Democracy is increasingly under threat worldwide. The trend is striking: 80 percent of the global population now lives in a country that is experiencing some restriction on freedoms, which is the highest proportion since 1997.At the same time, democratic backsliding has come in tandem with a rise in state-sanctioned rhetoric and policymaking that directly targets lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.
Using data from the LGBTI Global Acceptance Index and the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Institute, this report examines the relationship between indicators of liberal democracy and acceptance of LGBTI people globally. We pay particular attention to how democratic backsliding may be associated with changes in attitudes towards LGBTI people and their rights. We highlight four countries— Indonesia, Brazil, Poland, and Ghana—to describe the complex dynamics at play when anti-LGBTI rhetoric and policymaking are deployed in the context of rising authoritarianism. To our knowledge, this is the first study that analyzes the specific relationship between democratic backsliding and social acceptance of LGBTI people and their rights from a cross-national perspective.
- Attacks on LGBTI people and their rights can be a precursor to democratic backsliding, and anti-LGBTI stigma and policies may contribute to the weakening of democratic norms and institutions.
- Increased persecution of minority groups, including LGBTI people, is itself evidence of democratic backsliding by indicating the erosion of liberal democratic norms of protecting minority rights.
- Countries that are highly accepting of LGBTI people tend to have high levels of liberal democracy. Countries that are more accepting of LGBTI people also tend to have higher GDP per capita and have more of their population in urban environments.
- In some countries, efforts to increase acceptance of LGBTI people during times of democratic backsliding could provoke a backlash.
- Backsliding on democratic freedoms of association and expression may be especially impactful on LGBTI acceptance, given that such rights are fundamental to the ability of activists to mobilize and advocate for greater inclusion and to oppose further rollback of rights.
- The strength of democratic institutions, including a robust civil society, may be important in moderating the effects of anti-LGBTI rhetoric and policymaking on both LGBTI acceptance and on liberal democracy more broadly.