The National Association of Social Workers has a strong position against discrimination of persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Criminalizing relationships based on one’s sexual orientation or gender identity violates fundamental human rights, limits one’s ability to fully engage in their community and society, and hinders effective public health responses to HIV and AIDS. President Obama, in a statement earlier in February, stressed that people everywhere should be treated equally, with dignity and respect, and that they should have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential, no matter who they are or whom they love. He stressed that criminalization laws reflect poorly on a country’s commitment to protecting the human rights of its people.
The United Nations estimates that 78 countries criminalize homosexuality, with seven countries allowing the death penalty for those convicted of having consensual same-sex relationships. In many countries the laws are becoming stricter. For example, the recent legislation in Uganda, signed into law on February 24, 2014, further threatens the safety of LGBT persons. The law calls for first-time offenders to be sentenced up to 14 years in jail, increasing to life in “aggravated homosexuality” cases, defined as an act ‘committed’ by a persons living with HIV or AIDS, repeated sexual contact between consenting same-sex adults (including the touching of another person with the intention of committing the “act of homosexuality”), as well as sexual behaviors involving minors, and same-sex relationships with persons with disabilities.
The US Department of State report 2013 Country Report on Human Rights Practice documents the global trends of increased violence and discrimination towards LGBT people and their supporters. The report documents that LGBT person are directly at risk for arrest and violence, and also highlights the negative impact of criminalization laws on LGBT allies committed to human rights and social justice. The law in Uganda further states that failure to report a LGBT person to the government could be considered a crime. A recent example is Russia, where the country’s so-called “gay propaganda to minors” law stipulates fines for use of mass media, the internet, or advertising that addresses LGBT content – examples of common outreach methods used by organizations and programs providing resources and referrals designed to support LGBT youth and young adults. For example, in Nigeria, the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill (signed into law on 1/7/14 by President Goodluck Johnathan) includes a restriction on the work of organizations promoting equity for LGBT persons – leading to increased risk for services providers providing information and/or emotional support.
Criminalization laws are institutional heterosexism, resulting in structural limitations that promote discrimination, reinforce stigma, condone violence, and can negatively impact the ability of social workers to openly provide services to LGBT youth and adults. The visibility and role of social workers as LGBT human rights allies and advocates is critical. Working for LGBT equity globally is guided by the core values of the profession: self-determination, social justice, human dignity and worth of the person, and supported by the Codes of Ethics of both the National Association of Social Workers and the International Federation of Social Workers.
In Building on Progressive Priorities: Sustaining our Nation’s Safety Net, the National Association of Social Workers urges the United States government to support policies promoting LGBT human rights AND to support LGBT advocates and civil society groups in the U.S. and globally.
Posted by: Evelyn P. Tomaszewski, MSW, ACSW