Why Decriminalization Matters: Around the World, LGBT People Are Being Denied the Right to Exist
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Conversations around decriminalization of same-sex sexual activities have been diverse. In most instances a predominant argument I’ve heard is that it’s a “chicken or egg” situation. What matters the most? Is it decriminalization, or is it raising awareness among the general public on the LGBTIQ community so that acceptance can lead to decriminalization?
Some argue that criminalization affects awareness-raising efforts, and decriminalization without acceptance may also contribute to sustaining stigma and discrimination.
But the role played by criminalization in the identity formation process of LGBTIQ individuals needs to be significantly addressed. More than 70 countries in the world criminalize same-sex sexual activities. Even though such laws do not criminalize an identity, like being gay or lesbian, many individuals of the LGBTIQ community feel these laws essentially do just that.
Growing up with such an understanding of one’s identity negatively impacts achieving the full potential of one’s life.
Identity, whether its sexual, gendered, ethnic, racial, religious, national or any other, is an important aspect of an individual’s life. Denying one’s identity is a human rights violation, as it denies the right to equality and non-discrimination as mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights; the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and also the fundamental rights chapters of many state constitutions.
A majority of LGBTIQ individuals around the world grow up with a confused identity or in a state of complete loss of identity. Prevailing hetero-patriarchal values on one hand function to deny recognition of all identities that pose a threat to it, and on the other operate through legal and policy structures to criminalize such identities.
Hence, laws that deny the right of an individual and contribute to sustaining and maintaining hierarchical systems that perpetuate stigma, discrimination, marginalization and violence need to be uprooted — not only for the sake of minority communities but on the ground that such laws deny the entire human race its right to an “identity.”
Such laws should be identified as “crimes against humanity,” because the physical violence, sexual abuses, rapes and violent murders faced by the LGBTIQ community as a result of these laws and stigma — and the discrimination perpetuated by these laws — amount to crimes against humanity. The violent murders faced by individuals of the LGBTIQ community historically and at present should be recognized as a “genocide,” as it is systematically and deliberately directed towards a particular community because they are different.
Decriminalization of LGBTIQ people matters because right now in places around the world they are a group of human beings being denied their fundamental right to equality and non-discrimination. Decriminalization matters because these laws have historically naturalized the violence faced by the LGBTIQ community.
Above all, decriminalization is important because by virtue of being humans, we should all be treated as humans.