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The struggle for LGBT rights: a global war report

in WORLD, 04/10/2012

Alarmingly, gay rights activists in many regions of the world are reporting a trend of worsening human rights violations against LGBT people and an increase in religious and state-sponsored homophobia. Homosexuality is illegal in 76 countries around the world, and in 10 of these punishable by death or life imprisonment.

 On 7 March 2012, the U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, delivered a historic speech to the Human Rights Council in Geneva asking countries around the world to decriminalize consensual same-sex relationships and end discrimination against LGBT people. In response, a handful of Council delegates stormed out of the meeting in protest. But in spite of this, he declared that a historic shift is underway to tackle the violence against LGBT people, ban discrimination and educate the public. He called on all people of conscience to come together to make this happen.

Homosexuality is illegal in 76 countries around the world, and in 10 of these punishable by death or life imprisonment. And as Ban Ki-moon explained, there are still many governments who take the firm stance that human rights are for some but not for all. In many parts of the world, LGBT people are recurrently subjected to targeted killings, violent assaults, torture and sexual violence.

Alarmingly, gay rights activists in many regions of the world are reporting a trend of worsening human rights violations against LGBT people and an increase in religious and state-sponsored homophobia. Across Africa, parliaments are advocating laws that would further penalize and even execute homosexuals; in Russia, the city of Saint Petersburg has recently passed a law making it illegal to speak in public about homosexuality; in Moscow the mayor has recently banned all LGBT Pride marches for 100 years; in Iraq, sectarian militias are brutally murdering gay men and young men perceived to be gay; in Iran, the theocratic regime continues to criminalize and oppress homosexuality; and in Saudi Arabia, “gays and tom-boys” have recently been banned from government schools and universities.

In December 2011, Barack Obama announced a presidential directive to use U.S. foreign aid to promote LGBT rights around the world and combat attempts by governments to criminalize homosexuality. The UK Prime Minister David Cameron followed with threats to withdraw aid for countries that do not accept homosexuality. In response, Ban Ki-Moon declared his opposition to conditionality on aid and called for "constructive actions" on the issue of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. However, many African nations reacted bitterly to the new dictates and accused Western leaders of interfering and neo-colonialism. And in an angry backlash, homophobia is now on the rise in many countries across Africa - much of it state-generated - and various African leaders have vowed to toughen laws against homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

LGBT activists in Africa are generally opposed to cuts to overseas aid linked to LGBT rights. They also worry that some African leaders will push through anti-homosexuality legislation in defiance of what they consider to be neo-colonialism. And these fears have proven well founded.

In April 2012, the Nigerian Senate approved a bill to further criminalize homosexuality, using David Cameron's threat to cut aid to rally public backing and accuse the UK - the former colonial power - of meddling. The new anti-gay law imposes prison sentences of up to 14 years on same-sex couples entering into cohabitation, and those ‘witnessing’ or ‘abetting’ such relationships also face prison.

And in The Gambia - where LGBT people are routinely shunned and there are no known LGBT organizations - President Yahya Jammeh told Western leaders, “We do not need your aid money. You can keep it. Homosexuality is forbidden in this country”.

Jammeh’s comments came shortly before a police raid in April on a bar in the Gambian resort town of Kololi, where 19 gay men were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit ‘unnatural offense’ and ‘publicly displaying homosexual activities’. However, four months later, on 1st August 2012, the court case collapsed and all charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence. The men had faced up to 14 years imprisonment for violating article 144 of the Gambian criminal code that bans homosexuality. But, although they are free, the men involved are now social outcasts following the publicity about the case when their names, addresses, and photographs were published in Gambian newspapers that marked them as 'perverts'.

Homosexuality is illegal in 37 countries in Africa. Few Africans are openly gay, fearing imprisonment, violence and loss of jobs. In Malawi, Zimbabwe, Cameroon and Swaziland, LGBT people are reporting increasing levels of violence and discrimination. And in South Africa, hitherto known for its more liberal constitution, the National House of Traditional Leaders has called for parliament to remove a clause in the constitution that guarantees equal rights to homosexuals.

South Africa is presently the only African country to allow gay marriage and adoption; but even so, LGBT people face daily discrimination and violence, especially in the townships, where lesbians are often targeted for ‘corrective rape’ in the belief that sex with a man can change their sexual orientation.

In a spate of homophobic hate crimes in South Africa between June and July 2012, 23-year-old Thapelo Makutle, who identified as both gay and transgender, was brutally murdered by two men who slit his throat and beheaded him in a homophobic and transphobic attack in Kuruman, Northern Cape; a teenager was arrested for stabbing and setting alight Neil Daniels, whose father believes he was killed for being gay; Hendrietta Thapelo Morifi, a 29-year-old lesbian and mother of a 2-year-old daughter, was raped and murdered; 22-year-old lesbian Phumenza Nkolonzi was shot on the doorstep of her Cape Town home; and 28-year-old lesbian Sanna Supa was shot and killed outside her Soweto home.

Whilst many African leaders have expressed resentment at Western condemnation of LGBT rights violations in their countries, at the same time they have enthusiastically welcomed American Christian evangelical colonialists into their countries who have made Africa their virulently anti-gay project in recent years. And these same African leaders have routinely propagated a distorted revisionist version of colonial history and advanced the ideological prejudice that homosexuality is ‘un-African’, and a ‘Western sickness’ new to the continent. Of course, the history of colonialism in Africa reveals that it was anti-homosexual legislation rather than homosexuality that was introduced by external forces, and homophobia is the remnant of old colonialism.
And today, it is US-based evangelicals who have been working with religious and political leaders across Africa to make LGBT advocacy illegal and incite anti-gay genocide.

In 2009, Zambian Reverend Kapya Kaoma wrote a salient report entitled “Globalizing the Culture Wars: U.S. Conservatives, African Churches, and Homophobia”. In this report, Kaoma argued that “Africa has become a key theater as the U.S. Right mobilize African clerics in U.S. culture war battles - in particular over the role of gay and lesbian people in the lives of church and society.” He described how American evangelists, faced with their failure to suppress homosexuality in the U.S., have taken their homophobic war overseas, and U.S. neo-conservative groups have enticed African clerics with financial incentives in return for support of their anti-gay agenda.
Kaoma’s report details how an extremely influential, informal coalition of right-wing Roman Catholic, Mormon and Protestant evangelical groups – including the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the Mormon-led Family Watch International, the Roman Catholic Human Life International, and the World Transformation Movement - continue to organize across Africa in their campaign for even harsher laws against LGBT people.

On March 30 2012, LGBT rights group Sexual Minorities Uganda filed a U.S. federal lawsuit against anti-gay ‘Christian’ extremist and Holocaust revisionist Pastor Scott Lively, accusing him of violating international law by inciting the persecution of LGBT people in Uganda, and inciting Ugandan parliamentarians to further criminalize homosexuality. The lawsuit claims that beginning in 2002, Lively - noted for his involvement in the ex-gay movement and pro-family movement - conspired with religious and political leaders to whip up anti-gay hysteria in Uganda with warnings that homosexuals were a perilous threat to Ugandan culture and that homosexuals committed child rape and were “recruiting African children into homosexuality”. Furthermore, the lawsuit claims that at a conference held in Kampala in 2009, Lively issued a call to fight against a ‘genocidal’ and ‘pedophilic’ gay movement, which he described as “the most dangerous social and political movement of our time” – and in doing so he is responsible for inciting the murder of LGBT rights activist David Kato in 2010. The lawsuit also names four Ugandan co-conspirators: - Christian evangelists Stephen Langa and Pastor Martin Ssempa, David Bahati MP, and James Buturo, the former Ugandan minister of ethics.

Uganda’s now notorious Anti-Homosexuality ‘Kill the Gays’ Bill is still pending and if passed would impose life imprisonment on any person convicted of homosexual activity, and the death penalty for ‘repeat offenders’. Ugandans would be obliged to report any homosexual activity to the police within 24 hours or face up to three years in prison. The bill was held for further discussion for most of 2010, and in May 2011, parliament adjourned without a vote. However, in February 2012, David Bahati re-introduced the bill, which is currently listed under “business to follow”.

Bahati, who introduced the Anti-Homosexuality bill in 2009, has been closely linked to a Washington-based secretive international Right-wing Christian organization called The Family (a.k.a. C- Street) - whose members include numerous neo-conservative U.S. politicians. This is the organization supposed to be the power exerting influence in the background. Bahati first floated the idea of executing homosexuals during The Family's Uganda National Prayer Breakfast meeting in 2008. The Family is also believed to sponsor Pastor Dr. Martin Ssempa, leader of the Ugandan National Task Force Against Homosexuality, and notorious for showing scatophagic hard-core gay pornography in his church and at conferences to promote the ‘Kill the Gays’ bill.

LGBT Ugandans are routinely denied health care and regularly sacked just for being LGBT. Many suffer brutal attacks but cannot report hate crimes to the police for fear of additional beatings, curative rape or arbitrary arrest by homophobic police officers.
Nonetheless, resolute in their purpose, Ugandan LGBT rights activists continue to organize and fight for their human rights. Optimistically, in August 2012, in an outstanding show of defiance, almost 100 people marched in Uganda’s first ever LGBT Pride parade, and over a weekend of events in Entebbe, around 250 people came out to celebrate their existence on the banks of Lake Victoria. Thankfully, the weekend passed peacefully in spite of a police raid and arrests.

And currently, LGBT rights activists Frank Mugisha, Kasha Jacqueline, Geoffrey Ogwaro and Pepe Julianare are suing the so-called Ugandan Minister of ethics and Integrity, the Rt. Rev. Father Simon Lokodo MP, and the Attorney General, Peter Nyombi, for the illegal infringement on their right of freedom of association and assembly under article 29 of the constitution of Uganda. In February 2012, Lokobo accompanied armed police to shut down a workshop for LGBT rights activists at a hotel in Entebbe and arrest prominent LGBT activist Kasha Jacqueline, who fled to avoid capture. During the raid, Lokobo told the workshop participants to leave or he would order the police to use force. "I have closed this conference because it's illegal” he said, “We do not accept homosexuality in Uganda, so go back home". The court case was adjourned in July until 24 September 2012 to allow the Attorney General more time to prepare his defence.

Evangelists, including Scott Lively, and other religious fundamentalists and anti-democratic forces, have also been active in other countries around the world - including Russia, Moldova, the Ukraine, and Latvia - working with political leaders to help draft legislation to criminalize LGBT advocacy.

In Russia's second-largest city, Saint Petersburg, a bill has recently been passed that makes it illegal for any person to speak in public or publish any article about being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Despite homosexuality being decriminalized in Russia by former President Boris Yeltsin in 1993, deep-rooted homophobia is still widespread and LGBT people are routinely used as scapegoats in Russian politics. The St Petersburg legislation, written by Vitaly Milonov, a deputy with Prime Minister Putin's United Russia party and an Orthodox religious activist, emerged just before the parliamentary elections on 4 December 2011, and was almost certainly concocted to increase the vote for the ailing ruling party and President Medvedev. The governor of the city of Tambov epitomized the toxic anti-gay atmosphere across Russia when he recently called for gays to be “torn into pieces and thrown in the wind”. Since 2006, four regions in Russia have enacted a ban on "propaganda" of homosexuality – Ryazan in 2006, Arkhangelsk in September 2011, and Kostroma in February 2012. The Russian federal legislature, the Duma, is now considering a national version of the law.

In June 2012, the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow upheld as lawful a decision by the Moscow City Government to ban gay pride parades in the city for 100 years.

In Bulgaria, over 2000 people took part in the 5th LGBT Pride rally held in the capital city of Sofia on 30 June. However, 600 police were present at the event to separate participants from opponents – including a group of almost 200 neo-Nazis and far right wing skinheads. Thankfully, the event passed without any injuries, despite the nationalist party Gvardia’s billboard campaign across Sofia saying “Gay Parade Allowed – Smoking Banned. Which is more harmful for the nation?” Also, on the 6 June, Father Evgenii Yanakiev, a local priest in the Orthodox Church, advised people to "throw stones" at the Pride participants and called for politicians who supported the march to be “drowned in the sea with millstones tied around their necks”. The Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church would not condemn the priest’s comments but responded by condemning the pride parade and calling homosexuality “an unnatural passion that undoubtedly harms the personality, the family and the society”.

In Lithuania, on 26 June 2012, the arch-homophobe Lithuanian MP Petras Grazulis - a member of the Parliamentary Group for the Traditional Family - failed in his latest attempt to make it illegal to campaign on issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity and illegal to organize LGBT Pride events or provide sexual health information to LGBT people. The anti-gay proposals had included heavy fines for ‘the public denigration of constitutional moral values and the principles of family stipulated in the constitution, and the organization of events contradicting social morality”. Only two years ago, Grazulis was part of a mob of anti-gay demonstrators at Baltic Pride 2010, the first LGBT march to be held in Lithuania. He was arrested and later fined for crossing police barriers, set up to separate participants and opponents of the march.

In Iraq, the LGBT community continues to live in terror as sectarian militias control the streets in the warfare that has ensued since the 2003 US-led invasion. Iraqi gays are being targeted, tortured and brutally murdered because of their sexuality, and hundreds may have been killed in the past few months. Survivors are quoted as saying militiamen invade homes and interrogate victims before killing them in order to identify other potential victims.

The Iraqi authorities are doing nothing to stop the violence and it is almost impossible to calculate how many gay men have killed. The killings have increased in the past few months and Human Rights Watch has reported at least 200 gay men have been murdered since February 2012. Death squads have targeted two separate groups – known homosexuals, and young men perceived to be gay because they dress as “emo” - a Western-influenced style, which for some in Iraq is associated with homosexuality.

In February 2012, ‘Iraqi LGBT’, a London-based gay rights group reported: “Iraqi LGBT people are at daily risk of execution by the Shia death squads of the Badr and Sadr militias. Members of these militias have infiltrated the Iraqi police and are abusing their police authority to pursue a plan to eliminate all homosexuals in Iraq. This is happening with the collusion of key ministers in the Iraqi government. The Badr and Sadr militias are the armed wings of the two main Shia parties that control the government of Iraq. These governing parties – particularly the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq – are complicit in the widespread execution of Iraqi LGBTs. What is happening today in Iraq is one of the most organised and systematic sexual cleansings in the history of the world. Attacks have escalated into unprecedented levels of homophobic violence, including targeted assassinations.”

Human rights activists are generally very pessimistic about the future for LGBT people in Iraq, and argue that those under threat need to be granted asylum in Western countries because neighbouring states also persecute homosexuals.

In Iran, the theocratic regime criminalizes and oppresses homosexuality and Iranian leaders claim that homosexuality does not exist in their country. Since the 1979 Iranian counter-revolution, all sexual relations that occur outside of heterosexual marriage are illegal - based on Islamic Shari’a law. Homosexual relations that occur between consenting adults in private carry a maximum punishment of death. Lesbian same-sex relations are punishable by 100 lashes, with the death penalty being imposed after the fourth offence. It is difficult to calculate how many Iranian LGBT people have been executed since 1979; however, a recently exposed Wiki Leaks cable estimates the number could be between 4,000 and 6,000 individuals.

In Malaysia, where Islam is the largest practiced religion, with around 17 million (61.4%) adherents, the government continues to attack the LGBT community. According to a recent statement from the Prime Minister’s Department “the government is taking the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-sexual issue “seriously” and is “controlling its spread” through prevention efforts and legal enforcement”.

In January 2012, Pope Benedict XVI, leader of the 1.3 billion members of the Roman Catholic Church worldwide, declared that same-sex marriage threatened "the future of humanity itself". And previously, in 2008, he said that saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behavior is just as important as saving the rainforest from destruction. It is unsurprising therefore, that in Brazil - where 123 million people (64.6% of the population) are self-declared Catholics - a survey carried out by LGBT rights group Grupo Gay da Bahia (GGB) found there was a gay hate crime every 36 hours in 2011. Angélica Ivo, the mother of 14-year-old Alexandre Thomé Ivo Rajão - who was beaten and strangled to death in São Gonçalo by skinheads who suspected him of being gay - commented, "Brazil pretends to be tolerant but it isn't. We have the best Carnival in the world and it appears that everyone lives together harmoniously, yet gay couples still can't kiss in public." She added, "Every time we have a march to promote tolerance, the Church groups organize an even bigger one in the name of the family".

And so, the LGBT rights movement is engaged in an unprecedented global culture war against religious fundamentalists who continue to malign LGBT people as enemies of faith, family, and freedom. LGBT people are routinely used by anti-democratic forces as scapegoats for the social instability of the capitalist system, serving as a functional distraction from other human rights violations, corruption, misgovernment, economic problems, rising food prices, and political tyranny. The capitalist class purposely target LGBT people and make use of popular prejudices and false claims as a means to foster division in the working class and divert attention from class-based issues. By claiming society’s moral disintegration and asserting LGBT people are eroding a ‘traditional’ way of life, political demagogues and religious leaders seek to create a climate of opinion out of which to gain support.

WE SAY: SOLIDARITY WITH ALL LGBT AND HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS FIGHTING FOR AN END TO THE VIOLENCE AND DISCRIMINATION DIRECTED AT PEOPLE JUST BECAUSE THEY ARE GAY, LESBIAN, BISEXUAL OR TRANSGENDER.

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