As of December 2019, 70 states criminalise consensual same sex acts, with six United Nations (UN) member states imposing the death penalty. At least 34 UN member states have legal provisions that restrict freedom of expression on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity and at least 41 prevent the registration or operation of organisations that work on issues related to sexual orientation.
The ‘LGBTQ+’ acronym constitutes a diverse group of people, many of whom may not identify with it and may reject its labels and associated narratives. LGBTQ+ stands for ‘lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer+’. For the purposes of PRI’s work to protect the rights of this group of prisoners and detainees, we include those who identify as LGBTQ+ and those who do not but whose behaviour leads others to perceive them as LGBTQ (for example, men who have sex with men and women who have sex with women). We recognise that the group is not homogenous and that it can be confusing to conflate gender with sexual identity.
While all persons in police custody are at risk because torture and other ill- treatment most frequently occur in the early stages of detention, LGBTQ people are even more exposed to all types of abuse, whether homosexuality is criminalised or not. During interrogations, police officers may threaten to reveal a person’s sexual orientation to friends, family or colleagues to obtain a confession.
In prison, studies indicate that LGBTQ detainees face higher levels of violence at the hands of staff and their peers compared to heterosexual detainees. Protective or safety measures put in place often come with stricter regimes, poorer conditions or event separation or solitary confinement for long periods.
The allocation of transgender detainees to male or female facilities is a challenge faced by many prison systems. Allocation decisions should be made in consultation with, and with the informed consent of the person affected.
Body searches are a particularly sensitive issue for LGBTQ persons, especially if the person detained is openly lesbian, gay or bisexual, or if the person cross dresses or has undergone/is undergoing treatment for gender reassignment. Searches can magnify the risk of humiliation, abuse and discrimination as they may imply nudity and physical contact.