The global struggle against homophobia

Issue 

May 17 is International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO). The day of protest began in 2004, and has been held every year since. This year, IDAHO events will be held in more than 60 countries.

In Australia, rallies will be held in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth on May 15. The rallies will seek to build on the successes of the equal marriage rights campaign. The national day of action for equal marriage rights, in August, was the largest demonstration in the history of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights movement in Australia.

Civil union rights have been won in the ACT but 2010 is the year of action for equal marriage rights so we can extend this to full marriage rights everywhere.

While we still have a way to go for full equality in Australia, the equal marriage campaign must also build solidarity with Afghan and Tamil refugees.

Homosexuality and cross-dressing are criminalised in Afghanistan. Those who commit either “crime” face imprisonment and the death penalty. In Sri Lanka, LGBTI people may be punished under a law that criminalises, but defines very vaguely, “gross indecency”.

Among the refugees fleeing from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, some are surely escaping anti-queer persecution.

As part of IDAHO, actions will take place around the world. A week-long program of events will take place in Turkey, including queer pride marches and an international congress. A pride march will be held in Cambodia.

More than 150 events will be held in France, including a national conference on religions, homophobia and transphobia, and the launch of a national campaign against homophobia in secondary schools.

Slovakia will host its first ever pride march. For the third consecutive year, IDAHO will be commemorated in Cuba. Many countries will take part in a “Great Global Kiss-In”.
The Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya will mark the day with some hard-hitting cultural events targeted at draconian legislation currently before the parliament in Uganda.

For most of the world’s LGBTI people, the situation is dire. Homosexuality and transgenderism are still criminalised in more than 80 countries. Nevertheless, the global movement for equal love rights is gaining ground.

Same-sex marriage has been legalised in seven countries. It may soon be legalised in Nepal.

Same-sex marriage is also recognised in some jurisdictions within countries, including the United States and Mexico, where it is not recognised at a national level.

Civil unions have now been introduced in 20 countries. Further, “carnal acts against the order of nature” were decriminalised in India last year.

The transgender and intersex movements have also made gains recently. Despite the cruelty she faced from the international media last year, intersex athlete Caster Semenya is running again.

In Australia, a new transgender activist group, “Still Fierce”, has formed. Trans activists here still have a long struggle ahead. Recently, Norrie mAy Welby became the first person to gain legal recognition for being neither male or female but this decision was quickly revoked by the New South Wales government.

As well as being an opportunity to strengthen our struggle in Australia, IDAHO is important because the LGBTI movement needs to think globally. Our opponents certainly do.

African queers are bearing the brunt of the Christian right’s queer-phobic crusade. The US Christian right played a big role in introducing an “Anti-Homosexuality Bill” to the Ugandan parliament last year.

The bill proposes penalties such as jail, large fines, and in some cases the death penalty. This bill would criminalise not just homosexuals, but also parents, doctors, landlords, NGOs or anybody else who supports homosexual people. It is an attack on the civil liberties of society as a whole.

A January 3 New York Times article said that in March 2009, Christian missionaries from the US held a series of talks in Uganda about “the gay agenda — that whole hidden and dark agenda”. Their talks were attended by thousands, including politicians.

Homosexuality was already criminalised in Uganda, yet the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was introduced to parliament in October 2009. A marked increase in homophobic violence followed the introduction of the bill.

In February, a homophobic rally was organised in Uganda and attracted 350 people.

Activists in Africa and around the world have launched a powerful fightback. A new umbrella group of nearly 20 Ugandan groups, the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, was launched in February to fight the bill.

High profile signatories to the organisation’s statement against the bill include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Chief Justice of South Africa Pius Langa, and Reverend Canon Gideon Byamugisha, recipient of the 2009 Niwano Peace Prize.

There have been protests against the bill in the US (organised by AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) and in Britain (organised by Outrage). The British and US governments have both passed resolutions condemning the bill.

The British Guardian said on April 19 the Ugandan MP David Bahati, who introduced the bill, would face now a ban on travel to Britain if the bill was passed.

On April 22, the Daily Monitor said a Cabinet committee set up to discuss the bill had recommended changes which may mean it is not passed in its current form, if at all.

But the fight isn’t over. An anti-queer gathering, “The Call”, organised by US Christian right activists in support of the anti-homosexuality bill, was held in Uganda on May 2. It drew 1300 people, according to Bilerico.com.

While it’s good the US government has condemned Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill, it is yet to introduce same-sex marriage. President Barack Obama has not kept his promise to end the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy in the military.

This broken promise only emboldens the Christian right, giving it more confidence to whip up hatred in Africa.

While IDAHO events will be an important opportunity to strengthen the queer struggle in each country — such as the equal love campaign in Australia — it is vital that the day also musters a large display of solidarity for our brothers and sisters facing death and persecution in Africa.

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