Human rights are indivisible
"Recognising LGBT rights is a democratic signal – as is the fight against discrimination, exclusion and violence and for inclusion and equality. It is an issue for everybody, not just LGBT people! Do I, as a heterosexual, want to live in a society where LGBT people are not treated equally? It is a question of democracy and equal rights. Not first, second or third class citizenship - equal rights means equal rights".Claudia Roth is Member of Parliament and Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Foreign Office, Germany. She will lead the German delegation in the next Geneva meeting of the Human Rights Commission from March 15 to April 23, 2004.
The German politician, who took part in an International Pride March in the streets of Manila, gave a vibrant speech in favour of the Brazilian Resolution at the final session of the conference: "The introduction of a resolution on homosexual rights at the Human Rights Commission 2003 in Geneva was a further important advance on which we want to build in the next year. Human rights are indivisible, and must be guaranteed, irrespective of cultures and religions". keynote speech of the 22nd International Lesbian and Gay Association Conference
Friends, sisters, brothers, ladies and gentlemen.
I feel honoured, proud and happy to be with you here today.
I am here representing the German Federal Government as Human Rights Commissioner in the Foreign Office, dealing with human rights worldwide. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights are human rights.
It is wonderful to be present to witness the International Lesbian and Gay Association hold its world conference for the first time in Asia - the continent where over half of the international family lives. In the past ILGA has held conferences mainly in Europe, as well as North, Central and South America and even in Africa. This conference is an important signal in the region and all over the world. There is no cultural division in this issue, no division when it comes to who one is allowed to love.
The Philippines as the host country already has a proud history of activism, pride parades and legislative action since the late eighties. I sincerely hope that your struggle for an anti-discrimination law for lesbians and gay men will soon be crowned with success in the Philippines Parliament. Hopefully this will happen before the coming election. In all meetings here in Manila I have mentioned this conference and the law and will do so at my press conference tomorrow.
In Asia there is a lot of change currently taking place for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people:
Recently Taiwan held the first Tonghzi pride parade in the Chinese speaking world with a lot of international media attention. The Taiwanese government used the occasion to announced plans to legally recognize same sex partnerships – which would make Taiwan the second jurisdiction on the Asian continent, after Israel, which gives some legal recognition to such partnerships.
This summer the government of Singapore announced that it would no longer discriminate against lesbians and gays in public service. The government gave as reason for its change of heart that discrimination is unattractive for keeping talented people in the country and thus bad for business.
In India a coalition of activists groups has challenged the infamous Section 377 that criminalizes same sex sexual activity in the Delhi High Court. This sodomy law dates back to British colonialism. It is important for Europeans to remember that not so long ago our governments and societies exported homophobia to colonial and tribal societies through law and missionaries.
This conference marks the occasion of ILGA’s 25th anniversary. Happy birthday ILGA. Today I want to look at how far the international LGBT movement has come and what challenges still lay ahead.
But before going into the exciting changes of the last 25 years that have seen LGBT activism become a global phenomena, I want to reiterate that we as Europeans have absolutely no reason to get on a pedestal about the human rights of LGBT people in relation to other countries and cultures.
Coming from Germany, I have no ground for feelings of superior on this issue. Germany is the country where, as many of you will be aware, the first political gay rights movement (the Scientific Humanitarian Committee) was founded by Magnus Hirschfeld in 1897 – and which saw the blossoming of lesbian and gay culture in Berlin in the 1920s. It also the country that saw this first gay movement crushed by the Nazis after 1933 and thousands of gay men sent to concentration camps, where they were forced to wear the pink triangle and subsequently many of them were killed. Lesbian women were so invisible that they were categorized as "asocial" or criminal in the concentration camps.
Only last week the majority of the German Bundestag Cultural Committee voted in favour of a monument for the lesbians and gays killed in the Nazi era. The Red-Green Coalition and the Liberals voted for it but not the Christian Democrats, who argued that there were already too many memorials in Berlin. In West Germany sex between men was only decriminalized in 1969, one year after East Germany. Germany has learnt from its painful history that the prosecution of lesbians and gays is a violation of human rights. The German Parliament unanimously stated this in a resolution in 2000. Our history has made us into passionate advocates for the civil rights of LGBT people everywhere. A lot of us - but not the racists nor the extreme rightwing movements that still exist and still victimize foreigners, Jews, Muslims, lesbians and gays.
Just 25 years ago activists in Europe were facing the kinds of problems that activists today are confronted with in Latin America, the Former Soviet Union, Africa and Asia. Even since the 1990s there has been a visible social acceptance, large pride parades, prominent lesbians and gays coming out and partnership legislation signalling governmental acceptance in Germany and many other countries across Europe.
I have read the first press release of the then International Gay Association (IGA) from 1978 with great interest. Looking closely at it we can see:
How much ILGA as an organization has evolved
How much legal and social change has been achieved throughout the world
But also that the goals of equality through public advocacy and international cooperation have not changed and still have not been achieved
At the founding of IGA, organizations from only six European countries, the US and Australia were present. Since then ILGA has become truly international and today represents 370 organisations from 90 countries on all continents.
ILGA today is also an organization that includes lesbians, bisexuals and transgender women with gender parity on its board. In addition the issues of bisexuals and transgender people are also included in ILGA’s agenda.
Back in the first press release of 1978 we can see the seeds for some of the tremendous developments that have since changed the legal situation for lesbians and gays internationally. The Dudgeon and Norris cases from the Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, discussed in Coventry that year, were the two landmark cases that laid the basis for the decriminalization of same sex sexual activity in many countries of the world. The decision of the European Court of Human Rights in 1981 in the Dudgeon case has subsequently lead to the Toonen case in the UN Committee on Human Rights in 1994 and to the decision by the US Supreme Court this summer in Lawrence vs. Texas, that has done away will all sodomy laws in the US. Let’s hope this strengthening consensus in human rights and constitutional law internationally also leads to decriminalisation and freedom for lesbians and gays in India in the pending Section 377 case.
The 1978 conference was also concerned with article 121 of the Soviet Penal Code, which punished consensual homosexual acts with up to 5 years imprisonment – a remnant of the authoritarianism of the Stalin area. With the changes brought about by the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989/1990 ILGA-Europe has successfully used the mechanisms of the Council of Europe to make the Dudgeon case and decriminalisation a reality throughout Europe. With Armenia decriminalizing this summer Europe is now free of sodomy laws for the first time in 1600 years! All of Europe except for a small "roman village", that is resisting the advance of laws in human rights in this respect.
The Coventry conference also called upon Amnesty International to take up the issue of prosecution of lesbians and gays. After a campaign that lasted 13 years AI in 1991 made the human rights of lesbians and gays part of its mandate and today is a passionate advocate for LGBT rights on the international level.
Back in 1978 Quebec was the only large jurisdiction in the world that had included lesbians and gays in their anti-discrimination legislation. In 2004 all 25 states of the European Union will be required to protect lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in their national employment legislation. Countries as diverse as Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, Israel and New Zealand have also protected lesbians and gays in anti-discrimination legislation or jurisprudence.
Even though Karl-Heinz Ulrichs in Germany had called for gay marriage in the first publications on gay rights in the 1860s, in 1978 at the founding of IGA there was no legal recognition of lesbian and gay partnerships in national legislation. The demand for partnership rights was not part of the agenda of IGA in Coventry.
How far we have come in 25 years! Even though the laws instituted vary widely in the extent of the rights they give to same sex couples, well over twenty countries (or regions within them) on all continents now recognize lesbian and gay relationships, for example the residential right for a foreign partner. In many more countries governments around the world have introduced proposals, or civil society and political parties have taken up the issue.
Recently in Bogotá I spoke at the Goethe Institute on the issue of partnerships after the first vote in the Colombian Senate on a partnership bill. In September the UN Committee on Human Rights in Young vs. Australia for the first time recognized the partnership rights for lesbians and gays in a historic decision. Also in September the European Parliament, reaffirming the work of the Roth report from 1994, called for the opening up of marriage and adoption for lesbians and gays. Not just in Poland, Slovenia or the US is there debate on same sex marriage and partnerships, this debate is happening across Latin America, in South Africa, Taiwan and New Zealand. Whatever pronouncements the opponents of LGBT equality in the Vatican or other organizations put out the issue of equality for lesbian and gay couples will simply not go away – it’s a matter of simple justice!
The 1978 conference did not mention Transgender rights. Back in the late 1970s, Germany was one of the first countries in the world to recognize the rights of transsexuals. Today the 1980 law that was progressive for its time but is in urgent need of reform as our knowledge of the issue has increased and as a member of the Green Party I can say that we are pushing for a comprehensive reform. The last years have seen the development of human rights laws in Europe that protect the rights of transgender people, for example the Goodwin case that states that transsexuals have the right to have their new gender officially recognized by governments.
Being in Manila I want to stress that the German government supports the human rights of transgender people to live their gender identities free of discrimination, fear or violence. The Travesti in Brazil, the Bakla in the Philippines, the Tomboys in Thailand, Nadle among the Dine or Navajo, the Mahu of Hawai’I and the Kothi in India all in their diversity contribute to the vitality of the human family. Maybe the Catholic church, ashamed and afraid of its many closeted gay priests, should remember that in many traditional and tribal societies men and women with different gender identities and sexual orientations played valued and valuable roles as healers and shamans.
Since the 1970s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender lives have become more visible throughout the world. Every summer on all continents LGBT people show the vitality of their lives and the reality of their struggles in Pride parades. Pride parades have spread throughout the world, with people adopting the celebration from the 1969 Stonewall riots into their local cultures. Not only in Cologne, San Francisco or Sydney but also in Sao Paulo, even in Bavaria hundreds of thousands of people join Pride parades. In countless smaller demonstrations in Calcutta, Johannesburg, Taipei or Reykjavik people show pride and determination.
But today is also an occasion to note and not to forget that despite all the change and achievements of the last 25 years there is still a long road ahead of us.
Around 80 countries still make it criminal just to be lesbian or gay especially in Africa and the Islamic World. In Egypt gay men have been prosecuted for using the Internet to find community with other gay men. Some countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran even prescribe the death penalty for homosexuality under their interpretation of sharia law.
Across the world lesbians, gays, bisexuals and especially transgenders are subject to violence by state actors, society and their own families. Even in societies were there is no legal discrimination violence is often still a reality. In a clear response governments and civil society have to take action to combat prejudice.
Lesbian and gay teenagers still often suffer in silence as they lack access to information that would help them with the dramas associated with coming out in a youth culture, where for example some popular music fans homophobia. Many lesbian and gay adults also face discrimination not just in the workplace but often also in the provision of healthcare, where they feel they can not be open about their sexuality and their concerns are most often not part of studies on public health. Older lesbians and gays suffer from invisibility and often face prejudice in institutional settings.
The partnerships and families of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders are still legally discriminated against in all but a handful of countries. When it comes to inheritance, tax treatment, child custody and adoption rainbow families still face huge obstacles to realize their dreams and to have their rights guaranteed,
And there is the backlash against the simple human dignity of LGBT people coming from the Vatican, Governments that define themselves as Islamic, the fundamentalists in the protestant church, African heads of state and many others.
The Vatican has called lesbian and gay partnerships an evil and compared the raising of children in rainbow families with child molestation. This is rich, coming from the hierarchy that for decades was sheltering paedophiles in the priesthood.
African leaders like Mugabe, Museveni and Nujoma have called lesbians and gays subhuman and below animals. They ignore the vibrant history of transgender people and lesbians and gays before colonialism and the overwhelming evidence from biology that homosexuality is common throughout the natural world and thus part of the diversity of life.
This year has seen a lot of debate and action about LGBT issues:
the consecration of Bishop Robinson in the Episcopalian church in the US
the furore around the Vatican paper on same sex partnerships
the successful campaign for same sex marriage in Canada
the statement by Kofi Annan affirming the basic dignity of lesbian and gays
the draft new European Constitution that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation – the first country to recognize lesbians and gays in their constitution was of course the newly free South Africa in 1996.
Most importantly this April saw a historic debate in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on the Brazilian Resolution on "Human Rights and Sexual Orientation". The resolution was not voted on but will be on the agenda of the next CHR in March and April of 2004. The resolution was supported by Germany and the European Union. The Organization of Islamic States (OIC) and the Vatican led the opposition against the resolution. Pakistan for example called even the discussion of the reality of lesbian and gay lives an insult to Muslims. The presence at this conference of LGBT Muslims, shows that there are lesbians and gays in every nation, culture and religion and that there are people inside Islam that belief that the love and compassion of religion should also encompass LGBT people.
The German Foreign Office has already supported the campaign by LGBT NGOs on the Brazilian resolution and will continue to do so in the coming months. I am the head of the German delegation to the CHR.
I urge all the representatives from LGBT groups from across the globe to go and contact their governments, media and civil societies about the Brazilian Resolution so that we can together achieve a Yes vote next year with the inclusion of gender identity in the resolution, so that the international community recognizes that the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people are part of the human rights to which all human beings are entitled.
Recognising LGBT rights is a democratic signal – as is the fight against discrimination, exclusion and violence and for inclusion and equality. It is an issue for everybody, not just LGBT people! Do I as a heterosexual want to live in a society where LGBT people are not treated equally? It is a question of democracy and equal rights. Not 1st, 2nd or 3rd class citizenship - equal rights means equal rights.
I want to end with a very important principle, the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in spirit of brotherhood"Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are human beings! Human rights are for all people regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Thank you very much.