The report makes for grim reading. The LGBT community in Turkey is subject to a general atmosphere of harassment and discrimination. Violence is widespread and often comes from members of their own families. Assault, rape, and even murder go uninvestigated and unpunished.
Pride Month is the annual commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots where courageous members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community stood up to police brutality and discrimination at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. This resistance galvanized the LGBT community and gave birth to the modern LGBT rights movement.
It’s been a week of incredible ups and downs for LGBT people around the world. We hardly had time to feel joy for the legalization of same-sex civil unions in Brazil, when we learned that the Ugandan parliament was getting ready to vote on a law that would have outlawed homosexuality and imposed the death penalty for some homosexual acts.
Amnesty International and many others called on the Ugandan parliament to reject the bill, and we all felt great relief today when the parliament dissolved without debating or voting on the bill. It’s entirely possible that the bill could be reintroduced when new members of parliament are sworn in next week, but at least it wasn’t passed today, as had been feared.
But the feeling of relief is mixed with sadness, because LGBT people continue to be killed because of who they are in many countries, regardless of what the laws say. On May 4th, Quetzalcoatl Leija Herrera, an outspoken advocate of LGBT rights in Mexico, was attacked and killed when he was walking home in the evening, in what appears to have been a homophobic attack. Police are investigating, but as so often happens in these kinds of cases, their inquiries are strangely focused almost exclusively on Herrera’s friends in the LGBT community.
This isn’t the first instance of police being less than sympathetic toward LGBT people that Amnesty International has documented: in 2009 we issued an Urgent Action on three transgender women in Honduras, two of whom were killed, and one of whom was beaten by police.
So while it’s great that we can celebrate progress like the legalization of same-sex unions in Brazil, it’s clear there’s a long way to go, and a lot more action needed, before the world will truly be a safe place to be LGBT.
A historic development took place in Latin America’s largest country just a few days ago. Casting a groundbreaking decision in favor of equality and civility, Brazil’s Supreme Court legally recognized homosexual civil unions in the nation.
Ten out of the country’s 11 Justices were present for the ruling, which involved two LGBT civil rights cases. The unanimous verdict states that partners in same-sex unions have the same rights as heterosexual unions.
According to Justice Ellen Gracie:
“The recognition made by the court today responds to the rights of a group of people who has long been humiliated, whose rights have been ignored, whose dignity has been offended, whose identity was denied, and whose freedom was overwhelmed.”
The decision has enormous implications for same-sex couples, who will now have access to the same rights that heterosexual couples have long enjoyed, including rights of inheritance, tax deductions, adoptions and immigration.
For some reason, Turkey, which boasts one of the most educated and technologically savvy populations in the region, has had a particularly hard time addressing internet freedom. In a country that boasts of its capacity to serve as a model of democracy in the Middle East, freedom of expression on the internet has been a long-standing problem; the Turkish government’s instinct has consistently been to apply broad, clumsy bans on any content that might possibly be objectionable.
It is part of a more general problem of creeping censorship. The Turkish press, as discussed in previous posts, has come under increased pressure. In recent years, Turkey has been particularly aggressive in attempting to police radio and television for “undermining the morality of minors.” Sex and the City II, for example, was banned from cable television because its representation of gay marriage was deemed dangerous to the Turkish family. Tobacco smoking villains in the famous cartoon TinTin similarly resulted in fines from the ever watchful – and humorless – eyes of Turkish bureaucrats. The result has been a media culture that has increasingly engaged in self-censorship to avoid fines and possible closure.
On May 13, 2011, for the first time in history, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will host a ground-breaking hearing addressing inter-student violence (including, verbal and physical assaults, teasing, bullying and any other form of harassment) targeted against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth.
A 2009 study by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network surveyed middle and high school students across the country and found that nine out of ten students reported experiencing harassment at their school within the past year based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. In addition, two-thirds said they felt unsafe at school because of who they are.
Harassment to LGBT individuals is a violation of their right to security of person and freedom from discrimination. All individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, should be able to enjoy the full range of human rights-without exceptions.
Hate and intolerance have a new stage: Brazil’s House of Representatives. While the legislative body was created for reason and discourse, one of its elected officials has found ways to degrade the federal body by promoting racism and intolerance. Rio de Janeiro’s congressman Jair Bolsonaro is flagrantly using the legislative chamber to make racist comments against blacks and LGBT citizens, and to disseminate militaristic ideals.
During an interview with a national humoristic program, Mr. Bolsonaro was asked how he would feel if he found his son dating a black woman. He took this as an opportunity to make racist comments and indicated that he would “never allow this kind of promiscuity” (youtube video in Portuguese). While this interview was widely publicized and has led to a huge debate about racism in Brazil’s society, it is a shame that an elected official would even dare to speak this way of any civil group or minority. As if that weren’t enough, Mr. Bolsonaro has also expressed his support for military regimes over democratic governments.
It is absurd that an elected official would dare to utter such words. A person that believes that the military regime is better than democracy and who thinks that minorities aren’t humans with equal rights, ought not to be called a legislator. Mr. Bolsonaro is on his sixth consecutive term as Federal Representative for the State of Rio de Janeiro. It has been 21 years since he was first elected… What’s even worse is that he is not alone in his attitude and racist ideals.
Another Representative, this time from the State of Sao Paulo, Mr. Marco Feliciano, wrote in his Twitter account that “the filth in homoaffective feelings are conduits to hate, crime and rejection” and that “Africans descend from ancestors cursed by Noah.”
When elected official make comments such as the ones quoted in this article, racist and oppressive groups feel empowered and justified when attacking vulnerable groups. Just last week, Sao Paulo’s police identified 200 members of skinhead gangs that attacked and in many cases killed members of the black and homosexual communities in the city. According to a Brazilian gay group, 260 LGBT individuals were killed in Brazil in 2010, which represented 31% increase from 2009 and a 113% increase from 2005.
It is disturbing to know that those who are in charge of approving laws to protect society are the same people responsible for spreading hate and intolerance. We will only be able to reduce the number of hate crimes in Brazil when the country’s citizens demand that the rights of everyone, including the country’s minorities, are respected and protected. It is imperative that the legislative system focuses on the creation of laws designed to fight racism and hate crimes. Brazilians deserve better, much better.
“David Kato, the advocacy officer for Sexual Minorities Uganda, was bludgeoned to death in Mukono, Kampala, yesterday afternoon.”
Mr. Kato was instrumental in a successful law suit brought against the Ugandan newspaper Rolling Stone to force it to stop printing names, addresses and pictures of LGBT persons in Uganda. Mr. Kato was also a leading voice lobbying against a bill still pending in Parliament to punish those accused of homosexuality with death.
We mourn Mr. Kato’s tragic death. The human rights community lost a courageous defender yesterday.
Update: Send a message of solidarity to Uganda’s LGBT Rights Coalition. Let’s let them know they are not alone.
Last year, a couple was imprisoned for several months in Malawi following a traditional engagement ceremony based on a law criminalizing homosexuality. Similar laws exist in about 2/3 of African Union member nations. They were eventually pardoned by President Mutharika following loud international condemnation. Apparently, however, this incident served to bring to light a gap in Malawi’s laws members of Parliament decided to address.
Early last month, a bill was passed in Malawi’s parliament criminalizing homosexuality between women. Evidently there was concern the prior law could be construed to only apply to men, and since Malawi is clearly dedicated to making all things equal, decided it was necessary consenting adult women sharing their love also deserved the right to go to prison. As far as I know, the bill has yet to be signed into law by President Mutharika.
In more positive news this week, a court in Uganda decided publishing the names of LGBT people is completely uncool. While a pending law allowing for punishment by the death penalty for engaging in homosexuality lingers in limbo, an enterprising tabloid decided putting names and pictures in papers with the words “hang them” was an appropriate vigilante maneuver.
So boo to Malawi legislators and three cheers to the Ugandan high court as LGBT individuals struggle to be treated with respect, dignity and human rights in Africa.
In Uganda, a country in the dark ages of human rights, where homosexuality is outlawed by a law dating back to colonial times and the parliament on track to debate a proposed death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” in the not too distant future, the safety and lives of LGBT activists are in jeopardy.
On October 2, a tabloid called the ‘Rolling Stone’ published an incendiary article claiming that homosexuals were going to raid the schools and “recruit 100,000 innocent kids by 2012″. The article publicized the identities of 117 alleged homosexuals, 100 of which had accompanying photos. As if the absurd and completely baseless claims weren’t enough, the tabloid decided to include the caption “Hang them” to incite the people of Uganda to attack these individuals.
In the words of Frank Mugisha, Chair of the NGO Sexual Minorities Uganda:
“Two days after the paper was on the streets I was harassed in my area, with verbal insults. Almost every person who was named in the paper has been harassed, and some have been attacked.”
According to Mugisha, the ‘Rolling Stone’ article was the most hostile attempt yet to incite panic about gay people in Uganda. He has taken the tabloid to court and won a small victory in the form of a court-issued injunction at the beginning of this month, which the tabloid vows to break in their campaign to promote violence and hatred against the LGBT community.
On November 23, the merits of the case, and the status of homosexuals as human beings with rights, will be heard by the High Court. Until then, Frank Mugisha fears for his life:
“I don’t know what could happen to me at any minute. I do not know who wants to hang me, I do not know who wants to attack me. I cannot decide on my fate. [But] I cannot go back in the closet – I gave my life to the movement, I can’t change it now.”