

The story of Maryam A., a lesbian from Tehran, documented in OutRight’s ‘Being Lesbian in Iran’ report reveals some of these struggles:

Maryam was forced to marry her first cousin when she was 14 years old. He was 22 years older. She faced abuse, violence, and marital rape from him before successfully convincing her husband to divorce her. She moved back in with her family, where she fell in love with a woman named Sara. Maryam’s family eventually stopped her from seeing Sara, causing them to run away together. Both women were soon arrested and charged with homosexuality. Maryam was whipped by the police more than 100 times, eventually causing her to pass out. After 10 months of physical and verbal torture, fear of being put to death, and physical assaults by other women who were incarcerated, Maryam was released. Out of fear for her life, she left Iran and applied for asylum in Turkey.

Unfortunately, Maryam’s experiences are all too common. To make matters worse, because of social stigmatization, prejudice from authorities, and lack of inclusive and protective laws, domestic and family violence often goes unreported and is severely under researched. Punitive laws, such as those that exclude marital rape from being considered a crime, laws that criminalize same-sex relations, and lack of gender identity recognition laws, exacerbate the situation and add to impunity for individuals perpetrating violence against this community. Police and authorities, the very people meant to protect citizens from abuse often commit these crimes do to their own internal bias against homosexuality. Fear of reprisals from authorities also prevents survivors of sexual and gender based violence from reporting their abuse.

Lesbians also face systematic discrimination in employment settings. Often they are either forced to conform to strict gender norms in their self-expression or face serious repercussions. Because of the risk of negative or differential treatment or even of being fired, many lesbians choose to stay in the closet at work. Alarmingly, discrimination against lesbians in the workplace is legal in many countries where anti-discrimination laws do not protect against being fired because of one’s sexual orientation. Even in the US, laws vary state to state allowing discrimination to persist.

Due to the many stressors faced in their lifetime including, social exclusion, discrimination, and self-stigmatization, lesbians can face negative health issues. Lesbians can experience discrimination at the hands of healthcare workers or even be subject to forced conversion therapy by family members, religious leaders, or medical practitioners trying to change their sexual orientation or gender expression. This pseudoscientific practice has been discredited by medical experts who recognize this practice is seriously harmful, yet this continues to happen without any penalties under the law. Accurate and disaggregated data on the health and wellbeing of lesbians is lacking, leading to inadequate policies, programs, and evidence-based laws that serve to promote and protect lesbians’ right to health.

Human rights abuses against lesbians persists all around the world. Often times these abuses remain invisible. Much more needs to be done by states and the general public to ensure that the rights of lesbians are protected. OutRight works everyday with activists all around the world to challenge criminalization laws, push for domestic violence laws that include people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities and expressions, sensitize and train police and other first responders to domestic violence cases, document human rights abuses against this community, and to hold states accountable for the human rights violations against lesbians and LGBTIQ at large.

OutRight is committed to raising the visibility of human rights issues experienced by lesbians today, and everyday.