Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights is one of the most prominent and complex topics in the early 21st century. Homosexuality has a long history, spanning nearly every country and culture in the world. The debate about LGBT rights and legal issues surrounding them take many forms and every country in the world has different positions and issues concerning LGBT rights.

In countries like Canada and Argentina the LGBT community enjoys the same rights as all other citizens, while in countries like Mauritania and Saudi Arabia people found guilty of engaging in homosexual activity can be imprisoned or even put to death.

In 2011 the United Nations made its first resolution recognizing LGBT rights and has begun to document violations of those rights.

Historical foundations

Homosexuality has been practiced for thousands of years and is documented in the religious and cultural texts of many cultures. In the Hebrew Bible, the book of Leviticus proscribed male homosexuality and demanded the death penalty. However, in Indian Vedic traditions there are numerous positive descriptions of same sex unions and transgendered gods, such as Vishnu or Shiva.

Ancient Greece and Rome had tolerant views on same sex and it was not until the growing influence of Christianity in antiquity that homosexuals were persecuted. In Feudal Japan, homosexuality was also considered positive.

As Christianity spread, acts of sodomy were increasingly persecuted in Europe although there were notable exceptions, such as Poland which has never banned homosexuality. By the late 18th century views began to soften and France became the first Western European country to abolish sodomy laws. This was followed by similar laws in the Netherlands, Indonesia and Brazil.

Although views on LGBT rights become more tolerant since the 18th century there are still many countries which carry heavy penalties for homosexual acts and many who identify as LGBT do not have the same rights as other citizens.

Current issues

There are many issues surrounding LGBT rights in the United States and throughout the world. Some concerns are discrimination and equality, the right to privacy, family issues, such as marriage and adoption, military service and the repeal of criminal laws prohibiting homosexual practices or gender expression.

Like all political issues there are very few blanket positions held by all members of the LGBT community. Some seek simply to cultivate cultural acceptance while others consider specific rights, such as marriage, to be more pressing issues.

Discrimination and equality

Eliminating discrimination and establishing LGBT equality is a global initiative. Activists, lawyers and politicians are fighting policies that unfairly discriminate against the LGBT community. There are only nine countries in the world where homosexuals are protected by non-discrimination laws, but in other countries the battle is ongoing.

For example, until recently homosexuals were not allowed to openly serve in the United States military. The Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy was finally repealed in 2011 after a long fight, but other concerns remain. The LGBT community in the U.S. still does not enjoy the same equality rights as other citizens with regard to marriage, adoption and other legal rights.


Other activists are working throughout the world to repeal laws that make homosexuality a crime. Nearly 80 countries have anti-sodomy laws or criminal statutes banning homosexuality. These laws allow police and government to harass, arrest, torture and even put to death homosexuals. Although there are still many countries with such laws, the number was much higher only a few years ago.

Further resources