January 2, 2009
By Rady Ananda
On Dec. 18, one-third of UN member nations signed the UN Statement that affirms human rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, and demands decriminalization of sexual minorities. Theocracies, dictatorships and the US refused to sign.
At the United Nations General Assembly, 66 of the 192 member nations signed a Statement affirming that universal application of the International Declaration of Human Rights should apply equally to every human being regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The statement also calls for worldwide decriminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity, and adopted the Organization of American States Resolution affirming these principles. The US refused to sign.
Behind the initiative is French activist Louis-Georges Tin, who founded IDAHO – the International Day Against Homophobia (May 17). Working closely with several non-governmental organizations, he showed activists how to lobby their own governments in support of decriminalization.
The Statement read by Argentina’s Jorge Argüello can be viewed in this UN video marked as “18 December 08 General Assembly: 70th and 71st plenary meeting – Morning session”, starting at 2:25:11. Argüello began by naming the 66 nations that support universal human rights, and expressed deep concern over human rights violations of sexual minorities. Two tenets of the 13-point Statement read:
“We call upon all States and relevant international human rights mechanisms to commit to promote and protect human rights of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
“We urge States to take all the necessary measures, in particular legislative or administrative, to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention.”
Immediately following Argüello’s statement, Abdullah Hallak, the Syrian representative for a group comprised mostly of African and Muslim nations rejected the declaration, claiming that pedophilia would be legitimized. This ‘slippery slope’ argument is just as invalid as the claim that marijuana is a gateway drug, and serves the same purpose: fear-mongering. It is used to cover hatred of diversity.
A high level panel discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity hosted by France and the Netherlands followed that reading. French Secretary of State for International Affairs and Human Rights, Rama Yade, said “At the beginning of this 21st century, how can we accept that people could be arrested, could be tortured, could be executed because of their sexual orientation?” (See video.)
The Netherlands Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maxime Verhagen, spoke powerfully in support of LGBT protection, acknowledging that some find the issue controversial or have objections based on personal convictions or cultural background. But he reminds them that:
“The Statement is not radical. After all, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes absolutely clear that everyone, every person, is entitled to the rights, freedoms … without distinction of any kind. Human rights apply to all people in all places at all times. So, they apply to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people, too.”
He urged nations to step up.
“There is a need for concerted, international action to promote the rights of vulnerable groups in our society that are susceptible to discrimination….
“Non-discrimination is the principle around which equal rights evolved … sexual orientation is not valid grounds for discrimination, any more than race, color, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status.”
The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Navi Pillay, concurred. (See video.)
“Those who are lesbian, gay or bisexual, those who are transgender, transsexual or intersex, are full and equal members of the human family and are entitled to be treated as such….
“No human being should be denied their human rights simply because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. No human being should be subject to discrimination, violence, criminal sanctions or abuse simply because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Ironically many of these laws, like Apartheid laws that criminalized sexual relations between consenting adults of different races, are relics of the colonial [era] and are increasingly recognized as anachronistic and as inconsistent both with international law and with traditional values of dignity, inclusion and respect for all.”
US Treatment of Sexual Minorities
Not surprisingly, the United States refused to sign the Resolution condemning human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, along with all Arab nations, China, and most African nations. Under President Clinton, the US enacted federal policy banning same sex marriage, prompting a spate of similar laws at the state level. Today, same sex marriage is legally sanctioned only in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
General minister and president of the United Church of Christ, the Rev. John H. Thomas, admonished the US:
“The decision of the United States to oppose a U.N. resolution that would call for the decriminalization of homosexuality worldwide is appalling. The fact that we were the only major western country to refuse to do so, and on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is especially reprehensible. It should come as no surprise, however, that an administration that condoned the use of torture and that turned the relationships of gay and lesbian people into a wedge issue for partisan political gain would take this action.”
State-sanctioned violence against the LGBT community is widely known and reported in the U.S., and sparked the 1969 Stonewall riots, among others. Sexual minorities in the US learn early to hide their “differentness” as easily as women (in our rape-prone society) learn to be aware of their surroundings at all times. Where queers assemble, police harass and brutalize. In 2005, Amnesty International issued a 158-page report, STONEWALLED: Police Abuse and Misconduct Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People in the U.S.
“AI documents serious patterns of police misconduct and brutality–including abuses that amount to torture and ill-treatment against LGBT individuals. Profiling of LGBT individuals as criminal; selective enforcement of laws; sexual, physical and verbal abuse; inappropriate searches and mistreatment in detention remain commonplace, as does a lack of accountability for perpetrators.”
Global Treatment of Sexual Minorities
Pope Benedict XVI, a former Nazi, initially rejected the Resolution, following his unholy alliance with the Islamic Conference of States in 2004 refusing to oppose homophobic violence and discrimination. (The pedophile culture of Islamic nations also includes regularly stoning women to death.)
UK Guardian journalist, Peter Tatchell, wrote, “The Holy See is so viciously homophobic that it opposed the UN condemnation of the murder of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”
The Vatican’s opposition prompted severe criticism by human rights defenders worldwide. The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual and Intersex Association reports, “In a significant reversal, however, the Holy See indicated to the General Assembly (on Dec. 19) that it called for repeal of criminal penalties for homosexual conduct.”
Over 70 nations criminalize the existence of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered and intersexed people. In at least ten, homosexuals are executed by the state. Last month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued its landmark study tracing homophobic legislation to British Imperialism. In This Alien Legacy: The Origins of “Sodomy” Laws in British Colonialism, HRW traced the laws in over three dozen countries to “a single law on homosexual conduct that British colonial rulers imposed on India in 1860.”
HRW reports, “Uganda President Yoweri Museveni, who had campaigned against LGBT people’s rights for a decade, called homosexuality ‘a decadent culture … being passed by Western nations,’ warning: ‘It is a danger not only to the [Christian] believers but to the whole of Africa.’” Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe called lesbians and gays “un-African” and “worse than dogs and pigs.” Kenya President Daniel Arap Moi called homosexuality “against African tradition.” A Zambia spokesman proclaimed that it was “un-African and an abomination to society.”
Yet, African leaders forget their history. HRW points out that: “Colonizers saw indigenous cultures as sexually corrupt. A bent toward homosexuality supposedly formed part of their corruption. Where pre-colonial peoples had been permissive, sodomy laws would cure them—and defend their new, white masters against moral contagion.” Before colonialism, homosexuality in African nations was a non-issue. British Imperialism infected these cultures with hatred toward sexual minorities that persists to this day.
Although not a signatory to the UN Resolution, South Africa repealed its sodomy laws in 1998. HRW reports that Nelson Mandela told a gathering of southern African leaders that homosexuality was not “un-African,” but “just another form of sexuality that has been suppressed for years.” Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu supported the Resolution since its inception in 2006. However, SA is still highly discriminatory of sexual minorities.
Where states impose religious beliefs on the whole of society, violence ensues. One of the most gruesome and internationally known acts of violence against LGBTs is the rape and brutal murder of FannyAnn Eddy in September 2004. Founder of the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Assn., Eddy is known throughout Africa. She testified before the UN Commission on Human Rights in April 2004 about the constant brutality suffered by lesbians, gays and transgendered people, which local authorities refused to prosecute. Months after her death, police denied she was raped, deeming the crime was motivated by avarice.
But in one of Africa’s most homophobic nations, Uganda, a court recently ruled that suppression of LGBTI organizations is unconstitutional. Uganda is one of two nations with constitutional prohibition against same sex marriage, according to Afrol.com.
Amid rampant and deadly homophobia and heterosexism, global leaders have begun to recognize the importance of acknowledging the human rights of sexual minorities. Those nations and institutions that reject egalitarianism are part of a dying patriarchal culture, as a Better World Order advances the cause of peace and equal rights for all.
The 21st century civil rights movement takes a huge step forward with 66 nations acknowledging basic human rights of the LGBTI community. But, as the Dutch Foreign Minister pointed out, “This doesn’t go far enough.” It’s only the beginning of our struggle for full civil rights. Verhagen understands our plight:
“Even in countries that do not criminalize homosexual acts, gays are often in a very difficult position, accepted for who they are by neither their families nor their government, nor society as a whole.
“They face major obstacles to enjoying their economic, social, and cultural rights. Discrimination, exclusion, and even aggression are never far away. Indeed, the realities of life are harsh for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.”
Wear a white knot ribbon in support of marriage equality, and continue to lobby for change in the US. Dismiss the homophobic rants of the Religious Reich by appealing to their sense of fairness. Educate the public on the brutal history of atrocities committed against sexual minorities. We can never have peace without justice. Teach that when you find peace within yourself, you become the kind of person who can live at peace with others – no matter how different they are from you.