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LBQ+ Women Face Brutal Attacks, Discrimination at Every Turn

Research in 26 Countries Finds Forced Marriage, Property Rights Violations, Police Violence

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Natpop: We will always remember those lesbianswho are in the front lines in so many cities today trying to resist. 


When we think about LGBT rights, we don’t often think about women’s rights to land and inheritance, girls’ access to education, or freedom of movement.  


These women’s rights issues are critical for lesbian, bisexual, and queer women, but don’t usually rank high among LGBT rights movements’ priorities. At the same time, LBQ+ women are also underrepresented in women’s rights research and advocacy.  


The global scale of discrimination and violence against them has fallen through the cracks.  


A Human Rights Watch global investigation uncovered the most critical forms of violence against LBQ+ women. 


Forced Marriage: 

The pressure to marry men and forced marriage were the most frequently reported abuses experienced by LBQ+ people around the world.     


Liliya: Bride napping and forced marriages are common practices in Kyrgyzstan. And my story is not unique, unfortunately. Since I was a kid, I was dreaming to travel all over the world. And when I was 18, I wanted to move out from the house. But my mama always said you will leave this house with a husband. Or after my death. So I have to get marriage. I kept thinking if I tried hard enough I would probably like staying with a man But it was terrible. It was torture to share a bed with a person you don't really like.  


Land Rights: 

Women face barriers or challenges in accessing and controlling land and property in about 40 percent of the world. This makes it much harder for two women to start a life together if neither can inherit, own or access land on equal terms with men.   


For example, in Mexico, women often do not have a say over how communal lands are managed, particularly in rural and Indigenous communities.  



Sofía: We all defend the land, but not all of us can access the land.  

Those who mainly have access to land continue to be men. The other thing is that, in our communities, they legitimize us by being wives. When we are not wives, when we are not mothers… the legitimacy is not the same.   


Violence Against Masculine-Presenting LBQ+ People 

Masculine-presenting women are often targeted with threats, physical attacks, sexual violence and harassment for not looking feminine enough and for daring to occupy masculine space in the world.   


Whitney: Violence you experienced is very convoluted and understanding what it means to separate your blackness from your sexual orientation and your gender identity. As a Black woman who is masculine presenting, people see you as this masculine presenting person, that kind of gives you these characteristics to be able to take or be strong or do anything.  

They also give people permission to then be more aggressive with you. When I lived in St Louis where I was physically attacked by the police and still to this day, I don't know if it was because I do present as a male, or if it was just because of my blackness. 



Violence at Work: 

LBQ+ women face sexual harassment, violence and threats by male colleagues at work, as well as discrimination in hiring practices, and widespread economic inequality.  



We have received complaints from lesbians who work in the fields. The first problem they encounter [after the assault] is who to turn to, most times they are not believed.  


The other problem is they could always suffer repercussions or another rape, or sexual assault. They might also have to travel 300 or 400 kilometers to make a report.   


Ultimately the social message, the message of institutional violence, is that you deserve it.  


Freedom of movement:  

30% of the 187 economies examined by the World Bank have laws that limit women’s freedom of movement. Laws criminalizing same-sex relations also restrict LBQ+ women's movement and empower police to harass LBQ+ women and activists in public.  



It took me a lot of time to accept myself because here in Tunisia, it's a huge taboo. It's something that it's like people would prefer to die to not let that secret get out.  


Societal pressure or religious pressure and, uh, the legal pressure like being like homosexuality it is punishable by law. Up to three years, well, in prison.  I started to avoid the checkpoints of the police, even though I did nothing.  


Did you run from your parents? Why is your hair short? Are you a lesbian?  


I don't feel safe in my own country. At moments of my life, I didn't feel safe in my own bed.  



Indiscriminate Attacks: 

LBQ+ activists are leading political, land, environmental, economic, gender, and racial justice movements -- beyond what is typically considered “LGBT rights” work.   


But many lack international visibility and funding, and their human rights work makes them targets for violent attacks.   




Last October we had a really, really small event for the trans community. It was a Saturday afternoon. Like half an hour in, someone knocked on the door… a group of ten people yeah, the police identified them as 11 people, were entering and this guy was running for president. I was like, “no, no, you can't enter.” And in that point, he just punched me. And I realized in that moment that they are here to fight. 


I believe that the attack in the rainbow was also part of the elections campaign because the person who was leading the group was running for president, he's a very famous neo-Nazi.   


We are not making it up like all the talk about discrimination and hate crimes.  




Governments around the world should abolish sexist laws and create protocols that explicitly protect the rights of LBQ+ people. 


Donors should fund LBQ+ rights organizations and LBQ+ led movements for environmental, racial, economic, and migrant rights. 




Lesbian, bisexual, and queer (LBQ+) women and non-binary people around the world face violence from security forces, family members, and others, along with widespread discrimination that prevents them from building relationships, homes, and families, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 211-page report, “‘This Is Why We Became Activists’: Violence Against Lesbian, Bisexual, and Queer Women and Non-Binary People,” is a groundbreaking investigation into violence and discrimination in 26 countries. Human Rights Watch looked beyond the criminalization of same-sex conduct to analyze how sexist, patriarchal legal regimes such as male guardianship, unequal inheritance laws, and discrimination against single women violate LBQ+ people’s rights and leave them at a significant disadvantage in virtually every aspect of their lives. In addition to physical and sexual violence from family members, security forces, and others, LBQ+ people face discrimination at work, in land and property rights, fertility services, migration and resettlement, and unequal access to justice.

“Lesbian, bisexual and queer women are renowned for leading human rights struggles around the world,” said Erin Kilbride, LGBT rights and women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “But the scale of brutal violence, legal discrimination, and sexualized harassment these communities face is rarely documented.”

The report was motivated by the severe lack of research and policy that focuses specifically on the rights of LBQ+ people and the immense need to support the work of LBQ+ activists. Human Rights Watch interviewed 66 LBQ+ people for the report, most of them human rights defenders working at the local or national level.

Human Rights Watch identified 10 key areas of rights abuses for which there is immediate need for research, funding, and policy reform. These include forced and coerced marriage to men; labor rights and sexual violence at work; violence by security forces against masculine-presenting women; unequal property, inheritance, and land rights; legal restrictions on women’s movement and violent attacks on LBQ+ couples in public; parental rights and access to fertility treatment; access to sexual, reproductive, and mental health services; sexual assault and follow-up care; barriers to asylum; access to justice; and attacks against LBQ+ human rights defenders. 

According to World Bank data, in 40 percent of countries worldwide, women do not have equal access to own, rent, administer, or inherit property. This presents an often insurmountable economic and legal barrier to LBQ+ couples, Human Rights Watch found. Legal regimes that require women to obtain a male guardian’s permission to rent an apartment, or that prioritize sons in land inheritance, often mean that neither partner in an LBQ+ relationship can rent, own, or inherit a home.

Violations of women’s property rights often require LBQ+ women to marry men in order to have access to land and property, contributing to coercive marriage practices, and prevent LBQ+ people who divorce their husbands or become widows from starting new, financially viable LBQ+ relationships later in life. An LBQ+ activist in Kyrgyzstan who was forced to marry a man at age 19 told Human Rights Watch, “There is no path to freedom if you don’t get married [to a man].”

Many people interviewed said that masculine-presenting LBQ+ people faced a lifetime of economic marginalization, discrimination and harassment at work, psychological abuse, as well as targeting by security forces, and physical and sexual violence. LBQ+ activists in Argentina, El Salvador, and Kyrgyzstan said that masculine-presenting LBQ+ people in their communities were often forced into precarious work with poor labor rights practices (farm work, sex work, and auto shops, respectively) or male-dominated fields, where they face physical and sexual abuse.

“Many of us become sex workers [due to hiring discrimination in other fields],” a lesbian and sex worker rights defender in El Salvador said. “But then when police raid brothels and homes, the masculine lesbians get treated ‘like men.’ This means more forceful handcuffing, kneeling, and stripping their shirts off.”

Attacks on more feminine-presenting LBQ+ individuals and couples in public also cause them to limit their movements. Human Rights Watch compiled accounts of LBQ+ couples murdered, raped, or brutally attacked. This violence forces LBQ+ women to “self-police” their movements, Human Rights Watch found, from fear of leaving the house with their partner.

Impunity for violent crimes against LBQ+ people is rampant. In April 2022, a 25-year-old non-binary lesbian, Sheila Adhiambo Lumumba, was found naked and murdered in their bedroom in Karatina, north of Nairobi. A postmortem examination seen by Human Rights Watch revealed that Lumumba was sexually assaulted, hit on the head with a blunt object, and stabbed in the chest, face, neck, and eyes. For weeks after the murder, Kenyan police failed to properly investigate the case, leaving Sheila’s friends and family to collect evidence and CCTV footage.

Government authorities should conduct thorough, transparent investigations into reports of violence against LBQ+ individuals and couples, and develop laws, policies, and protocols that explicitly protect the rights of LBQ+ women and non-binary people. Authorities should also reform patriarchal systems of control, including male guardianship laws, policies, and practices; discriminatory property and inheritance laws; and other restrictions on women’s autonomy, movement, and freedom that limit LBQ+ enjoyment of more traditionally conceptualized LGBT rights, such as marriage equality or the decriminalization of same-sex conduct.

Donors should fund LBQ+-led movements for land, environmental, Indigenous peoples’, migrant, and disability rights, as well as organizations and collectives working specifically for LBQ+ rights. They should also fund research into LBQ+ economic marginalization and research that specifically addresses how fundamental restrictions on women’s autonomy impact LBQ+ women in uniquely violent ways.

“LBQ+ activists are experts in the violence their communities experience,” Kilbride said. “With this report, we provide governments and donors with concrete steps for action, starting with visibility, funding, and protection for LBQ+ movements.

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