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Asylum for Malawi Couple in the U.S.?

June 2nd, 2010 No comments

Considering the dismal future and potential asylum request of the recently pardoned Malawi couple, Andrew Sullivan says:

“Come to America.”

Is he serious? Is this really the best place for them to seek asylum? Tiwonge Chimbalanga identifies as a trans-woman. They won’t be able to marry here, either. In many places, neither of them will have protection if fired from their jobs; Chimbalanga wouldn’t have anti-discrimination protection in most places. And I haven’t even gotten to the horrible violence that the most vulnerable among us — the trans-community — routinely suffer.

Despite his trenchant criticisms of the legal treatment of the LGBT community, Sullivan retains an immigrant’s zeal for his adopted nation (in this regard, it’s telling that he uses the patriotic “America” rather than “U.S.”). But surely a moment’s sober reflection would have told him that there are several obviously better choices for them in Europe. I know, I know — they have their own nativist movements, and violence against “outsiders” isn’t exactly unknown there. But at least they’d be assured that the law would treat them as full and equal citizens.

The Long View on the Malawi Pardon

May 31st, 2010 No comments

My instinctive reaction on hearing about the pardoning of the two men (one of whom identified as a woman) sentenced to fourteen years of hard labor for having the temerity to hold a public commitment ceremony was the obvious one: Thank God.

And when it comes to those two men themselves, that’s still my reaction. The thought of them spending the most vigorous years of their lives at hard labor, separated, was too much to bear. But there’s another, more sober way to look at this.

Although President Mutharika succumbed to pressure this time, there’s no guarantee that he, or any successors, will do so in the future. The law stands and can be enforced arbitrarily. Gay men and women and — perhaps especially — transgendered people will continue to fear the harsh application of this colonial law, thereby potentially setting back the whole movement. (There’s evidence to the contrary, it should be said.)

What might have happened without the pardon? The couple were going to appeal. Knowing precisely nothing about the Malawi judiciary, it’s  hard for me to conjecture about what would have happened, but one possibility is that the law would have been thrown out, or that at least the state’s method of producing “evidence” of the couple’s homosexuality — requiring them to submit to a physical examination — went too far. In either case, some good, pro-LGBT law would have been made.

And had the appeal failed, the pardon might still have issued. So what looks like unalloyed good news turns out to be more complicated.

Pawlenty and Malawi

May 20th, 2010 No comments

Malawi x290 (Reuters) I Advocate.com

Over at 365gay.com, you can find my just-published column tearing into Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty for vetoing a bill that would simply have recognized the humanity of the LGBT citizens of his state, by allowing aggrieved partners to decide what’s to be done with their deceased spouses’ remains, and to have same basic right to call the defendant who caused the death to account (through a wrongful death suit, allowed to legally married, opposite-sex couples).

Then, this morning I read about the sentencing of the gay Malawi couple who had engaged in a formal commitment ceremony to fourteen years of hard labor. Here’s what a Presidential spokeswoman had to say:

Betsy Chirambo, an adviser to President Bingu wa Mutharika, expressed concern over calls by some activists for the West to withdraw aid to Malawi because of the case. Up to 40 percent of Malawi’s development budget comes from foreign donors.

“It is not our culture for a man to marry a man,” Chirambo said this week. “That is not even in our constitution. Some of these rights are not good for our culture.”

The men engaged in a commitment ceremony — they didn’t “marry,” because legally, they can’t.

I’d start by threatening to cut aid in half, immediately, unless the men are released. That would get their attention.

That’s not going to happen, though. Instead, the State Department issued this toothless condemnation:

The United States is deeply disappointed in [the] conviction of same-sex couple Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza in Malawi. We view the criminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity as a step backward in the protection of human rights in Malawi. The government of Malawi must respect the human rights of all of its citizens. The United States views the decriminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity as integral to the protection of human rights in Malawi and elsewhere in the world. (emphasis added)

“The government of Malawi must respect the human rights of all of its citizens.” That statement sounds a bit hollow coming from a government that still hasn’t managed to protect its LGBT citizens from workplace discrimination. And it brought to mind Pawlenty’s unsaying of gay relationships — even in death, your relationship means nothing and won’t be recognized in any way.

I’m not equating fourteen years of hard labor to what the LGBT community experiences in the U.S., although being fired from one’s job just for being, say, a lesbian, is devastating enough. I am saying that our actions and our high-minded rhetoric are often, and sadly, at odds.