Graphic of queer people celebrating IDAHOTB
17 May 2019

Queering SRHR: Homo-Bi-Trans-Phobia No More

Inspire celebrates the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia in its “Queering SRHR” series.

Editor’s note: to mark pride month, Inspire has launched a series of articles called “Queering SRHR” with the goal to dive a little deeper in the various specific ways that SRHR relates to LGBTIQ people. 

On the occasion of the upcoming Pride Month, the Inspire Team has launched a three-week series called “Queering SRHR” in the hope of raising awareness on current sexual and reproductive health and rights’ struggles, goals and achievements related to intersex, queer, gay, lesbian, bi and trans people. With this series, the goal is also to challenge the binary and heteronormative narratives around sexual and reproductive health and rights, and to encourage colleagues, partners and others to make SRHR discussions all-inclusive.

This is the second article of the “Queering SRHR” series. To read our other articles:

“Queering SRHR: LGBTIQ Families” click here.

"Queering SRHR: De-pathologising Trans-people" click here.

"Queering SRHR: The need for a trans-specific focus within SRHR" click here.


Queering SRHR: Homo-Bi-Trans-Phobia No More.

Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, whether internalised, social or institutionalised, persist in the majority of today’s societies. As of 2019, homosexuality is criminalised in 72 countries. 11 of those carry the death penalty for ‘homosexual activity’. In 26 other countries, an individual can be charged with 10 years to life-imprisonment. Even in countries where homosexuality is legal, there are either legal barriers to freedom of expression or discrimination against LGBTIQ persons goes unpunished on a daily basis. In today’s world, the majority of people who do not conform with heteronormative binaries are denied full access to their human rights to love, to speak, to work, to give birth, to adopt, to access healthcare and, sometimes, to live. Everyday criminalisation and/or discrimination limits LGBTIQ persons’ access to human rights, it furthermore excludes them from society and perpetuates stigma. This causes inevitable physical, mental and emotional pain and suffering. 

Today, on May 17, 2019, we decide to fight back against discrimination and injustices to rebuild a future where sexual health, reproductive health, sexual rights and reproductive rights are truly accessible to all. 

Why 17 May?

17 May is a historic date for the members of the LGBTIQ community. 29 years ago, on the 17th May 1990, the General Assembly of the World Health Organization finally decided to remove homosexuality from their list of mental disorders. This action served to end more than a century of pathologization of LGBTIQ persons.

In 2004, LGBTIQ grassroot movements, committed to forever commemorating this day, appointed the 17 May as the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.Today, the 17 May is a moment to draw the attention to the violence and discrimination experienced by the LGBTIQ people and it is celebrated in more than 130 countries around the world. 


Homo-Bi-Trans-phobia is a very difficult issue to tackle because it manifests itself in different forms that are more or less visible. Phobias come in many different forms: internalised, social, emotional, rationalised, institutionalised etc.

Internalised homo-bi-trans-phobia for example, refers to negative stereotypes, beliefs and stigmas that apply to conscious or unconscious behaviour in which a person feels a need to promote or conform to cultural expectations of heteronormativity or heterosexism.

Institutionalised homo-bi-phobia is rather State sponsored or led by religious beliefs.

To understand how the stigma against LGBTIQ persons has been so prevalent, we wanted to research theories and projects underpinning it.

Although homo-bi-trans phobia manifests itself subtly at times, it can also be explicit as seen with the vast scope of countries that still criminalise same-sex activity. 

Where does the stigma come from?

According to Queer theorists, how society members come to think about sex, gender and identity is contextual to specific times and cultures and varies greatly over space and time.

Early 19th and 20th Century sexologists paved the way for discrimination, criminalisation and pathologization (seeing people as wrong, bad or sick) on the basis of their sexuality. Put briefly, we are still dealing with the impact of heavy emphasis put on hierarchies around sexuality, sex and gender. 

One of the most influential individuals in the classification of homosexuality as an illness was Austrian forensic psychiatrist, Richard von Krafft-Ebing. According to Krafft-Ebing, functional deviations of the sexual instinct (to be attracted to the opposite sex) caused sexual deviances (including, but not limited to, homosexuality).

Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis also played a huge influence on sexology. Many of his ideas have actually found their way into everyday understanding of sex, and sex education. Freud perpetuated the idea that the penis-in-vagina (PIV) intercourse should be viewed as the ‘golden standard’ of mature sexuality.

Many other early sexologists contributed to creating a set of common dogmas around sex and sexuality that became embedded in Western cultures. In turn, via colonialism and other forms of oppression, these values were brought and imposed abroad.

These theories have spread three key assumptions:

  1. Identities are fixed and essential
  2. Sexuality and gender are binary
  3. Sex is either normal or abnormal

These socially and culturally embedded assumptions around sexuality and gender have had a great impact in the context of healthcare and, in particular, in psychiatry.

In 1952, The American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) defined homosexuality as a sexual deviance. Sexual deviance was introduced as the new term for cases formerly classified as “psychopathic personality with pathologic sexuality.” Homosexuality was thus classified as a pathological behaviour. Homosexuality’s inclusion in this classification stopped only in 1973 when a revised version of the DSM that did not contain homosexuality was published.

Defining Homosexuality as a pathology played a great role in shaping how homosexuality was viewed in society. It also led to a great amount of physical, psychological and emotional suffering for all of those who had to endure conversion therapy and other aggressive medical procedures many times against their will.

For this reason, WHO’s removal of homosexuality as an illness on the 17 May 1990  was a historic decision that played a great impact on LGBTIQ’s people lives. 

LGBTIQ criminalisation around the world

In parallel to pathologization, discrimination founded on so called scientific principles, the law has also and still plays a key role in the marginalisation of LGBTIQ persons.

According to ILGA’s 2019 State-sponsored Homophobia Map, homosexuality is currently illegal in 70 countries.

ILGA's State-Sponsored Homophobia 2019 MAP

Iran, parts of Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen currently have in-place the death penalty for homosexual activity. Mauritania, Qatar, Afghanistan and Pakistan all have in place laws where it is possible that same-sex activity could be punished by death. 

In April 2019, Brunei announced that it would impose draconian new punishments, including death by stoning, on those convicted of homosexual activity. However, following a global backlash, the country’s ruler, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah later claimed that he would not impose the death penalty.

The possibility of life-imprisonment is also a reality in 26 countries whilst a sentence of up to 8 years imprisonment is in effect in 31 States.

Luckily, LGBTIQ rights have not only come across setbacks in the recent years. In September 2018, India’s Supreme court ruled that same sex activity is no longer a criminal offence, effectively decriminalising homosexuality for 1.34 Billion people.

The Yogyakarta Principles

Decriminalising homo-bi and transsexuality around the world is essential to ensure that each and every individual is safeguarded and enjoys universal human rights.

On this May 17, 2019, we wanted to highlight Yogyakarta Principles 1 and 2, which set forth the Right to Universal Enjoyment of Human Rights and the Right to Equality and non-discrimination, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Human beings of all sexual orientations and gender identities are entitled to the full enjoyment of all human rights without discrimination. Everyone is entitled to equality before the law and the equal protection of the law without any such discrimination whether or not the enjoyment of another human right is also affected”.

But why are these principles important?

In November 2006, 29 distinguished human rights experts met in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, to draft, develop, and redefine what are now called the Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Sexual Identity.

The YPs were issued to reflect the existing international human rights laws in relation to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity considering the principles of universality and non-discrimination. 


Preliminary Conclusion

As we celebrate May 17 2019, we wanted to show the origins of stigma, pathologization and criminalisation. Early theories led to scientific and legal marginalisation, which in turn led to stigmatisation and criminalisation. We still too often perceive sex, sexuality and gender as fixed and binary.

We invite all those working on sexual and reproductive health and rights to address the impacts of lingering stigmatisation, pathologization and criminalisation of LGBTIQ person to ensure justice and protection for all.

We would like partners and allies in the SRHR community to take these issues on board, and to fight for all, let’s together work on queering SRHR, to make it as inclusive as possible and to go beyond the binaries. 

Together let’s work on Queering SRHR!


  • BBC News. India court legalises gay sex in landmark ruling. September 2018. Link
  • CNN. Brunei backs down on gay sex death penalty after international backlash. 06 May 2019. Link
  • Human Rights Watch. Russia: New Anti-Gay Crackdown in Chechnya. Police Detain, Torture Men in Grozny. 08 May 2019. Link.
  • ILGA. State-Sponsored Homophobia Report. March 2019. Link.
  • Queer: A Graphic Story. Book by Meg-John Barker & Julia Scheele. Published in 2006. 
  • The Citizen. Today in History: WHO removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.May 2018. Link.
  • The Yogyakarta Principles 2006. November 2006. Link.