As Americans celebrated the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage this past June, gay people in some other countries faced the real threat that their government would execute them for their sexual orientation.
The stark contrast between LGBTQ rights in the Western world and other countries led Jenni Chang and Lisa Dazols, a lesbian couple from San Francisco, to travel around the world to witness firsthand the experiences of LGBTQ people in countries where they're not accepted.
They traveled to 15 countries in all, meeting people they called "supergays," who fought for LGBTQ rights despite tremendous social, political, and cultural oppression.
To Chang and Dazols, it was surprising how easy it was to find such courageous leaders — even in places where it's very dangerous to be out and proud. "As we reviewed our footage, what we realized is that we were watching a love story," Chang said. "It wasn't a love story that was expected of me, but it is one filled with more freedom, adventure, and love than I could have ever possibly imagined."
Here are some of the inspiring stories, as documented by Chang and Dazols:
- Bhumika Shrestha: As a transgender woman in Nepal, Shrestha was expelled from school and incarcerated. But in 2007, Shrestha and Nepal's leading LGBTQ rights organization successfully petitioned the Nepali Supreme Court to legally protect LGBTQ people from discrimination.
- Manvendra Singh Gohil: Prince Manvendra, from India, is the world's first openly gay prince. Although Hinduism in India doesn't have a tradition of homophobia, the social structure in India is highly patriarchal — and that can lead to anti-gay attitudes. Prince Manvendra's parents, for instance, publicly disowned him and accused him of bringing great shame to the royal family after he came out as gay on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2007. But Manvendra has stood by his decision to come out, arguing that he's helped break through the stigma and discrimination that's all too common in India.
- David Kuria: In Kenya, being gay can get you put in prison. But Kuria wanted to change his country, so he ran for the Kenyan Senate as the first openly gay political candidate in 2012. He received death threats but remained authentic — although he was later forced to quit the race due to a lack of funds for proper security.
Homosexuality is still illegal in dozens of countries
The stories are inspiring, not least because they're in countries where violence against LGBTQ people can be common — and sometimes the government allows or sanctions such violence through, for example, police brutality and the death penalty.
Here's a thorough breakdown of national laws from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, which is now slightly outdated since it's missing the Supreme Court decision affirming marriage equality in the US (click to enlarge):
It's the shades of red on this map that are the most alarming. In these countries, it is illegal for someone to be gay, and sometimes punishable by death. For all the progress in the US, the world still needs to make greater strides in terms of LGBTQ equality.