This story was originally published on December 2, 2015.
Robin Hammond was working as a photographer for National Geographic
in Nigeria when he learned some disturbing news: Five young men had been arrested and publicly flogged. Their crime? Being gay.
"After they had been tortured and lashed with a whip, they had to hide inside the courtroom because some people gathered outside were not satisfied with the verdict. They wanted to stone them to death," Hammond told Refinery29. "Eventually, they escaped that fate, but they were ostracized by their families and had to go into hiding."
Their experiences, and those of many other LGBTIQ people who face persecution around the world, prompted Hammond to start Where Love Is Illegal
. His organization is dedicated to raising awareness and sharing stories of discrimination and survival from around the world.
Hammond said he partners with grassroots organizations on the ground in Africa, Russia, and many places in between to find people who might be willing to share their accounts. So far, the project has made public the stories of more than 65 people in seven different countries. People around the world also share their own portraits via the organization's Instagram account
, which has more than 124,000 followers.
"I don't want the stories just to be about them, but from them as well. It's a very collaborative process. Often, we talk about how they want to be portrayed and they choose for themselves how they want to be seen, what clothes they want to wear, how they want to express themselves. It wasn't just an outsider saying, 'Do this,'" Hammond said of the portraits the organization takes. "It was the first time for many of them that they had control over how they were heard and how they were seen, and I think that they knew and appreciated that process."
And though many of these survivors' tales are harrowing, violent, and difficult, there is hope and joy expressed as well.
"I met people who became stronger because of — in spite of — what they had been through," Hammond said. "Unfortunately, there are 3.8 billion people living in countries where same-sex acts are criminalized, so we have a long, long way to go. But I think the history of countries, including the U.S., has shown that change is really possible."
Ahead, the portraits and stories of people around the world who are fighting back against where love is illegal. Photo caption: "J" and "Q" are too afraid to reveal their identities. They describe the circumstances they find themselves in: "[We] are a lesbian married couple, though not recognized, because in Ugandan society lesbianism [is viewed] as an abnormality, an outcast, a disease that needs to be cured. We have been attacked verbally by people, by men, who have noticed we are a couple: "You need to be raped to rid you of your stupidity of liking a fellow girl." Editor's note: Captions have been edited for length and clarity.