Over on 365gay today, I explore the connection. Makes for interesting, yet chilling reading — as does the article from Harper’s that I link to there.
Consider this quote from a gay rights activist:
“Long before we built a movement…, no one bothered about us. We got away with so many things. When we decided to come out and claim our space, society came harshly against us.
“This implies that we are stepping on people’s toes. People hate to see us free and that’s why oppression of LGBT people is on the rise. One of the indicators of a progressive social movement is when its enemies start organising against it.”
While this might be a statement from, say, an advocate for the repeal of DADT or for marriage equality, in fact it’s from a spokesperson for a group in Uganda. This article from the Guardian discusses recent developments in several African countries, focusing on the backlash against the brave men and women who have begun to come out. Perhaps none is braver than Tiwonge Chimbalanga, one half of the Malawi couple about to be sentenced — for up to fourteen years — for the “crime” of publicly declaring their marital commitment to each other. Said Chimbalanga:
“I love Steven so much. If people or the world cannot give me the chance and freedom to continue living with him as my lover, then I am better off to die here in prison. Freedom without him is useless and meaningless.”
This story (and others involving both governmental and citizen actions against their LGBT communities) would be bad enough, but then there’s this:
“This assertiveness is apparently being met by a ferocious backlash from religious fundamentalists and politicians determined to preserve the status quo. It has been described as a proxy war between US liberals and Christian evangelicals, both of which pour in funding and support to further their cause.”
If this indeed a proxy war, there’s only one side to be on: the one that supports people in their efforts to live authentic and fearless lives. Yes, it’s probably true that some well-meaning assistance has blundered in without sufficient awareness of local cultural and religious norms and mores, but their central argument can’t be countered. And consider the other side’s willingness to simply lie in order to rile people up about the evils of homosexuality. Here’s a comment about evangelical Scott Lively, who visited Uganda last year shortly before the introduction of the “gays must die” bill that has become an international lightning rod:
Gay activists have placed on the web a video of Lively telling a Ugandan audience that he “knows more than almost anyone else in the world” about homosexuality. He says that the genocide in Rwanda was carried out by gays, that AIDS is a just punishment for homosexuality and that foreigners are trying to promote homosexuality in Uganda.
It’s all true. Box Turtle Bulletin has posted three videos from Lively here.
Watch this one for the comments summarized above, and so much more.
Lively tells you that he “enjoys gender normalcy.” (Lucky guy.) He also expresses dismay that the Southern Policy Law Center considers him and his message to be “hate.” Oh, and gays were the spark for Nazism. One correction to the story quoted above: He says only that the “Rwandan stuff probably involved these guys.”
The “Rwandan stuff” was something called “genocide.” And where’s his evidence about the “probable” involvement of gays? He doesn’t have it, but this is about scape-goating and incitement based on pseudo-science (to dignify it). And he ends it with the AIDS comment, which is particularly stupid in a country where most of the infections occur from heterosexual sex.
Lively and his fellows have spilled the blood of gay men, lesbians, and transgendered people — ostensibly in the name of religion. But their lies can’t stand against the simple truth of men like Tiwonge Chimbalanga.
A few years ago, Martina Navratilova was asked about how her openness about being a lesbian had affected her tennis career. In characteristically honest and amusing fashion, she had this assessment (and here I paraphrase): Well, it wasn’t great. It cost me some fans, I took some heat for it, and I lost almost all of my endorsements. But it could have been worse. In the Middle Ages, I would have been boiled in oil.
A great line from a terrific and warm champion. (I had the pleasure of meeting her a few years ago at yet another event where she was being honored, and she was both humble and funny in accepting.) But, with all respect: Worse things are happening to gays today.
Jamaica’s horrendous treatment of gays — by both officials and the public — has been well-documented, and is (again) sometimes justified by religion. In addition to the legion of under-noticed stories on the brutal murders and beatings of gay men goings on there, there is this “gem” from Wayne Besen at Huff Post, which chillingly attests to the extent of the homophobia:
[T]he Jamaica Cancer Society has raised concerns that the fear of being labeled gay is causing some Jamaican men to avoid prostate examinations, causing one of the highest prostate cancer rates in the world.
This also means that doctors are complicit in some way, which is worse – but not surprising. Both straight and gay men who undergo a prostate exam in the U.S. often hear snarky comments about the exam from their docs, an artifact of the fear of gay sex.
In Iraq, an unintended consequence of our “liberation” the people has been the coordinated — and militia-supported — murder of many gay men. Things were better for gays under Saddam Hussein. Again, the fear of gay sex is the driver: The linked story relates stories of gay men having their anuses glued shut, and then force-fed laxatives; a painful death ensues.
These heartbreaking stories find expression in the U.S. as well, where a collision of religious belief and homophobia lead to actions that are equally repugnant, yet little noticed.
The creepy, secretive cabal known as “The Family” is supporting the Ugandan government’s push to make homosexuality punishable by death. This story is a good primer on this corrupt, politically powerful, organization, which uses religious belief chiefly to gain tax advantages and to support the opulent lifestyles of its members. Jeff Sharlot’s exhaustive account of the group, The Family, would be expected to drive these nuts out of business — but this is a nation where torture is redefined and no one who authorized blatantly illegal practices gets prosecuted for it, so I’m not optimistic.
You’ll notice that the stories, and the actions of these anti-gay groups, focus on gay men, not lesbians. While there’s plenty of anti-lesbian sentiment to go around (and well-documented economic costs to being lesbian), sex between males remains particularly transgressive. A few years ago, a colleague introduced me to a list serve for Constitutional Law professors (after about two days of endless, theoretical postings, I got out of there), and I was astonished to see a comment from one anti-gay law professor joking that he, himself, didn’t understand male sex (the comment was much worse than that; I’m sanitizing for your protection). And this is a supposedly respectable law professor.
Of course, Obama would never make such a comment. But he would — and has — ignored the 720 murders of gays in Iraq, despite clear and persuasive reporting on the topic. As far as I can tell, he’s said nothing about Jamaica, either (and has not responded to this suggestion, either).
I’m not naive enough to think that the Administration can get involved in every controversy, or that it should put issues of concern to the gay community ahead of other diplomatic goals. But we’re not talking about small stuff here. People are being killed, with something at least close to official approval, and…silence. With no other group would this be considered business as usual.
There’s something else. It’s hard to say much about what’s going on in other countries when your own domestic record is less than exemplary. Here’s where all of this ties back to marriage equality, if only in theoretical political terms. By not committing himself to that goal, Obama is stating, in effect, that he doesn’t favor full citizenship for gay and lesbians. So even though Obama is leagues away from dangerous right-wing nuts like the members of “The Family,” his credibility on gay issues is compromised. Perhaps that explains his otherwise puzzling silence.