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LGBTQ acceptance grew globally over past four decades — but not everywhere

Most of the 174 countries analyzed experienced an increase in acceptance since 1981, though 16 showed a decline.
Image: Reykjavik Pride Parade
Participants wave flags on a float during the Reykjav?k Pride parade on Aug. 17, 2019 in Reykjavik, Iceland.Sophia Groves / Getty Images file

The “most accepting” LGBTQ countries are becoming “more accepting,” while “the least accepting” are becoming “less accepting,” according to a recent report from The Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law.

In executing the study, which came out last month and was built upon the organization's previous reports, researchers analyzed survey data from 174 countries to produce the Global Acceptance Index (GAI). The GAI uses a country’s public beliefs and policies regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people to determine the nation’s score, which was then used to rank each of the countries in order from most accepting to least accepting of LGBTQ people.

“One of the biggest misconceptions, even among people in the U.S., which has seen a notable amount of progress in LGBT acceptance, is the notion that attitudes have not changed or haven’t improved, but this report disputes that idea by showing us the opposite: Acceptance of LGBT people continues to grow globally,” Andrew Flores, a visiting scholar at the Williams Institute and the study’s lead author, told NBC News.

Of the 174 countries analyzed, 131 experienced increases in acceptance since 1981, 16 experienced a decline and 27 had no change in attitude. When looking at the indexes from 2014 to 2017, the most recent years for which data was available, researchers found that Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Canada and Spain ranked among the countries most accepting of LGBTQ people, while Ethiopia, Somaliland, Senegal, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan ranked among the the least accepting.

While Flores said definite conclusions could not yet be drawn about why many of the top 10 countries experiencing greater levels of LGBTQ acceptance are clustered in Western Europe, he noted such changes can be attributed to “multi-causal phenomena” — a combination of regional, economic and religious characteristics.

“There are many reasons that can account for the increases in acceptance in certain countries, including advocacy and organizing in a cross-global way and LGBT visibility in the media,” Flores said.

The power of activism is best evinced by Nepal’s jump in the rankings, according to Flores.

Though most of the countries featured in the report did not experience drastic changes in ranking, the South Asian country marked a “standout” exception. Nepal, which ranked 67 in LGBTQ acceptance in 2000, was ranked 10 from 2014-2017.

Flores said that Nepal’s rise in the rankings could in part be attributed to the Blue Diamond Society, a nationwide LGBTQ rights organization that was established in 2001. The group was founded by Sunil Babu Pant, who in 2008 became the first openly gay legislator in Nepal’s history.

Though the index is among the most comprehensive data sets of LGBTQ people globally, Flores said he hopes the GAI scores are used as a launching pad for future research about the violence and discrimination faced by LGBTQ people, economic outcomes for LGBTQ communities and the physical and mental health of LGBTQ people.

“Sexual and gender minorities are heavily impacted by the attitudes and beliefs of those around them,” Flores said. “More acceptance leads to better outcomes and a better quality of life for LGBT people, including less violence and discrimination.”

Same-sex marriage is currently legal in 30 countries, according to the Pew Research Center. The Netherlands, which ranked second in the index from 2014-2017, was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2000. The most recent was Northern Ireland last month, as it aligned itself with the rest of Great Britain, which ranked 11th.

According to a report from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, there are 70 U.N. member states that criminalize same-sex sexual acts and 68 of these countries have explicit laws against same-sex relationships. Six of the 70 countries have imposed the death penalty for same-sex relationships.

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