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Gay rights across the globe: the best and worst countries for equality

We have a US president who supports gay marriage, and now a pope who, if not exactly signing up to equality for all, is at least starting to talk in language less inflammatory than his predecessor. "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?" he told an assembled group of journalists on the papal plane back from his tour of Brazil. Then he went on to criticize the gay "lobby" and said he wasn't going to break with the catechism that said "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered". Still, for a brief moment it looked like a minor breakthrough.

Then you weigh it against a raft of anti-homosexuality legislation that is coming into force in countries across the world. In Russia, gay teenagers are being tortured and forcibly outed on the internet against a backdrop of laws that look completely out of step with the rest of Europe. In what is being described as rolling the "status of LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people back to the Stalin era", President Putin has passed a number of anti-gay laws, including legislation that punishes people and groups that distribute information considered "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations". The country also now has powers to arrest and detain foreign citizens believe to be gay, or "pro-gay". It has led to the boycott of Russian vodka brands by gay bars and clubs in solidarity, started by writer and activist Dan Savage and taken up by bars in London.

In many African countries where homosexuality is already illegal, more draconian anti-gay laws are being passed and violence against LGBT people is increasing.

Is there a link between growing rights in some countries and worsening or removal of rights in others? "There are really complicated links between the two. If you look at the history of the advancement of LGBT rights in the UK, every advance is accompanied by a backlash," says Alistair Stewart, assistant director of the Kaleidoscope Trust, a UK-based organization that supports international LGBT rights. "To a certain extent that's happening on a global scale now – the advances that are being made in some parts of the world encourage a backlash in other parts of the world. The struggle for even basic human rights for LGBT people – freedom of association, freedom from violence – becomes harder to achieve when the opponents can point to something like gay marriage, which isn't even on the books for most of the countries we're talking about and make the argument that 'if we give these people even the most basic of human rights, next they'll be asking to get married in our churches'." Jonathan Cooper, chief executive of the Human Dignity Trust, is less sure they are related: "The further persecution is already happening."

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