Joseph Kawesi, 31 Uganda, March 2015 Joseph Kawesi, a transgender woman, sits at home in the Ugandan capital of Kampala with her mother Mai, 65. Kawesi still has nightmares about the night in December 2012 when she says police officers dragged her out of her home after a tip-off that she might be gay. She says the officers beat her, and then raped her with a club. Kawesi is now an activist working to support LGBT people affected by HIV/AIDS in Uganda. Uganda's president signed an Anti-Homosexuality Act into law in Feb. 2014, that broadened the criminalization of same-sex relationships, adding to colonial-era laws that already prohibited sodomy. The law was overturned on a technicality in August, but Parliament could pass a new anti-homosexuality bill this year.Robin Hammond
A posed posed portrait of 34 year old Human Rights Activist fighting for the rights of LGBTI people in Uganda and on the African continent, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera. She describes herself as one of the early pioneers of the LGBT struggle in Uganda and founder and former Executive Director of Freedom and Roam Uganda, the only exclusively Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Women’s rights organization in the country and currently founder and editor of Kuchu Times and Bombastic Magazine. She is the recipient of the Martin Ennals Human Rights Defenders Award and the Nuremburg International Human Rights Award. She has several times been evicted by landlords because of her sexuality. She has been physically attacked many times. Kasha can no longer use public transport. “Every time the media talks about homosexuality in Uganda my face appears, the visibility is so much that it exposes me. People have threatened me with death many times, especially on social media. People have wished for me to be knocked down by cars. They want to cut off my head, kill me.” “Even if I receive these threats, words hurt and depress me, at the same time it allows me to know where I need to improve in my work – attitude change – that’s why I keep doing what I do. It hurts, but it doesn’t really put me down. One day it will change. I am happy to be part of the foundation for future generations to build on.” Uganda. March 2015.  While many countries around the world are legally recognizing same-sex relationships, individuals in nearly 80 countries face criminal sanctions for private consensual relations with another adult of the same sex. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression is even more widespread. Africa is becoming the worst continent for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Inter-sex (LGBTQI) individuals. More than two thirds of African countries have laws criminalizing consensual same-sex acts. In some, homosexuality is punishable
A posed posed portrait of Bad Black, a 25 years old transgender woman sex worker in Kampala, Uganda. “At the age of 16 in 2005 I was caught red handed kissing with my boyfriend. My father asked me to leave his home if I don’t want to be killed. I left home and came to Kampala where I started doing sex worker for survival. In 2009, I found out that I was HIV positive. I have been sexually harassed by the police every time on streets. The police arrested me several times for no reason. Early this year I was kidnapped by three men who tortured me for seven hours they beat me up and fixed a beer bottle in my ass smeared with hot pepper. The kidnappers took my phones and money.” He volunteers for an organization that supports other HIV positive sex workers. Uganda, September 2014.  While many countries around the world are legally recognizing same-sex relationships, individuals in nearly 80 countries face criminal sanctions for private consensual relations with another adult of the same sex. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression is even more widespread. Africa is becoming the worst continent for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Inter-sex (LGBTQI) individuals. More than two thirds of African countries have laws criminalizing consensual same-sex acts. In some, homosexuality is punishable by death. In Nigeria new homophobic laws introduced in 2013 led to dramatic increase in attacks. Under Sharia Law, homosexuality is punishable by death, up to 50 lashes and six months in prison for woman; for men elsewhere, up to 14 years in prison. Same sex acts are illegal in Uganda. A discriminatory law was passed then struck down and homophobic attacks rose tenfold after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. In Cameroon it is also illegal. More cases against suspected homosexuals are brought here than any other African country. In stark contrast with the rest of the continent, same sex relationships are legal in South Africa
A posed posed portrait of Ishmel (left) and Gabriel (right) (not their real names) who are gay. In December 2013 they were taken from their homes by a vigilante group aligned to Bauchi City Sharia Courts who suspected them of being gay. They slapped and beat them with electric cables. He was held in prison for over 40 days. He made several appearances at the Sharia Court. They were lashed 15 times with a horse whip, but then acquitted of committing homosexual acts as there were no witnesses to the crime. Sodomy is punishable by death under Sharia Law but requires four witnesses. Since Nigeria’s president signed a harsh law criminalizing homosexuality throughout the country, arrests of gay people have multiplied, advocates have been forced to go underground, some people fearful of the law have sought asylum overseas and news media demands for a crackdown have flourished. Three young men were recently flogged 20 times in a northern Nigerian court room for being gay. Some consider them lucky. The penalty for gay sex under local Islamic law is death by stoning. Nigeria, April 2014.   While many countries around the world are legally recognizing same-sex relationships, individuals in nearly 80 countries face criminal sanctions for private consensual relations with another adult of the same sex. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression is even more widespread. Africa is becoming the worst continent for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Inter-sex (LGBTQI) individuals. More than two thirds of African countries have laws criminalizing consensual same-sex acts. In some, homosexuality is punishable by death. In Nigeria new homophobic laws introduced in 2013 led to dramatic increase in attacks. Under Sharia Law, homosexuality is punishable by death, up to 50 lashes and six months in prison for woman; for men elsewhere, up to 14 years in prison. Same sex acts are illegal in Uganda. A discriminatory law was passed then struck down
A posed posed portrait of Buje (not his real name) who is gay. In December 2013 he was taken from his home by a vigilante group aligned to Bauchi City Sharia Courts who suspected him of being gay. They slapped him and beat him with electric cables. He was held in prison for over 40 days. He made several appearances at the Sharia Court. After being beaten in prison he confessed to committing homosexual acts. He was lashed 15 times with a horse whip as a punishment. Sodomy is punishable by death under Sharia Law but requires four witnesses. Since Nigeria’s president signed a harsh law criminalizing homosexuality throughout the country, arrests of gay people have multiplied, advocates have been forced to go underground, some people fearful of the law have sought asylum overseas and news media demands for a crackdown have flourished. Three young men were recently flogged 20 times in a northern Nigerian court room for being gay. Some consider them lucky. The penalty for gay sex under local Islamic law is death by stoning. Nigeria, April 2014.  While many countries around the world are legally recognizing same-sex relationships, individuals in nearly 80 countries face criminal sanctions for private consensual relations with another adult of the same sex. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression is even more widespread. Africa is becoming the worst continent for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Inter-sex (LGBTQI) individuals. More than two thirds of African countries have laws criminalizing consensual same-sex acts. In some, homosexuality is punishable by death. In Nigeria new homophobic laws introduced in 2013 led to dramatic increase in attacks. Under Sharia Law, homosexuality is punishable by death, up to 50 lashes and six months in prison for woman; for men elsewhere, up to 14 years in prison. Same sex acts are illegal in Uganda. A discriminatory law was passed then struck down and homophobic attacks rose tenfold after
A posed portrait of Tiwonge Chimbalanga from Malawi. In 2009 Steven Monjeza Soko and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were arrested in their home country of Malawi and in 2010 they were both charged with buggery and permitting buggery, as well as with the offence of indecent practices between males in accordance with sections 153 and 156 of the Malawian Penal Code. Convicted, the two men were sentenced to the maximum penalty of fourteen years. According to the sentencing magistrate, the severity of the sentence was justified to protect Malawian society: “I will give you a scaring sentence so that the public be protected from people like you, so that we are not tempted to emulate this horrendous example.” This judgement took place in spite of Malawi’s own constitution and it being a signatory state to a number of human rights treaties. Consequently, the case attracted an international outcry and both men were later pardoned on condition that they do not have any future contact with each other. Following release, fearing for her safety, Tiwonge fled to South Africa. November 2014.  While many countries around the world are legally recognizing same-sex relationships, individuals in nearly 80 countries face criminal sanctions for private consensual relations with another adult of the same sex. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression is even more widespread. Africa is becoming the worst continent for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Inter-sex (LGBTQI) individuals. More than two thirds of African countries have laws criminalizing consensual same-sex acts. In some, homosexuality is punishable by death. In Nigeria new homophobic laws introduced in 2013 led to dramatic increase in attacks. Under Sharia Law, homosexuality is punishable by death, up to 50 lashes and six months in prison for woman; for men elsewhere, up to 14 years in prison. Same sex acts are illegal in Uganda. A discriminatory law was passed then struck down and homop
A posed portrait of Flavirina Naze from Burundi. “I left Burundi because of my sexuality. People were beating me and didn’t accept me”. Flavirina attended a Trans-geneder conference in South Africa, while there she was warned by a LGBT activist that it might be dangerous for her to return to Burundi as there were elections around that time and persecution of the LGBT community was increasing. Fearing for her life, she decided to stay. She was accepted as an asylum seeker but she could not afford to renew the permit. It expired and she is now in South Africa illegally. As she is unable to work legally, she started engaging in sex work to survive. South Africa. November 2014.  While many countries around the world are legally recognizing same-sex relationships, individuals in nearly 80 countries face criminal sanctions for private consensual relations with another adult of the same sex. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression is even more widespread. Africa is becoming the worst continent for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Inter-sex (LGBTQI) individuals. More than two thirds of African countries have laws criminalizing consensual same-sex acts. In some, homosexuality is punishable by death. In Nigeria new homophobic laws introduced in 2013 led to dramatic increase in attacks. Under Sharia Law, homosexuality is punishable by death, up to 50 lashes and six months in prison for woman; for men elsewhere, up to 14 years in prison. Same sex acts are illegal in Uganda. A discriminatory law was passed then struck down and homophobic attacks rose tenfold after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. In Cameroon it is also illegal. More cases against suspected homosexuals are brought here than any other African country. In stark contrast with the rest of the continent, same sex relationships are legal in South Africa. The country has the most liberal laws toward gays and lesbians on the continent, with a constitution g
A posed portrait of transgender women Dolores (right) 24 and Naomi (left) 25. While travelling home with a male friend after spending an evening at a club they were stopped at a police check-point. Because they couldn’t produce ID they were taken to the police station. A police woman recognized Naomi and said to the other officers “I know this one, she is a homosexual”. That night in the police cells they were severely beaten by the police. The beatings continued every day for a week until they were sent to provisional detention. They stayed there for three months awaiting trial. They were taken in front of the judge and found guilty of homosexuality, and sentenced to the maximum punishment of five years. When sentencing the judge commented that they had admitted to drinking baileys – “a woman’s drink” and therefore further evidence of their homosexuality. Human rights campaigner and lawyer Alice Nkom appealed the conviction and won. The case was dropped for lack of evidence, Dolores and Naomi were acquitted. They had spent August 2011 to January 2013 in prison – 18 months. Dolores says, “Prison is the worst place I have ever been. And I was obliged to undertake any kind of activity to survive.” Yaounde, Cameroon. December 2014.  While many countries around the world are legally recognizing same-sex relationships, individuals in nearly 80 countries face criminal sanctions for private consensual relations with another adult of the same sex. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression is even more widespread. Africa is becoming the worst continent for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Inter-sex (LGBTQI) individuals. More than two thirds of African countries have laws criminalizing consensual same-sex acts. In some, homosexuality is punishable by death. In Nigeria new homophobic laws introduced in 2013 led to dramatic increase in attacks. Under Sharia Law, homosexuality is punishable by death, up to 50 las
A posed portrait of 28 year old Amanda (not her real name). In 2007 Amanda was out with a friend, she went to buy cigarettes and started walking back to her friends house. A man approached her and said he would show here a shortcut. He asked if she was a lesbian “do you date girls he said? Amanda said “yes”, the man pulled out a gun, put it to her head and said “I’m going to show you are not a man, you are a girl”. He dragged her behind some toilets pushed the gun to her temple and raped her. “I was scared. I thought he was going to kill me” she said. When he was finished, he ran away. “After that. I hate guys,” says Amanda. The rapists was arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison.  “God has helped me to get over the rape, but I’m still afraid. I don’t go out at night.” South Africa. November 2014.  While many countries around the world are legally recognizing same-sex relationships, individuals in nearly 80 countries face criminal sanctions for private consensual relations with another adult of the same sex. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression is even more widespread. Africa is becoming the worst continent for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Inter-sex (LGBTQI) individuals. More than two thirds of African countries have laws criminalizing consensual same-sex acts. In some, homosexuality is punishable by death. In Nigeria new homophobic laws introduced in 2013 led to dramatic increase in attacks. Under Sharia Law, homosexuality is punishable by death, up to 50 lashes and six months in prison for woman; for men elsewhere, up to 14 years in prison. Same sex acts are illegal in Uganda. A discriminatory law was passed then struck down and homophobic attacks rose tenfold after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. In Cameroon it is also illegal. More cases against suspected homosexuals are brought here than any other African country. In stark contrast with the rest of the continent
A posed portrait of Boniwe Tyatyeka, mother of Nontsikelelo Tyatyeka (in the framed picture) who disappeared 7 September 2010. A year later, on 9 September 2011, her decomposed body was found in the dustbin of a neighbor. She had been raped, beaten on the head, and strangled to death. The killer (the neighbor whose dustbin in which her body was found) said he did it to change her – she was a lesbian. Cape Town, South Africa. November 2014.  While many countries around the world are legally recognizing same-sex relationships, individuals in nearly 80 countries face criminal sanctions for private consensual relations with another adult of the same sex. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression is even more widespread. Africa is becoming the worst continent for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Inter-sex (LGBTQI) individuals. More than two thirds of African countries have laws criminalizing consensual same-sex acts. In some, homosexuality is punishable by death. In Nigeria new homophobic laws introduced in 2013 led to dramatic increase in attacks. Under Sharia Law, homosexuality is punishable by death, up to 50 lashes and six months in prison for woman; for men elsewhere, up to 14 years in prison. Same sex acts are illegal in Uganda. A discriminatory law was passed then struck down and homophobic attacks rose tenfold after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. In Cameroon it is also illegal. More cases against suspected homosexuals are brought here than any other African country. In stark contrast with the rest of the continent, same sex relationships are legal in South Africa. The country has the most liberal laws toward gays and lesbians on the continent, with a constitution guaranteeing LBGTQI rights. Because of this, LGBTQI Africans from all over the continent fleeing persecution have come to South Africa. Despite these laws, many lesbians have been victims of ‘corrective rape’ and homosexuals have been murde
A posed portrait of 35 year transgender woman Nisha Ayub who was arrested and received a three month prison sentence for cross dressing (under Section 66, of the Shariah Law of Malaysia). She was imprisoned in the male section. She was humiliated daily. She had breasts implanted that same year and was made to walk topless through the prison. She was regularly verbally and physically abused. The guards shaved her long hair off, an important part of her female identity. “My hair is my crown, it is my identity, it is the first thing I did when I got my independence – to grow my hair. I was in the chair crying as they cut it. I was begging, “please, please, please” he just ignored me. As each hair dropped, so did my heart.” On the first day she was forced to perform oral sex on six men: “I was scared, the guys were scary.” After that she sought protection from one of the prison guards in return for sex. Nisha says: “one of the worst things about being in prison is that you don’t feel like you own your body anymore, it’s like people have the right to do anything to you.” Once released she found she had lost the job she had in a hotel. In order to get money to survive she became a hostess in a bar which meant she had to perform sexual acts for money. “I heard there was a NGO in Kuala Lumpur helping trans people. When I went to prison, I didn’t even know that law existed. When I came out of prison I was determined to fight and I wanted to help other trans people so I went to KL to volunteer.” Now Nisha advocates for other transgender women in Malaysia with a non governmental organization. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. January 2015.  While many countries around the world are legally recognizing same-sex relationships, individuals in nearly 80 countries face criminal sanctions for private consensual relations with another adult of the same sex. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression is even more widespread. Africa i
A posed portrait of 33 Year old Abinaya Jayaraman, a transgender woman. Until the age of 19 she always considered herself a normal boy. It wasn’t until her late teens when other boys started to isolate her that she started to question herself. She googled “a man with female character” and started to learn about the transgender community. She went to see a doctor who told her she had a female’s soul trapped in a male’s body. At first she strongly rejected the idea. She wanted to tell her mum but she is from a very strict family and didn’t think it was possible. “I was so scared to tell her, and I started to cut my arm due to depression. I used to hate myself, and I used to hate God “Why did you create me this way?” It took me more than three years to accept who I am. Then I started to dress up in the house. And I would see my mum’s Saree and think “when will it be my turn to wear that?”. In June 2008 she told her mum “Ma, I’m not a boy, I’m a girl, please understand” Abinaya’s mother slapped her in the face and walked away. One evening in 2009, Abinaya came home after work “all my relatives were there. I asked “what’s going on?” – my mother told me – “we’re going to look for a wife for you” I was shocked. I said “what? Please understand I cannot carry her leg like this and bang her!”” Her mother replied “Don’t worry, once you have a child, everything will be okay”. Her relatives tried to introduce her to a woman. Abinaya met her wife to be, and told her “Look I can’t marry you” then Abinaya explained everything. The pressure continued though until Abinaya couldn’t take it any longer and in April 2009 she took a cocktail of sleeping pills and pain killers in an attempt to end her life. She ended up in hospital for 3 months. Her mother didn’t visit her once. Abinaya’s family continued to refuse to accept her gender identity. She was disowned and thrown out of the house. Abinaya worked in corpor
A posed portrait of Lesbian couple ‘O’ (27, right) and ‘D’ (23, left). They were on their way home after a jazz concert, it was late by the time they got off at their subway stop. They were alone as they went up the escalator to get to the street level apart from two men in front of them. As they traveled up to street level, they took each other’s hand and kissed. They came out of the subway and starting walking home. Suddenly ‘O’ felt a blow to the back of her neck: “fucking lesbians” the stranger yelled. He then turned and punched ‘D’ in the face. ‘O’ tried to defend her but was punched in the face too. ‘O’ screamed: “what are you doing? We are just sisters” he replied, “Don’t lie, I saw you kissing and you are spreading LGBT propaganda”. The remark was in reference to the ‘Anti LGBT Propaganda Towards Minors” law recently adopted in Russia. He continued to kick and punch ‘O’ and ‘D’ screaming “No LGBT” and finally “If I see you again I will kill you” and then left. All this time the attackers colleague was filming the attack with his phone. Talking about the attack ‘O’ says: “The real fear I experienced was not for myself, it was for the one I love. The fear struck me when I realized I couldn’t do anything to protect her.” ‘O’ continues: “Now, in Russia, holding hands is dangerous for us. But if the goal of these attackers was to separate us, they failed. They only made our relationship stronger”. St Petersburg, Russia. November 2014.  While many countries around the world are legally recognizing same-sex relationships, individuals in nearly 80 countries face criminal sanctions for private consensual relations with another adult of the same sex. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression is even more widespread. Africa is becoming the worst continent for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Inter-sex (LGBTQI) individuals. More than two thirds of
A posed portrait of 47 year old trans man Mitch Yusmar, with his partner of 17 years 39 year old Lalita Abdullah, and their adopted children, 9 year old Izzy, and 3 year old Daniya at home outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Mitch is the Senior Manager of Seed, an NGO that caters to the needs of homeless people in Kuala Lumpur. Lalita is the Regional Learning and Development Manager for an oil and gas company. Their relationship is not legally recognized and they live with the insecurity that their family could be torn apart should something happen to Lalita who is the only recognized parent. Malaysia. January 2015.  While many countries around the world are legally recognizing same-sex relationships, individuals in nearly 80 countries face criminal sanctions for private consensual relations with another adult of the same sex. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression is even more widespread. Africa is becoming the worst continent for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Inter-sex (LGBTQI) individuals. More than two thirds of African countries have laws criminalizing consensual same-sex acts. In some, homosexuality is punishable by death. In Nigeria new homophobic laws introduced in 2013 led to dramatic increase in attacks. Under Sharia Law, homosexuality is punishable by death, up to 50 lashes and six months in prison for woman; for men elsewhere, up to 14 years in prison. Same sex acts are illegal in Uganda. A discriminatory law was passed then struck down and homophobic attacks rose tenfold after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. In Cameroon it is also illegal. More cases against suspected homosexuals are brought here than any other African country. In stark contrast with the rest of the continent, same sex relationships are legal in South Africa. The country has the most liberal laws toward gays and lesbians on the continent, with a constitution guaranteeing LBGTQI rights. Because of this, LGBTQI Africans from all
A posed portrait of Sally. Sally has been in Lebanon for 7 months. “I ran away from Syria because I was running away from ISIS. One of my family members is now with ISIS. Because of him I ran away here. He was in charge of investigations in ISIS. The want to catch and kill the gays. My last partner was kidnapped and interrogated by ISIS. I’m 90% sure they killed him.  To kill someone they will choose the highest building and push him from it. They are worse than the Syrian investigation services. The gay people are treated as if they have a contagious disease. In Islam you are given the chance to ask for mercy and to re-enter Islam and follow the Islamic law. But ISIS consider Gays as a contagious disease, so that’s why they kill them.” Sally says her friend will be forced to name all the LGBT people he knows, including Sally. Then they will be hunted done. “Some of my other gay friends were captured and stoned to death, one pushed from the roof of a building, one was shot in the head - because of their sexuality. They had no proof - in Islam they say you have to have three witnesses, and caught in action, but they didn’t have any, they just killed them because they knew they were gay.” “I can never go back to Syria, the door of my parents and my country has been shut in my face. If I went back, they would kill me. The regime will take me directly to military service where I will die. ISIS will execute me – they will throw me from a building. Before they would shoot them. Now they push everyone from the buildings.” Discussing his identity Sally says: “On the inside I’m a woman, from the outside – I don’t know maybe half/half” “I’m a woman and not a man, I don’t even consider myself a gay person, what can I do. I’m planning to do my sex transition.” Sally has a short-term job teaching literacy to refugees to survive as well as receiving some support from NGOs. She is waiting for resettlement. Beirut, Lebanon. February 2015.  Wh
A posed portrait of 36 year old Khalid, a gay man from Baghdad, Iraq. “I left Iraq because no one accepted me as Gay. I left because I suffered from the bad treatment from the normal people. I was insulted by many people at work, at home, in the neighborhood, in the street. They treated me like a girl, they would say things like “you are a beautiful girl, come with us” even though I never wore anything feminine or revealed my sexuality. I use to hear this stuff all the time.” The constant insults, gossiping and rejection by society “made me loose focus on everything including my work. I felt very sad and humiliated. I used to go to the bathroom and cry. I was a rejected person – I was like a white robe amongst millions of black robes.” Khalid did, on occasion, find someone who shared his secret. “In 2013 I was in a relationship. We’d been together for a year. We were in love. One day my boyfriend’s older brother found us in bed together. He beat us as badly. Then he went and told my family. The two families found out and rejected us. My family started to push me away. My older brother went to the leader of our tribe to find the right punishment for me. I don’t know what the leader of the tribe said, but we all know the punishment for being gay is death. My father used to ask my older brother ‘when are you going to see the boss of our tribe and see about the punishment?.’ In Iraq it is normal to kill a gay family member as it is a crime against the family’s honor. I was really afraid for my life. So one morning I went to work and didn’t come back home. I asked to be referred to another building that was in the Green Zone, that way no one can come in to kill me.” Khalid tragically learnt how real the threat towards anyone identified as gay is. “I had a gay friend who was feminine, he was a hairdresser. I had a small apartment. He asked if he could stay there. I went back (to the apartment) and found a lot of people at the entrance and
A posed portrait of 33 year old Gad (not his real name) from Homs, Syria. Gad arrived in Lebanon in July 2014. “I left Homs because my neighborhood was under attack, it was bombed many times. I moved to Lebanon to try to find a job. I found work at the hammam giving massage”. Hammams are known as places where gay men go for sex. “I was obliged to work like this so I can assist my parents in Syria. It also provided me a place to stay and not pay rent. I used to work for two months, go back to Homs for a short time, then come back again.” One evening in August 2014 we were raided by the police.” A policeman came in undercover, asking for a ‘massage extra’ meaning sex. The receptionist refused. 20 soldiers and police entered. “They took all those who worked in the massage rooms, and started beating those of us from Syria. Everyone inside, staff and clients, were arrested, 27 of us, and taken to the Hbeish, the morality police. 11 of them were Syrian, the rest Lebanese. “They punched and kicked me. They put a black cloth bags over my head. They continued to punch and kick me. I would never know where it was coming from. They were doing the same to the others. Sometimes we were alone in a room, sometimes there were two or three of us. We could hear each other being tortured. This went on for three days. They would beat us with water tubes” Gad was interrogated over the three days. The policemen demanded to know about the operation of the Hammam. They tried to get him to ‘out’ others working with him. “They beat me a lot. If they asked a question and it wasn’t what they wanted to hear they would start beating me again.” “I refused to give names.” Gad says that once you say what they want they will make you sign confession and document that implicates others. At night though the questions stopped, but the torture continued. Gad feels it was just a form of cruel entertainment for the policemen. Two of the police used to taunt him in convers
Joseph Kawesi, 31 Uganda, March 2015 Joseph Kawesi, a transgender woman, sits at home in the Ugandan capital of Kampala
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Robin Hammond
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Chronicling the Struggles of LGBT People Around the World

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By many measures, the world is a safer and more welcoming place for gay people than it was ten years ago.

A growing number of national and regional governments have passed laws legalizing gay marriage and unions between people of the same sex. Other countries have tightened legislation that prohibits anti-gay discrimination and hate speech targeted at people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). “There’s been enormous progress globally and locally,” wrote Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch earlier this year. “It’s important to note that the fight for LGBT rights is not a Western phenomenon; many of the governments at the forefront of the defence of LGBT rights are from the developing world.”

But while LGBT rights may be generally improving around the world, many more people live in countries where homosexual acts or identifying as gay can lead to state-ordered physical punishment.

Human rights groups say that in some of these countries — including Russia, Nigeria and Uganda — governments have targeted LGBT people as a way to redirect peoples’ anger from the governments to a vulnerable minority. All three countries have introduced anti-gay legislation in the past three years and in all three countries human rights groups have reported simultaneous increases in attacks on LGBT people.

Photographer Robin Hammond, who is from New Zealand, first started documenting these issues when he was on assignment in Lagos, Nigeria, and read about five people who had been arrested for being gay. He then decided to expand his work to seven countries, photographing LGBT people of 15 different nationalities.

Hammond says he wants to improve peoples' lives rather than simply chronicling their suffering and is today launching a non-governmental organization named Witness Change, which aims to kickstart social media campaigns and put on traveling exhibitions to help raise funds for grassroots organizations that are dealing with the highlighted human rights issues, including LGBT rights.

He described the process he has developed for taking his portraits — and for asking his subjects to write down their personal stories:

While I predominantly use photography to talk about the issues that are important to me, the medium has shortcomings — it can connect, but rarely does it explain. So I wanted the survivors of discrimination to talk for themselves about what they've been through. With each of the 65 subjects I asked that they write down their story of discrimination and survival. They chose what to say and how to say it. This resulted in extremely powerful testimonies, some five pages long, some a single sentence.

For many it was the first time they've told their story. The point is to have their voices heard. Many have lived lives of silence.

After they wrote their testimony I would ask more questions.

We would then take a photograph. The photographs are all posed portraits. The way the photograph is posed is a collaboration between myself and the subject. I would ask them how we could illustrate their story. The results were sometimes interesting. Some told me to come back another day and I would return to find them in full drag. Others said. "They tied me like this — show it". Kasha, the Ugandan lesbian activist, wanted to be shown as a strong leader. I asked her if she had a symbol of strength — she rose her fist. Joseph, a transgender woman from Uganda, spoke about his mum and how grateful he is that she accepts him for who he is, so I photographed them together.

Of course some did not really know how to stand or pose. I would offer them ideas on what I thought might look interesting. Some took on those ideas, some were rejected.

Many of the photographs were unexpected. Many are not posed as I would have visualized before meeting the subjects. The poses were informed by their stories and very much by how they wished to be photographed. The point is that it was really important the subjects had as much control as possible. It is their story, and their image.

I photographed these portraits on a large format 5x4 (5-inch by 4-inch) field camera using Polaroid-type film. The reason is aesthetic but also so I could show the subject the photograph. I always gave them the veto over the image. Some subjects were obviously concerned about their safety, so it was important they felt safe if they had requested to have their identity hidden.

I would do, on average, one portrait per day. A lot of time was spent with each subject getting to know them, discussing their lives, and talking about the project.

The photographs and testimonies personalize and make real an issue often spoken about in abstract ways, in discussions about laws and sanctions and politicians.

Some people may find some of the images uncomfortable. I know many people will be saddened by the testimonies. This is the reality of life for many LGBTQI people in our world.

Robin Hammond is a freelance photojournalist based in Paris, France.

Alice Gabriner, who edited this photo essay, is TIME's International Photo Editor.

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