Friday, 12 September 2014

Rant about the Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow

I keep coming back to this topic of LGBT* rights.  Maybe somebody will think “move on already”, but I am not apologising, since I think it is THE human rights question of our time.  There are other live issues in Europe, such as the rights of the Roma and immigrants, but that is more a question of recognising and giving effect to rights that exist on the legal level.  The rights of LGBT persons do not even yet exist in law in many countries.

There really seems to be a clear split in where the world is going, as I witnessed in Namibia.  Western countries (including much of South America) are slowly but surely moving towards recognition of equal rights.  Some need a bit of nudging, like Russia, which is trying to jump off the human rights bandwagon and climb aboard the homophobia train, but it will struggle.  There is very little doubt that the European Court of Human Rights will give them the slap they amply deserve for their “homosexual propaganda” law.  That is the price to pay for wanting to be part of European society, Mr Putin.

Some other countries, mostly those in Africa (South Africa excluded), or where the majority religion is Islam, are racing in the opposite direction.  They are tightening laws and, arguably more importantly law enforcement, against sexual minorities.  The discrimination is very real.  It is absolutely PC to spout homophobic crap in Namibia, usually coupled with thundering religious judgment.  The part about Jesus being on the side of the outcast and persecuted appears to be forgotten in the righteousness of the family being about multiplying and filling the earth.  We even had a few colleagues, working for a HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANISATION, who did not support equal rights for gays.  I mean, where do you begin in such circumstances?

I kept asking myself why this is.  There appear to be a few reasons.  The publisher of the Namibian, the country’s main newspaper, thought it was diversion.  Politicians always thought it was a good time to make homophobic statements whenever the heat was on the government for some alleged misdeed or other: “Look over there, a moffie, let’s all go and beat him up!”  You can also see why this would apply in places like Zimbabwe.  Very practical example of the technique satirized in the movie Wag the Dog.

The second reason appears to be relentless, and successful, hate campaigning by a few nutjob American preachers.  There is currently a case ongoing in Massachusetts against a certain Scott Lively brought by Sexual Minorities Uganda, and the facts in the Court’s Order permitting the claim to proceed make for pretty chilling reading.  Scott Lively is very proud of how he has managed to convince prominent Ugandans, including Parliamentarians, that homosexuals are behind just about all evil in the world and it is important that they be contained, if not exterminated.  He is the author of a historical book on the subject called Pink Swastika.  Go on, google it (I refuse to provide a direct link) and you will be amused and horrified in equal measures.  You will also see why Mr Lively well deserves the title of a “nutjob”.

This is perhaps the saddest part of the story.  Homosexuality is not the western import that evil tyrants like Robert Mugabe claim it to be, homophobia is.  It is not that countries like Namibia were previously totally accepting of homosexuality.  They just didn’t really care.  There was a lack of information on the part of both, the LGBT persons themselves, as well as the general public, about what it means to be “homosexual”, “bisexual” or “transgender”.  Nowadays LGBT persons are more self-aware, and consequently clamour for recognition of their right to be who they are more openly.  This in part, and the Scott Livelys of this world in part, lead to homosexuality being more understood, but not well enough understood to be accepted.  It is the classic case of the fear of the unknown, but peppered with a heavy dose of malicious misinformation.

So the fight is very important.  I must admit that F and I were quite disheartened at times in Namibia; we even ended up writing a newspaper op-ed to correct a blatant untruth stated publicly by a high-ranking public official in terms of what the law said about the rights of a certain group of sexual minorities (asylum seekers). 

Then we went to a sexual minorities party and it came at just the right time.  The atmosphere was fabulous, the music was great and the crowd was a true rainbow.  There was everyone from a glamorous drag queen via a butch lesbian to a couple of boring white heterosexuals whose movements you could barely call “dancing”.**  Everyone was accepted for who they were, nobody was aggressive or judgmental and the point was just to have a good time.  We had some drinks, we boogied and we met a few nice people.  What more could you ask from a party?  It was so amazing to see how these people, who face intolerance every day of their lives, were themselves so accepting and tolerant.  F said afterwards that it made him believe in our LGBT project again, as these were people whose rights were worth fighting for.  I think human rights belong to everyone, not just nice people, so I can’t subscribe to that statement, but I couldn’t help being uplifted by the very inspirational bunch of people.  There was definitely a pot of gold for me at the end of that rainbow party.

So I will keep ranting until the human rights of sexual and gender minorities are given full recognition, in Finland, Namibia and elsewhere.

You have been warned.

*I have recently discovered that LGBT is not quite the widely known acronym, like the UN, HIV or CIA, I assumed it to be.  Thus for the sake of clarity: LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (or Transsexual).  Sometimes you will see it also as LGBTI (“I” for Intersex) or LGBTIQ (“Q” for Queer).


  1. THANK YOU! I love this. Please teach me how to get more involved with LGBT and human rights issues, without having the fancy law degree. I'm know how to stick to my feminist and anti-bullying guns.
    Have you seen the second part of the John Oliver interview with Pepe Julian Onziema

    1. Hi Ioana,

      Thanks! I'm glad to hear -- although not at all surprised -- that this is something you are also interested in.

      I don't think there is any need to be a lawyer, or anything else in particular, for that matter, to be a human rights or LGBT rights advocate. But I do think it is important and useful to make sure everyone gets to help in ways that suit their personality and talents. F and I originally thought about volunterring for an NGO that works in girls' education, but then decided that it made more sense for us to offer the special knowledge and skill we have in law, to add a bit more value than just a pair of hands. It was totally the right thing to do, we got to do some amazing work in Namibia and felt like we made a (tiny) difference. In the case of someone like you, your most obvious relevant talents are in awareness-raising (as you're very good at networking) and event organisation. I have no doubt that many organisations would be DELIGHTED to have someone like you help them.

      As to these organisations: We've found Amnesty to be worthy of their reputation. They do a great variety of good work. We participate in their urgent actions and support them financially. F used to also do very hands-on work volunteering for their Berlin asylum group. I tried their women's group in Geneva, but that wasn't for me. What's great about them is that if you join, you can specify what you're in particular interested in, and they keep you updated on news and events in that particular area (e.g. LGBT rights).

      Stonewall is, as far as I know, the leading LGB (but no T) rights organisation in the UK. They do some really good work, e.g. a few recent campaigns against homophobia in sport. Part of the (positive) problem for them, as far as I can see, is that they've been too succesful: UK is one of the leading countries in the world when it comes to LGBT rights. (Hooray!)

      As to helping people in countries where LGBT rights are less protected (like Namibia), that gets very tricky. Us northeners coming and telling them what to do in their own countries is not always effective in achieving change, but can actually be counterproductive. Understandably that sort of stuff does not go down well in countries that still remember being colonised by Europeans. The only thing we found we could do was to do the legal research and education on their rights -- kind of indirect assistance from the sidelines. The real fight for the rights of Namibian minorities has to be fought in Namibia, and by Namibians.

      There are of course other big human rights battles closer to home that remain to be fought. Have you thought about the rights of the Roma in Romania, for example ...? You'd be a great ally to them, a fairly powerless minority, as far as I can tell.

      Share your own views and tips though, I know you have loads of them, such as the no-pressies-but-baskets-for-the-homeless-for-Christmas idea we recently discussed offline!