By Hugo Greenhalgh
LONDON, Aug 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Just 56% of the world's countries allow LGBTQ groups to organize without the threat of arrest or state harassment, further marginalizing gay organizations from mainstream society, according to a report published on Tuesday.
The LGBTQ rights group OutRight Action International analyzed 194 countries and found that only 109 allow gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender groups to register legally.
In 55 countries, including Russia and Lebanon, gay organizations exist, but state authorization is denied. Others, such as Malaysia, ban LGBTQ groups outright.
"This is a way of hindering and trying to stop any kind of progress or push for equality that LGBT groups want to do," Maria Sjödin, deputy executive director of OutRight, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"I truly believe that change in society happens because people organize and push for it. That is how greater equality for LGBT people has been achieved."
The survey found that in 30 countries, including Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Somalia, it was impossible to find any officially registered LGBTQ organizations at all.
Denying citizens the right to organize is a "way for governments to make it so hard that I guess they hope that people will just give up," Sjödin added.
People attend a Pride march in India.
Governments employ both religious and moral reasons for curtailing civil society organizations, the report noted, with groups banned for being against the "national interest."
In countries such as Nigeria, homosexuality is illegal, making the process of applying even more problematic.
"Without the registration there are lots of things you cannot do," said Jean Chong, co-founder of Sayoni, an LGBTQ rights organisation based in Singapore.
"It is impossible to get an office space and you cannot ask for donations publicly as you are not a legal entity."
Registration is formally possible in Singapore, but the report noted that attempts by civil society groups to apply for authorization are frequently blocked.
Budding gay activists instead register under more generic umbrella titles, such as women's or human rights groups, Chong said. But the consequences for countries that outlaw civil society groups altogether could be harsh, she added.
"We are talking about suicide, depression, and substance abuse — and violence. It's always there, but just not seen and not in the public eye," she said.
"When groups cannot register they cannot effectively raise funds, so it limits their ability to do things like research and collect data and do substantive advocacy around these issues."
(Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh. Editing by Jared Ferrie. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)