As a strong ally for LGBT rights, reading this week’s news that Prop 8 has been overturned in California was uplifting and inspiring. At home here in San Francisco, advocates and allies were elated by the court’s ruling Tuesday declaring the gay marriage ban unconstitutional. We were granted another reason to celebrate later in the week when Washington passed legislation legalizing same sex marriage. These are huge victories and represent a powerful push towards marriage rights for all individuals in this country.
However, there are two stories that most Americans probably paid little – if any – attention to that were tragic blows to the LGBT community abroad, reminding us that many in this country and the world are fighting for more than just marriage. As we expand civil rights in our own communities, it is vital that LGBT advocates and progressive allies use this momentum and translate this celebration into a greater leadership role on the global stage.
The first piece of bad news this week came from Uganda. An MP reintroduced an anti-gay bill that was first brought forward in 2009. The original bill is downright terrifying, and called for life imprisonment for all homosexual acts as well as the death penalty for anyone accused of “aggravated homosexuality.” The reintroduced bill this week nixed the death penalty portion, but still calls for life imprisonment.
The other bit of news was more personally shocking to me. In South Africa, the owner of the most popular gay club, called Bronx in Cape Town, was murdered in his home in the Green Point neighborhood. As a study abroad student for six months at the University of Cape Town, I had frequented the Bronx and spent a lot of time in the Green Point community. While there is no conclusive evidence yet that his murder was linked to his sexuality, it is clearly a targeted attack.
During my own time at University of Cape Town, I witnessed discrimination even on campus. Most memorably, the LGBT club on campus did a “Pink Week” to raise awareness about discrimination and gay rights inAfrica. As part of their activism, club members set up a large pink closet on the main plaza at campus adorned with stories and facts about the discrimination and violence in South Africa and other parts of the continent. On the second day of Pink Week, this closet was burned down. Though the club went on to use that act as yet another method of raising awareness, it became clear to me that although Cape Town was a generally liberal, diverse, and open-minded population (especially on campus), hatred and discrimination were still very present in a way I never encountered as a student at Berkeley.
However, there is at least an important lesson to be gleaned from the news out of Uganda. The original bill died so quickly in the legislature after its introduction for one reason: There was massive public outcry from world leaders like President Barack Obama, and this was backed up by real threats from the global community to revoke foreign aid. This showed that a strong and unified response is effective, but it was also a purely reactive one. And while the progressive community in America was paying little attention to the issue before it garnered international attention, you can be sure the conservatives weren’t. Before this anti-gay bill was introduced in the legislature, U.S. evangelicals were already reaching out to Ugandans to educate them about the evils of homosexuality.
Though not as close to home for most of us, these abuses are equally as important to discuss among the progressive community. If the conservative religious movement can be proactive about spreading discrimination, surely our community can be more proactive about spreading acceptance. As we move forward here at home, we can’t forget the communities that are suffering from human right violations beyond marriage rights; the murder this week in Cape Town, and the tragic murder of David Kato last year is a reminder that no legislation is needed to impose the death penalty on gay, lesbian, and transgender people in most countries today.
Ensuring human rights for marginalized LGBT communities is a multifaceted and a global battle – let’s start treating it like one.
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