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A Global Look at Gay Rights: 'The Fight Against Discrimination Must Go On'

in WORLD, 24/04/2013

In a SPIEGEL ONLINE interview, Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender program at Human Rights Watch, discusses the current debates on same-sex marriage in Europe and the United States and virulent homophobia in Russia and Uganda.

Boris Dittrich, the 57-year-old advocacy director for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights program at Human Rights Watch in New York, has been involved in policies boosting the standing of same-sex relationships since early on in his political career. As a member of parliament in the Netherlands for more than 12 years, he was not only one of the first openly gay men to serve in office, but also the person responsible for legislation that made Holland the first country in the world to introduce full-fledged same-sex marriage.

Dittrich's work on human rights has taken him to many corners of the world, including Russia, which has been plagued by institutionalized homophobia and violence against gay men and lesbian women over the past decade, and countries in Eastern Europe that have failed to develop the progressive policies seen in many Western European countries. Dittrich recently announced he would relocate from New York to Berlin, the city from which he will base his advocacy work on behalf of LGBT issues beginning in May.

SPIEGEL ONLINE recently caught up with Dittrich and discussed anti-gay legislation heading toward approval in Russian parliament, protests over the French government's efforts to elevate same-sex marriage to the same status as heterosexual pairings and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's own opposition to calls for similar action in her country.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Dittrich, as the advocacy director of the Human Rights Watch program on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) affairs, you will soon be moving to Berlin. What will your main points of focus be here?

Dittrich: Largely Eastern Europe, with a special focus on Russia.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Russia has been a focal point for discrimination against LGBT people in the past year. Ten regions have adopted legislation forbidding what they describe as pro-homosexual propaganda. Similar legislation is pending in six regions.

Dittrich: More troubling is that the national parliament, the Duma, has adopted similar legislation in its first reading forbidding what it calls "homosexual propaganda" from being disseminated to people under the age of 18. If a private individual were to be caught speaking positively about homosexuality in public -- for example by promoting safe sex and condoms in relation to homosexuality -- then that person could be fined the equivalent of $160. An NGO could face a massive $16,000 penalty. This is extremely troubling and a violation of international human rights laws, and even the European Court of Human Rights has stated this.

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