Despite gains made in many parts of the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people are, in some regions, increasingly persecuted and denied basic human rights. Because bigotry thrives where we are silenced by fear, we've created this space for people to share stories of discrimination and survival. Read these stories, share them, and contribute your own. Let the world know that we will not be silent.

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A posed portrait of Joseph (not his real name), a Somali living in Kakuma refugee camp in north western Kenya since 2004. Joseph was ostracized by her family for “behaving like a girl.” Joseph identifies as both gay and a trans woman. Homophobia in Kakuma refugee camp is a great source of insecurity says Joseph. Speaking of two of her gay friends she says “One of them has been killed and another friend has been tortured and has escaped the place.” The constant persecution and insecurity weighs heavily on her, as does her positive HIV status: “I had the HIV for two years and I never talk to anyone about the disease… HIV people are not welcome in the camp, those are reasons why I was hiding my disease from others for long.” Talking about her state of mind she says: “I am expecting nothing from this world , there is no cure for this disease and it killed many people. At the moment I am just waiting for death. I have the disease. I could not go to the hospital for treatment. I was persecuted by everywhere even inside the hospital. The local government and NGOs could not help me but I am still alive - I still cannot believe that I am still alive with the disease.” Kenya, October 2017.
The Kakuma Refugee Camp is located in north western Kenya and houses more than 180,000 refugees. The camp is located in a semi-arid desert with temperatures over 30C. LGBTQI+ refugees are a minority; approximately 190 total with 120 Ugandans, and are often targeted by the wider refugee community. The camp, run by the UNHCR, provides food and medical support, however rations meant for a month typically last just two weeks. Treatment facilities are located miles away, and transport is not provided, posing a challenge for those with HIV / AIDS requiring life-saving medication.
While in many places, there has been great progress in recent years in the movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTQI+) rights, including an increasing recognition of same-sex marriage, nearly 2.8 billion people live in countries where identifying as LGBTI is subject to rampant discrimination, criminalization, and even death. Same-sex acts are illegal in 76 countries; in some countries, this can result in being sentenced to death. Behind these statistics, there individuals with unique, often harrowing stories. Where Love Is Illegal was created to tell those stories. 
Robin Hammond/NOOR for Witness Change

Joseph/


“one night while I was with my friend lying down together my brother saw us and told the elderly of the town that those two boys are having sex. The Elderly people of the town denounce me and told me that I am a bad person to the community and we do not want this happen to our kids in our town.”

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Eddy Love (not real name) is a 35 year old bisexual man. He explains that living in a country where the LGBT community are so stigmatized means one finds it difficult to report sex crimes to the police or even talk about same sex rape. “It pains me a lot about what they have done,” says Eddy when talking about the gang rape by five men that he survived as a young man. Ghana. 13 March, 2018. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Eddy Love/


“The way that I’m doing with my boyfriend, I can’t be walking and holding each other, kissing outside because it’s not allowed here. Unless I’m in the room with my partner that we know what we are doing”

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A posed portrait of 23 year old Ugandans Ashiraf (left) & Kajjan (right) in Nairobi. Ashiraf identifies as a transgender woman and Kajjan as gay. While same sex marriage is not legal in Uganda, in 2015 the pair conducted a marriage ceremony in a hotel to celebrate their relationship. “We had happiness at the party” says Ashiraf, and then adds “and that was the day.” That was the day their new married life began, and also the day their lives changed for the worse. A friend took photos of the wedding and posted them on social media. Local newspapers got hold of the photos and published them. Two weeks later their neighbors recognized them in the newspaper and went to the police. They locked their door when they heard the mob with the police coming, and hid inside. They could hear them trying to enter and talking together: “They said a lot of stuff, that we are sons of evil, we need to go to hell, we shall kill them direct if we get them.” That night they packed their bags and left for Kenya. But life in Kenya was not what they had hoped. They struggled to be registered by the United Nations refugee agency, and struggled even more to find a place to settle down: “After three months in Kenya, our life was not good at all, as we kept on migrating from one place to another because Kenya is like Uganda they don’t allow us in here. We were beaten, abused, tortured on the way when we were moving,” says Ashiraf. “My boyfriend is HIV positive and I am negative but I have (high blood) pressure. Life is hard because we don’t have money to eat yet we have to take our medicine. The landlord is chasing us out of the house because we don’t have money. I tried to look for jobs but couldn’t get because I naturally look like a transgender. Whenever I go to look for jobs I am abused that I am a lady, sometimes beaten.” Kajjan reiterates the sentiments expressed by his wife: “Up to present time, we are still suffering because I am HIV positive though my boyfriend isn’t, we have nothing to eat, nor food.” Kenya, October 2017.
Nature Network is a Nairobi based organization providing LGBTQI+ refugees in Kenya with support through safe temporary housing, health services, food and security. Nature Network has advocated to police over 50 times, responding to hate crimes, and runs a WhatsApp group of safety tips. Refugees supported have come from Uganda, Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda and Sudan. 
While in many places, there has been great progress in recent years in the movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTQI+) rights, including an increasing recognition of same-sex marriage, nearly 2.8 billion people live in countries where identifying as LGBTI is subject to rampant discrimination, criminalization, and even death. Same-sex acts are illegal in 76 countries; in some countries, this can result in being sentenced to death. Behind these statistics, there individuals with unique, often harrowing stories. Where Love Is Illegal was created to tell those stories. 
Robin Hammond/NOOR for Witness Change

Ashiraf & Kajjan/

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“Then our family got to know about it through the social media and newspapers. So we were ashamed in the community”

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SaAd/


“It’s one thing never knowing the feeling of freedom, but it’s another feeling that go away completely. “

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Vin/


“most people would find me man enough in their own shallow perception but deep inside me,I’m dying”

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Marc McCay/


“Growing up in a war torn country where as a boy you are required to be strong, be brave and not be queer, almost killed my spirit.”

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25 year old transgender man Akosua (front) with his girlfriend Cilla (back) (not real names), a 22 year old bisexual woman. Cilla was blackmailed by a former boyfriend after discovering pictures of her with women. Cilla sunk into a deep depression and tried to kill herself. Her father prevented her. Akosua was raised in a traditional Muslim family, his father is an Imam. After attending a lesbian wedding in another city, he returned home to find out pictures from the event had been sent to his family: “One of my brothers slapped me first, and I was like, "Why? Why did you slap me for? What?" And he's like, "What is this? What disgrace have you bring to our family? Why would you go to a girls' with all the lesbians and stuff? Why would you do that?" My two brothers started beating me up.” After this he fled his hometown. Ghana. 08 March, 2018. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Akosua & Cilla/


“Growing up as a lesbian has always been difficult for me because I have been having a life of struggle and hiding from the society view to violent attacks and discrimination.”

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35 year old gay man Nana (last name withheld). 10 years ago he tested HIV positive. He has been on ARVs (Anti retroviral medication) for seven years. For the first three years he did not address his illness until his health took a negative turn. Speaking about the positive test result he says: “In the beginning it wasn't easy because that's what I say, blame games. I also started looking around. So, where did I got it? Where did I got it, where did I got it? But after taking the medication, thinking positively, I'm okay.” Explaining why he didn’t want to show his face when being photographed he says: “If you are even diagnosed HIV, you can even lose your job without them not telling you that because of this that your job is being taken away from you. They find a way, and then you are off. So that is why my face need not to be shown.” 07 March, 2018. Ghana. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Nana/


“Living as an MSM is difficult in Ghana. I’m a 35 year old MSM guy here. It all started ten years ago when I met a man in a Abaasa, and we exchanged numbers. I visited him later and it all started, but before then I was feeling sexual urges for the same sex. Since … READ THE STORY

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Zaind (not his real name) is a 30 year old HIV positive gay man. Like many from Ghana’s LGBT community, he has faced discrimination from health workers: “The first time I went to the hospital, I met one nurse, and told that nurse the reason why I fell sick, but I was not pleased with how the nurse welcome me and chastised me with the bible preaching.” Zaind also faced bigotry from those he thought closest to him. He told his mother he was HIV positive: “My mother told me am not part of her children. She has said that this am doing is a curse.” Ghana, Accra. 15 March, 2018. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Zaind/


“In Ghana, if you are a homosexual you won’t get things easy. Especially in the community you live or anywhere you are, you won’t get things easy.”

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zAINAB/


“I hope one day I could feel comfortable with myself, and even live with a women. HOPEFULLY it will be soon.”

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32 year old Mr. D (not his real name) grew up in a conservative and religious family where carrying on the family name was important. Mr. D was married to a woman and they had a child together. They are now separated. His ex-wife knows about his sexuality, but many in his family do not. “Many, many gays, many homosexuals end up by getting married, getting married with members of the opposite sex - many times, many times, mainly to try and keep their image in front of family.” Mozambique. 17 February, 2018. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Mr. D/


“I decided to turn my story around, after much fighting, and today I live well because I came out in the open before my brothers and my mother.”

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Anuj Peter is a 30 year-old gay man and a Program Officer for Blue Diamond Society, a LGBTI organisation. One of the main pressures on young men and women in Nepal, he says, is for them to get married. Anuj was not immune to this pressure: “To show me as a perfect man I decided to get married with a lady.” Many gay men get married he says. Fortunately, he says, he didn’t make that mistake: “When I get engaged with her, we decided for pre-honeymoon. We went to for the one night and at that time I feel that that was the worst night of my life. When I start kissing her I feel that this is not the person what I supposed to do because that I already that the fun with the boys. And I compare how I feel with the boys and how I feel with the girls because that was the first time I was kissing some girls in the relationship with. So I think if I cannot spend 10 minutes with her in a one room, how can I spend my whole life in that room.” He pulled out of the engagement: “This is not my right to make her life destroy,” he says. He wishes though that LGBT couples had the same rights as straight couples: “sometime you feel alone and wish that Nepal will legalize marriage equality.” Ultimately he just wants the same rights as everyone else. His message to fellow Nepali LGBT community members is this: “Fight for yourself and fight for your community and the family will accept you. Because there is the love and the connection with the Nepali family.” Nepal's current LGBTQI+ laws are some of the most open in the world – including the legal recognition of a third gender. Tangible implementation of the various government orders has been piecemeal though, a 2014 United Nations report noted. And government officials have continued to harass LGBT groups, including by alleging that organizing around homosexuality is illegal in the country. Furthermore, while laws are progressive, discrimination is wide spread, especially within families, where marriage between a man and a woman and the bearing of children are expected of young Nepalese. Kathmandu, Nepal. 06.11.18. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Anuj Peter/


“When it comes to reality it was really different. At that time I scared that marriage is not only about the sum of being husband and wife to society. Another part is physical and emotional attachment as well. So I think to quit that relationship.“

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Zulfikar Fahd/


“Yesterday was the most historic day of my life. Canada granted my asylum claim, and from now on I’m able to permanently reside in this country with a chance of being a citizen in a few years.”

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30 year old Delicious (not his real name) is a gay man from Ghana. He says he doesn’t feel safe in his own country. When walking with friends one night, they were attacked by a gang in the street. They were able to escape, however when they reported the assault to the police they were ignored: “I reported to the police and the police was like, ‘Wow. So you're gay?’ You know, instead of them listening to what happened to me, they didn't. But was their head, ‘Okay. It's a gay issue.’ They were like, ‘Alright. So if you are gay, so be it. Then fine.’ My issue was brushed off. They didn't even do any follow ups. They didn't even arrest those who attacked me. So I don't feel safe. I don't feel safe, more times. You need to be doing your things indoors, always” Ghana. 12 March, 2018. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Delicious/


“My family and friends do not understand why I behave that way. Sometimes they call me names. And my mom used to punish me a lot for that.”

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Drica is a transgender woman and LGBT health advocate. She works with transgender women, educating them on proper condom use. Many in the Mozambican LGBTQI+ community site stigma in healthcare as an impediment to transgender women seeking treatment. Drica has experienced this first hand: “When they called me there, the documents on the form they called Alfeu [Drica’s birth name]. And to me this is a very ugly thing, it's a very boring thing. They called me a name, that name ... that name for me is very painful. I'd rather have them call me Drica.” Mozambique. 21 February, 2018. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Drica/


“now I’m a transgender woman. It’s what identifies me and in this struggle of my life I had several difficulties with the rest of my family, with my uncle, in the family.”

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Nicky Bronkhorst/


“my gym teacher motivated the bullying in the gym classes telling me in front of everyone to not act like a ‘pussy’.”

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Landon Hudspeth/


“Growing up in that church I saw and experienced some of the worst homophobia and bigotry in my life.”

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Pradeep Gade/


“they asked me questions and tried to force their ideas upon me many times and I bet they would never like to be treated that way.”

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Nillam Poudel is 27 years-old, an activist, model, make-up artist and transgender. She talks about the early years of her journey: “I did not wear boys clothes and after I grew up my father started scolding me, and I started wearing male clothes. I did not know I was a transgender then. I did not know my sexuality. At eighth grade I started reading  newspaper and learned that I was a transgender. Even if I wanted to hide, it was impossible to hide my identity. I had very feminine qualities.” Nillam has always fought to be respected and accepted; “The worst aspect has been lack of respect from society. People still use derogative term… I have to suffer through a lot of discrimination… They hurt my spirit but they have not broken me. My sexuality has prevented me from getting work, and I have often wondered why people are so mean to me.” She tries to stay strong but the struggle has taken its toll. “I would be lying if I said I am not experiencing depression… I locked myself for two-three months. I did not want my roommates to find out. I would increase the volume of my TV and cry.” She’s not alone in struggling to be accepted: “I have seen my friends hurt themselves because their families have not accepted them. Many have become alcoholics, while many others have committed suicide.” Still, she is strong she says. “There are still a lot of difficulties and challenges, but I have not lost courage.” Her perseverance has not been in vain. “The best thing has been acceptance from family, friends and being able to accept my own identity.” She has a message for those who read her story: “I want to tell young LGBTI people: Don’t be scared.  First accept yourself and then worry about family or society. If you can’t accept yourself, family and society cant do anything. One you accept yourself, society becomes a background noise. If you don’t accept yourself, society and family will weigh on you. So accept yourself.” Nepal's current LGBTQI+ laws are some of the most open in the world – including the legal recognition of a third gender. Tangible implementation of the various government orders has been piecemeal though, a 2014 United Nations report noted. And government officials have continued to harass LGBT groups, including by alleging that organizing around homosexuality is illegal in the country. Furthermore, while laws are progressive, discrimination is wide spread, especially within families, where marriage between a man and a woman and the bearing of children are expected of young Nepalese. Kathmandu, Nepal. 05.11.18. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Nillam Poudel/


“They hurt my spirit but they have not broken me. My sexuality has prevented me from getting work, and I have often wondered why people are so mean to me.”

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Growing up transgender was not easy for 19 year-old Rukshana Kapali. “My school life was the most miserable life and most miserable moment. I can remember because of the hate crime I faced… I felt powerless at the time.  I felt that I was alone and I could not do anything.” Not only was she bullied by other pupils, but she was physically assaulted by the principal; “He was telling me that I was bringing bad name to school. I can still remember his fist on my face. I can still remember he kicking on me.  I can still remember the way he yelled. The whole building heard what he was yelling at me. I still remember the whole series of tortures that he started on me when I came out.” Coming out to her family was nerve wracking. She decided she would do it when her family was all gathered together for her grandfather’s birthday; “I was really scared I was really nervous and while I was putting on the clothes… I was like ‘Ok should I really step out?’ Step out, then step in. Step out and step in. I thought lets just take this.” She walked towards the gathering. “How are they gonna yell at me? Are they gonna scream at me or push me? How are they gonna react with me coming out this way? They didn’t speak a word.” After that day, she continued to present as female. Then her family confronted her. “People started to scold me, yell at me, people started talking about me, things accelerated very difficult for me. It was the moment with my parents. We had a emotional scene. I don’t think I wanna recall whatever happened there. That was very emotional part of my coming out.” Eventually, realizing Rukshana was not going to change, her family accepted her. “When my parents started accepting me as their daughter was the happiest moment in my life.” Rukshana is an LGBT and indigenous rights activist. She campaigns in particular for the rights of the Newa people. She says, “We are told that we cannot speak our language. And we are told that our heritage and culture is not valid and it’s not okay to talk about that.” Nepal's current LGBTQI+ laws are some of the most open in the world – including the legal recognition of a third gender. Tangible implementation of the various government orders has been piecemeal though, a 2014 United Nations report noted. And government officials have continued to harass LGBT groups, including by alleging that organizing around homosexuality is illegal in the country. Furthermore, while laws are progressive, discrimination is wide spread, especially within families, where marriage between a man and a woman and the bearing of children are expected of young Nepalese. Kathmandu, Nepal. 01.11.18. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Rukshana Kapali/


“I believe that for me difficult moments are not just to feel bad but what matters how strongly I am able to stand.”

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Joel/


“But my older brother wouldn’t accept it, and one evening he called some friends and they dragged me out of the house on to the street, hit me and souted to the entire village ‘Joel is gay’.”

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Jethro/

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“I put on a mask (Jethro), I acted like I didn’t care for anyone or anything. The mask that allows me to hide my identity, the mask that makes my parents think that I’ve changed. The mask that got me my freedom”.

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“I was born as a boy but my feeling was a girl,” says 32 year old Simran Sherchan, a trans woman and now National Program Co-ordinator for The Federation of Sexual and Gender Minorities, Nepal. As a child, with no exposure to open LGBTQI+ individuals or educational materials, she was confused about who she was. She then thought she was gay, until at 19, she read about transgender women: “When I realized I was trans - that was the happiest moment in my life. I realized I was not alone.” Simran’s family though wanted her to marry. ”I hid myself in Kathmandu so they couldn’t force me to marry her.” Without a job and family support, Simran descended into poverty. “I had to do sex work for money. For 6 or 7 months. When I was doing that I saw a lot of violence and problems. I really didn’t want to do sex work but I didn’t have other options.” Her experience on the street led her to Blue Diamond Society, a LGBTI organisation in Kathmandu. They offered her a job as an outreach worker. “I left sex work and started my new life. Now i go everywhere for the LGBT community.” When asked what she wants for the future she says “I hope people will accept LGBTI people more now. If we stay in the dark side nobody can see us, we must come into the light show the people that we exist, we are also beautiful.” Nepal's current LGBTQI+ laws are some of the most open in the world – including the legal recognition of a third gender. Tangible implementation of the various government orders has been piecemeal though, a 2014 United Nations report noted. And government officials have continued to harass LGBT groups, including by alleging that organizing around homosexuality is illegal in the country. Furthermore, while laws are progressive, discrimination is wide spread, especially within families, where marriage between a man and a woman and the bearing of children are expected of young Nepalese. Katmandu, Nepal. 30 October 2018. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Simran Sherchan/


“At the very first day I wore a ladies clothes that time felt that magician sword touch my head and I became a lady… I was so happy that my dream came true.”

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A posed portrait of 28 year old gay man, LGBT rights activist and 2013 winner of ‘Mr Gay Handsom’ Bishwaraj Adhikari. “I lost my friends and family because of my sexuality, because I’m different from others,” says Bishwaraj Adhikari of the time when he first came out. He says his family in rural Nepal thought to be gay meant their son was going to transition to be a trans woman. It was too much for them. “They didn’t know about gays and lesbians,” he says. “My Dad said ‘if you are going to be like this - you have to leave this family.’” Bishwaraj says his life is much better now – “I’m determined to be happy,” he says. He also wants to ply his part in making Nepal an LGBTQI+ friendly country – “I am determined to fight with this community and to claim rights of LGBT.” Nepal's current LGBTQI+ laws are some of the most open in the world – including the legal recognition of a third gender. Tangible implementation of the various government orders has been piecemeal though, a 2014 United Nations report noted. And government officials have continued to harass LGBT groups, including by alleging that organizing around homosexuality is illegal in the country. Furthermore, while laws are progressive, discrimination is wide spread, especially within families, where marriage between a man and a woman and the bearing of children are expected of young Nepalese. Katmandu, Nepal. 28 October 2018. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Bishwaraj Adhikari/


“I am a gay rights activist and fighting with society for claiming the equal rights where all LGBTIQ can live with equal rights and dignity.”

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Kilian Colin/

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“I was born a rainbow, in a color-blind society. I wasn’t just not allowed to express my gender identity and sexual orientation, but I was also banned from questioning them or even discuss it with my family.“

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Leena/


“I left my country to find a peace but i was not able to ..my life is more wrost”.

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Albert/


“, I was forbidden to tell anyone I was gay, they threatened me to let me out of the family, they asked me to go to a psychologist to ‘fix me'”

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Growing up gay was not easy for 25 year-old Sabak Pogati. ÒI didnÕt feel different, but people made me feel different.Ó School was particularly difficult. ÒThe hatred that I faced around the boys, especially the boysÉthe boys bullied me a lotÉ I used to feel alone. I could not share my stories with people or my friends. I did not have many friends.Ó Reflecting on his childhood he says, Òit was traumatizing and I wish no one to go through what I went while growing up because childhood and its memories should be the precious one. I was so frustrated with my life and didnÕt see nothing good so I always you know thought of committing a suicide.Ó Life has changed though. ÒAfter each thunderstorm there will be a day with rainbows,Ó he says. And he realizes things could be so much worse; ÒI consider very lucky that I am born in Nepal where people are so  receptive. I hear stories from Afganisthan, Pakistan, IndonesiaÑin asian countries people are brutally murdered for being who they  are. I consider myself very lucky and fortunate that I am born in a familyÑmy mom and dad loves me no matter what.Ó Nepal's current LGBTQI+ laws are some of the most open in the world Ð including the legal recognition of a third gender. Tangible implementation of the various government orders has been piecemeal though, a 2014 United Nations report noted. And government officials have continued to harass LGBT groups, including by alleging that organizing around homosexuality is illegal in the country. Furthermore, while laws are progressive, discrimination is wide spread, especially within families, where marriage between a man and a woman and the bearing of children are expected of young Nepalese. Kathmandu, Nepal. 05.11.18. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Sabak Pogati/


“I used to live a pretentious life with double standard out of the fear within me and of course the social prejudices that exists not only here but everywhere.“

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wlii-c-190108-India-Anonymous

Anonymous/


“I don’t want to tell them because if i want them to accept me like i am, i should also accept them for who they are (people who can never understand).”

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Glenroy/


“I was force to start life on my own at the age of 16 after I was attack and almost killed by members of my family”

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23 year old transgender woman Artisha Rajaya Laxmi Rana with her partner 24 year old Armont Samsher Rana who identifies as a gay man. They have been together for six years. Armont says; ÒThey say that couples are made in heaven but we met through Facebook.Ó While Nepal is perceived to have progressive attitudes towards the LGBTQI+ community, Armont says there need to be more work before equality truly exists. ÒWe are happy but we donÕt have the rights to get married. Same sex marriage has not been legalized in Nepal. DonÕt we have the right to live like straight couples and get the legal recognition? ArenÕt we equal like other citizens of the country? DonÕt we have the rights to find our partners? Will the Nepali government listen to our voices? Should we always live like this, without getting married? Our spirit hurts when these questions come to mind.Ó Armont and Artisha are passionate about seeing the fight for equality succeed in Nepal. Armont says; ÒPeople say that we go to America or other places where our love is legal, to get married. But as far as possible we would like to stay in Nepal because it is our home.Ó Nepal's current LGBTQI+ laws are some of the most open in the world Ð including the legal recognition of a third gender. Tangible implementation of the various government orders has been piecemeal though, a 2014 United Nations report noted. And government officials have continued to harass LGBT groups, including by alleging that organizing around homosexuality is illegal in the country. Furthermore, while laws are progressive, discrimination is wide spread, especially within families, where marriage between a man and a woman and the bearing of children are expected of young Nepalese. Kathmandu, Nepal. 02.11.18. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Artisha & Armont Rana/


“Same sex marriage has not been legalized in Nepal. Don’t we have the right to live like straight couples and get the legal recognition? Aren’t we equal like other citizens of the country?”

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ÒI always thought that I was a girl,Ó says 43 year-old transgender woman and make up artist Umisha Pandey. Unlike many trans Nepalese, her family supported her trans identity from early on. Wider society was not so kind. ÒMy childhood passed and in school everyone teased me by calling me a baby girl-boy.Ó With a group of other women she started Blue Diamond Society Ð now NepalÕs biggest and most influential LGBTI organisation. Despite her own immediate family support, she is acutely aware of the impact family pressure has on LGBTQI+ Nepalese. ÒTo face family is really difficult. To say that you are third gender and attracted to the same sex is a courageous act.Ó She see this as a crucial first step though in the countryÕs movement towards a more accepting country. ÒWhen family does not understand, society will not understand, and when society does not understand it is really hard to get the state to understand.Ó When asked about her hopes for the future she says ÒI hope that there will be a society where people like us will also be able to live dignified life.Ó Nepal's current LGBTQI+ laws are some of the most open in the world Ð including the legal recognition of a third gender. Tangible implementation of the various government orders has been piecemeal though, a 2014 United Nations report noted. And government officials have continued to harass LGBT groups, including by alleging that organizing around homosexuality is illegal in the country. Furthermore, while laws are progressive, discrimination is wide spread, especially within families, where marriage between a man and a woman and the bearing of children are expected of young Nepalese. Kathmandu, Nepal. 31.10.18. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Umesha Pandey/


“I was attracted to boys since I was eight years old. I always thought that I was a girl. I preferred girl’s roles when playing make-belief games.”

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Bandy Kiki/


“This is not me, I thought, So I made up my mind to come clean. First I came out to my family. Their reaction wasn’t good neither was it as bad as I had imagined.”

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Growing up a trans was not easy for 19 year old Angel Lama. ÒI knew I was different in my early age. I used to like wearing skirts. I was kind of like more into pink color more than blue,Ó she says. ÒI was attracted to boys,Ó she adds. ÒAfter harsh bullies and horrible situations I passed out from school to high school where I could not make friends.Ó  She was forced to leave home at 16 by her parents when she refused to give up identifying as female. For a short time she ended up homeless: ÒI was wandering in the streets. At that point I was totally broken because I did not know where to go and ask for foodÑ I was sixteen and half, and everything was strange.Ó She missed two years of school. She has now rededicated herself to her studies and works part time at Blue Diamond Society, a LGBTI organisation in Kathmandu. This year she was crowned ÔMiss Pink 2018Õ - NepalÕs largest and most prestigious transgender beauty pageant: ÒI was once homeless.  Now I am prestigiously crowned Miss Pink Nepal 2018. ItÕs a prestigious stage for transgender women in Nepal. Its a great thing and a great achievement of my life.Ó Speaking about her hopes for the future she says: ÒMy main motivation in life is to make a world a place where normal is not based on gender, body shape, race. But just based on work and your heart.Ó Nepal's current LGBTQI+ laws are some of the most open in the world Ð including the legal recognition of a third gender. Tangible implementation of the various government orders has been piecemeal though, a 2014 United Nations report noted. And government officials have continued to harass LGBT groups, including by alleging that organizing around homosexuality is illegal in the country. Furthermore, while laws are progressive, discrimination is wide spread, especially within families, where marriage between a man and a woman and the bearing of children are expected of young Nepalese. Katmandu, Nepal. 29 October 2018. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Angel Lama/


“I was once homeless. Now I am prestigiously crowned Miss Pink Nepal 2018 It’s a prestigious stage for transgender women in Nepal. Its a great thing and a great achievement of my life.”

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Ash/


“I spent nights crying tears on cheeks tears on my pillow I couldn’t cry out loud because if someone hear me they would think I am a monster and pervert I felt so weak and alone I hated myself and I tried to change but one day I stood up and said to myself what if this would be ur last day in life would care about what others say would u care about all the people who are trying to put u down ?”

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It took 27 year-old Maneb Tamang, 14 years to come out. ÒWhen I come to Kathmandu in 2003 I try to talk about my sexual identity with my friends but I afraid so I always hide my feeling that make me depressed.Ó Maneb chose a dramatic way to finally come out. ÒAfter long time last year 2017 I decide to come out with my sexual identity same that time here in Nepal Gay handsome Nepal pageant.Ó He was a finalist and won the Mr Gay Handsome Congeniality Award. He was then asked to do a radio interview. His fears were unfounded: Òby this interview my other straight friends know about me. I feel lucky they message me and call me to encourage for my work.Ó While his friends have been supportive, heÕs still hesitant to tell his family: Òmaybe they donÕt understand it. I donÕt know aboutÉstill they unknown about my sexuality.Ó Maneb councils young LGBT youth through Blue Diamond Society, a LGBTI organisation. His struggle to accept himself as a young person means he is particularly sympathetic to LGBT youth and the challenges they face: Òso many childrenÉtheir parent do not accept this thingÉ they have to be outside, they kick out you know herein  Nepal under 18  LGBTI children working as a prostitute because of that thingsÉÓ Nepal's current LGBTQI+ laws are some of the most open in the world Ð including the legal recognition of a third gender. Tangible implementation of the various government orders has been piecemeal though, a 2014 United Nations report noted. And government officials have continued to harass LGBT groups, including by alleging that organizing around homosexuality is illegal in the country. Furthermore, while laws are progressive, discrimination is wide spread, especially within families, where marriage between a man and a woman and the bearing of children are expected of young Nepalese. Kathmandu, Nepal. 05.11.18. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Manab Tamang/


“I participate this program finally I am select in top 5 finalist and I won a title Mr. Gay Handsome congeniality. Then I face interview on national fm radio by this interview my other straight friends know about me. I feel lucky they message me and call me to encourage for my work.”

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Adam/


“WE Grew Up In THE 80S, IN A Time When Things WERE CHANGING, BUT Not ENOUGH THAT WE Could RISK ANYONE FINDING Out Our FRIENDSHIP WAS ACTUALLY A RELATIONSHIP.”

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44 year old John (not real name) has always known he is gay. He grew up in Ghana, but then moved to the UK for 12 years. In the UK he was able to be more free and open about his sexuality, but when he returned to Ghana he had to hide his identity again: “Coming back home has its own challenges, as my sexuality of being gay is not accepted.” He has to be especially on guard with his own family: “Due to illness of my mom, I had to return back. We have been a close family and have to be very careful with everything that I do around them.” Ghana. 13 March, 2018. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

John/


“Right through high school I have always admired and loved being with men. My family did not accept my sexuality because of my mixed culture and religion. I was told if I choose to be who I am, I will be disowned and in order not to disgrace them.”

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Faried/


“I am openly gay on facebook. This meant that most of the love messages turned into hate ones; moreover, some people wrote to me how they wished that i would get cancer again”

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29 year old Eshan Regmi describes himself as follows: ÒMy biological identity is intersex. My gender identity is male. I am heterosexual.Ó He defines intersex as Òthose whose internal or external  reproductive organs do not match the traditional definition.Ó Detailing his early life he says: ÒI was born in 1989 as a daughter in a lower middle class family. I was a brilliant student, and I was always a topper in my school. At the age of thirteen when I was studying in class eight, I began developing masculine characteristics. My parents were in great pain.Ó This is when the discrimination began. ÒSociety began calling me different things. They looked at me differently, and started whispering as soon as I walked by. ÒIs this a boy or a girlÓÑ and laugh at meÉ My friends did not allow me to sit next to them or play with them. Teachers pulled my hair or pinched my breast. I left schoolÉ I started spending time alone. I cried a lot. I felt I was alone in this world. Why is god punishing me? I tried committing suicide several times. My parents were saddened to find me in this condition.Ó His father in particular never gave up on Eshan. ÒMy dad was in pain. Because for whatever I wasÑI was his child and he loved meÉ He realized that I was not like other daughters.Ó And then, his father died. ÒI felt that there was nobody left for me in this world. I felt that I was very broken.Ó Against his familyÕs wishes Eshan left home. He eventually came across Blue Diamond Society, a LGBTI organisation. Their focus was not on intersex but through them he started to learn more about the issue. Eshan started doing work with the organisation. On several occasions he tried to have relationship with women, but it never worked out. That was before he was reunited with an old friend. ÒWhen I felt alone in my village a person had helped me in many ways. She was my only friend. Later, I found out that she wanted to spend her life with me.Ó Eshan told her all about being intersex. ÒI warned her to not be closer. But thankfully it turned out that her childhood friend was just like me. She then agreed to be with me. We decided to live together. I dont know how much she loves me but I love her a lotÉ I had nobody and she constantly took care of me.Ó Complicating their relationship is the fact that they are from different castes. ÒI am a Brahmin and she is a Dalit. After my relationship began, my family learned of her caste. They resisted our union but I have always been insistent.Ó While EshanÕs brothers are aware of his partnerÕs caste, his mother is not. ÒI have always been rebellious,Ó he says mischeviuously. ÒMy mother does not know my partnerÕs caste, and she has eaten the food cooked from Ôan untouchableÕ.Ó While life has much improved, it is far from perfect. ÒMy identity has been my biggest challenge. I did not get jobs or opoortunities. I do not have the chance to live a dignified life and have faced discrimination at every turn.Ó Speaking of the future Eshan says ÒI want to do good work for the intersex community. I am in the process of starting my own organisation. I hope that my activism will allow people from the Intersex community to live a dignified life.Ó Nepal's current LGBTQI+ laws are some of the most open in the world Ð including the legal recognition of a third gender. Tangible implementation of the various government orders has been piecemeal though, a 2014 United Nations report noted. And government officials have continued to harass LGBT groups, including by alleging that organizing around homosexuality is illegal in the country. Furthermore, while laws are progressive, discrimination is wide spread, especially within families, where marriage between a man and a woman and the bearing of children are expected of young Nepalese. Kathmandu, Nepal. 31.10.18. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Eshan Regmi/


In many places the ‘I’ is kept separate from LGBTI. But within the I—the same way man and women can have different sexual orientation and gender identity—its the same with an Intersex person.

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Ankit/


“As long as I remember,i was 5 years old when i was bullied for the first time. Hindi derogatory words like Hijra,Chakka etc. Were thrown to me and these WORDs really had an IMPact on my childhood.”

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Kiria is a 24 year old transgender woman. She’s been clear about her gender identity since she was 10 years old. Rarely amongst LGBTQI+ Mozambicans, she was accepted by her family. She hopes to get married and have a family. Mozambique neither recognizes her as a woman nor allows same sex marriage though. “I intend to get married abroad, and here in the country have children. In this case the children I want to have will be adopted and be happy.” Maputo, Mozambique. 20 February, 2018. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Kiria/


“I’m Kiria. I’m 24 years old. I admitted to my sexual orientation naturally and discovered it at the age of 10.”

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35 year old Baobab (not his real name) is a gay man and LGBT activist in Ghana. When visiting his boyfriend, a group of men confronted him threatening to out him if he didn’t give them money. He was forced to take them to an ATM where he gave them what he could. He promised to give them more the next day. Instead though, he went to the police. Initially the police would do nothing to help him, but Baobab insisted until the police agreed to accompany him back to where his blackmailers were waiting for him, and arrested them. Speaking of the interaction he says: “You know it takes a lot of courage to handle these people. I mean the police and all that, they don't know the law.” Baobab knows that he is an exception among LGBT Ghanaians, most of whom would not turn to the police fearing stigmatization or being treated as criminals themselves. “They fear to report such cases,” he says. Stigma destroys lives according to Baobab: “Stigma kills. The virus doesn't kill. The virus can be suppressed. Inasmuch as stigma also can be unraveled and stigma can be addressed. But, a virus... never kills, but stigma does.” Ghana, Accra. 14 March, 2018. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Baobab/


“I was gay from day one. I discovered my sexuality and sexual preference very early in life.”

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A posed portrait of 36 year-old transgender woman Sunita Thing with her 34 year-old heterosexual husband Shankar Koirala and their sons Sudip Thing, 13, and Dipesh Thing, 10. At 12 years-old Sunita, from a poor rural family, was sent from her village to Kathmandu to be a domestic worker. She knew she was different, and wondered why, but knew no better than to obey her father when, at 17 years-old she was asked to marry a woman. It didnÕt feel right to her though, so much so that she tried to kill herself. Soon her first child was born, and then a second. She had started to become aware of the LGBTQI+ community through Blue Diamond Society, a LGBTI organisation, and realised she was trans. ÒAfter meeting several people like me at Blue Diamond Society, my happiness knew no limit. I started changing on a daily basis.Ó She then met a man. ÒHis name is Shankar and I fell in love with him. We started living together.Ó This brought her into conflict with her wife. ÒI then realized that it was impossible for me and my wife to live together, because we thought differently. We got divorced and went our separate ways. I got my childrenÕs custody.Ó Everything then changed very quickly. ÒI introduced myself as a transgender women and changed my role from their mother to their father. I started counseling them on LGBTI issues from a young age. I started taking them to Blue Diamond SocietyÕs events. My sons have accepted me as their mother and Shankar as their father.Ó Now they present as any other normal family. ÒWe live as husband and wife, like any other couple. We are happy. It has been eleven years.Ò Nepal's current LGBTQI+ laws are some of the most open in the world Ð including the legal recognition of a third gender. Tangible implementation of the various government orders has been piecemeal though, a 2014 United Nations report noted. And government officials have continued to harass LGBT groups, including by alleging that organizing around homosexuality is illegal in the country. Furthermore, while laws are progressive, discrimination is wide spread, especially within families, where marriage between a man and a woman and the bearing of children are expected of young Nepalese. Kathmandu, Nepal. 01.11.18. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Sunita Thing/


“My sons have accepted me as their mother and Shankar as their father. We live as husband and wife, like any other couple. We are happy. It has been eleven years.”

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Boby Tamang, 33 works for Blue Diamond Society, a LGBTI organisation, as an office assistant. She is also a sex worker. As a child Boby recognised she was different from other boys and girls. ÒThere was nobody like me in my village. And I thought that I was completely alone in the world,Ó she says. At the age of 13 she ran away. ÒI left my village because I hoped to find people like me.Ó In Kathmandu she did find people like her: ÒAfter I met other transgender people, I realised that I was not alone and it made me very happy.Ó Her struggles were not over though. Like many other trans people in Nepal, finding work proved difficult. Soon she started doing sex work to survive. ÒWe are forced to do sex work because transgender donÕt get employment opportunities, and get kicked out of school. Normal girls and boys get work, but we transgender have to face difficulties. Even if they hire us, they kick us out after a month or two. We have no choice but to do sex work.Ó Boby has now been a sex worker for 10 years. Her work has meant sheÕs been arrested 10 times. She has had to be strong to survive. That has sometimes meant taking a stand for who she is. But as she has grown older, sheÕs also changed how she reacts to those who donÕt understand her: ÒIn the early days, people discriminated against us. I used to fight a lot. I told them, Ôwe are humans, cut us you will find blood and shit, the same as yours.Õ I have now given up. How many can you fight? Let the one who says it, say it. I have learned to tolerate their words. They cannot be educated. I am not going to care what anyone thinks.Ó Nepal's current LGBTQI+ laws are some of the most open in the world Ð including the legal recognition of a third gender. Tangible implementation of the various government orders has been piecemeal though, a 2014 United Nations report noted. And government officials have continued to harass LGBT groups, including by alleging that organizing around homosexuality is illegal in the country. Furthermore, while laws are progressive, discrimination is wide spread, especially within families, where marriage between a man and a woman and the bearing of children are expected of young Nepalese. Kathmandu, Nepal. 06.11.18. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Boby Tamang/


“I realised that I was a transgender when I was 13 years old. I have not studied a lot. And I studied up to third grade in my village. At the age of 13 I ran and came to Kathmandu.”

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Ershiya/


“I found out my true orientation it wasn’t hard for me to accept myself, but when I told it to my sister she said: I wished you chose an easier life.”

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Tyfane, a transgender woman, talks about growing up: “I lived my entire childhood listening to offensive words from my parents, friends, classmates, neighbors…”. Tyfane works as a peer health educator teaching safe sex. She knows that transgender women are in a high risk population for contracting HIV, especially those who do sex work, however, to survive she also has sex for money: “In order to survive, I would not say that I do sex work. But there are ... certain opportunities which appear that ... take it to an extreme. If I'm broke indeed, I’ll do the sex work. But my routine is not about sex work.” Maputo, Mozambique. 21 February, 2018. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Tyfane/


“I lived my entire childhood listening to offensive words from my parents, friends, classmates, neighbours, etc. But I never got carried away by those words, because I did not ask to be born like this.”

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A posed portrait of Sudi from Rwanda, who was born HIV positive, to a HIV positive mother. He hid being gay for 24 years, but after coming out, was forced to leave home and is now in Kakuma Refugee camp. “People used to point to me, I cannot fetch water. That why I come to hide here, myself, the best way that isn't people who doesn't know me, who doesn't know my status, who doesn't know that I'm LGBTI, who doesn't know that I'm infected by HIV. I live like someone who doesn't have a home. To be a refugee is something that make me first to be pain. We used to face a lot of issues in camp. Today I breathe, tomorrow I cannot breathe. That is the way we live.” Sudi is choosing to be open about his HIV status hoping to reduce the stigma others with HIV/AIDS feel. “I told those people who have hormones like me, to be open, who have infected of HIV, to be open. To have HIV doesn't mean that you can die. I live until now. I go to things, use your medicine, and don't think a lot.” Sudi believes that a community should support each other: “This is a message I pass to your friends: if you know your friend have a problem, don't run from him. You two are like that. Stay with him. Give him hope. All of the world is not in Kakuma only. Every place where there's LGBTI like us, help them.” Kenya, October 2017. 
The Kakuma Refugee Camp is located in north western Kenya and houses more than 180,000 refugees. The camp is located in a semi-arid desert with temperatures over 30C. LGBTQI+ refugees are a minority; approximately 190 total with 120 Ugandans, and are often targeted by the wider refugee community. The camp, run by the UNHCR, provides food and medical support, however rations meant for a month typically last just two weeks. Treatment facilities are located miles away, and transport is not provided, posing a challenge for those with HIV / AIDS requiring life-saving medication.
While in many places, there has been great progress in recent years in the movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTQI+) rights, including an increasing recognition of same-sex marriage, nearly 2.8 billion people live in countries where identifying as LGBTI is subject to rampant discrimination, criminalization, and even death. Same-sex acts are illegal in 76 countries; in some countries, this can result in being sentenced to death. Behind these statistics, there individuals with unique, often harrowing stories. Where Love Is Illegal was created to tell those stories. 
Robin Hammond/NOOR for Witness Change.

Sudi/


“This is a message I pass to your friends: if you know your friend have a problem, don’t run from him. You two are like that. Stay with him. Give him hope. All of the world is not in Kakuma only. Every place where there’s LGBTI like us, help them.”

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