U.S. gays must end their isolationism now and embrace human rights struggles worldwide
All over the globe, gay people are being persecuted, jailed, and even killed for loving differently. Yet the principal national gay organizations in the United States remain largely indifferent to their fate.
Within the last weeks, there has been a spate of bad news from abroad. Consider: In the United Kingdom, a 28-year-old gay Iranian named Javad—whose full name is not used to protect him and his family in Iran—has been ordered to be deported back to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Last year, a video of Javad and his partner at a private gay party fell into the hands of the police. Fearful of being imprisoned, tortured, and executed for being gay—like so many other Iranian same-sexers—Javad fled to the U.K. last September, winding up in the town of Oakington, where he filed for asylum.
The Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization—PGLO, the largest Iranian gay group with secretariats in several countries, including Turkey and Norway—reported last week: “After a few days, Javad was arrested and taken to Oakington’s police department in Cambridge, where he was threatened and told that if he couldn’t come up with satisfactory answers for their questions they will forcefully deport him, sending him back to Iran. In December the British government denied his refugee status. Under the law, Javad has the right to appeal this decision. Sadly, a few days ago, without taking into consideration his appeal over the ruling, he received papers stating that he must leave the country; therefore, Javad was deprived of any protection by the British government.”
In other words, Tony Blair’s government is sending a victim of Iran’s lethal anti-gay pogrom back into the fiery furnace stoked by the anti-gay hate of the ayatollahs, where at least a dozen gay men have been hanged since last July for how they love, and hundreds more jailed and brutalized by the sex police.
But has there been any word of protest from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), or the U.S.-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLRHC) against this inhuman deportation?
Not a peep.
In India—the world’s second most populous country, with 1.1 billion people—homosexuality was accepted in cultural traditions for thousands of years, and the Hindu religion had venerated bisexual gods—including Samba, son of Krishna, who seduced both men and women. Male worshippers had ritual sex with male prostitutes in Hindu temples well into the 20th century.
But homosexuality was made illegal under British colonial rule in the 19th century, and that colonial anti-sodomy law remains on the books, five decades after India’s independence. (The British decriminalized homosexuality in 1968.) Under Indian law, gay sex is bracketed with sex with animals and pedophilia as an “unnatural” offense, punishable by 10 years imprisonment.
In January, in the Indian city of Lucknow—ruled by the ultra-homophobic Samajwadi Party—police arrested four gay men who were having a picnic in a public place. Police claimed the men belonged to an “international gay club” centered around the Internet Web site guys4men.com, on which gay men can place personals and engage in Internet chat. But, wrote Human Rights Watch, “Reports received by HRW indicate that undercover police, posing as gay on the Web site, entrapped one man, then forced him to call others and arrange a meeting where they were arrested.”
The arrest of the Lucknow Four has given new impetus to the campaign for repeal of Article 337, India’s anti-sodomy law, and generated national and international protests. But from HRC, NGLTF, and IGLHRC, nothing has been heard denouncing their imprisonment.
In Nepal, there is a continuing government and police campaign of what human rights groups on the ground there are calling violent “sexual cleansing” directed at gay people and, most particularly, against the many “metis,” the Nepalese word for the transgendered. Scores have been arrested and imprisoned, and subjected to brutal police violence. In the latest incident just last month, in the capital of Kathmandu, according to a report from the Human Rights Watch, “Four uniformed police from Durbar Marg police station reportedly saw [four metis in the street] and shouted, ‘Metis! Kill them!’ One meti was beaten with a baton on her back; one policeman pulled his gun and pointed it at her, threatening that, ‘These hijras pollute the society and must be cleaned out’ (Hijra” is also a common term for a transgender person.) The two other metis were also beaten severely.”
Nepal’s only organization fighting for the rights of sexual minorities, the Blue Diamond Society, has its very existence threatened by the government, which has instituted proceedings to have it banned for “advocating homosexual rights.” Blue Diamond’s Web site reports that police have scooped up, jailed, and abused its members. Yet from HRC and NGLTF, no protest against the “sexual cleansing” in Nepal.
IGLHRC managed to issue one press release—last August—but there has been not another word since.
In Cameroon, where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by five years in prison, nine gay men have been languishing in jail for six months for the crime of being gay. In the Baltic countries of Estonia and Latvia, discrimination against gays is about to be set in concrete in their constitutions by adding bans on gay marriage. Gay pride parades are banned, and gays are being brutalized in the streets—while leading politicians are demanding that homosexuality be re-criminalized.
In Poland recently, under its new ultra-homophobic government, police in Poznan violently attacked a gay rights march and arrested 67 marchers. Yet in none of these cases has their been any sort of meaningful response or protest from American gays and lesbians and the institutions that claim to speak for them
Yes, we still have a long way to go in our own country to secure full human rights and equality for all gay people. However, in much of America, gay people are decidedly fortunate in their hard-won freedom compared to our struggling, persecuted peers not only in the countries cited above, but in other lands that there’s not space here to mention.
But HRC and its self-congratulatory closet activists are too busy preparing yet another pricey black-tie fundraising gala in New York—this one honoring Ang Lee and Jake Gyllenhaal of “Brokeback Mountain”—to bother with foreign queers. NGLTF is supposed to be the more “progressive” of the two national gay rights groups—yet a check of its Web site shows that, in the last 13 months, the group has not issued even one single press release on the plight of persecuted gay people abroad.
[As Gay City News was preparing to go to press, NGLTF issued a press release denouncing the U.S. for voting to bar the International Gay and Lesbian Association and the Danish Association of Gays and Lesbians from consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council—a day after Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch already had done the same in a joint statement.]
I’m angry at our Brokebrain gay leaders for not making international solidarity with persecuted gays abroad part of their agenda, and thus part of our national gay agenda. And doing so requires a helluva lot more than just issuing an occasional press release. It requires, yes, real activism, organizing and education. The next time you think of sending a check to HRC or NGLTF, tell them you’re sick at heart at their indifference to this gay suffering. Demand that they create an international desk, and assign at least one full-time staff person to monitor attacks on gay people in other countries and educate gay Americans about these threats to human freedom abroad.
Demand that these groups immediately take up the most urgent case—the ongoing and massive entrapment, persecution, torture, and execution of gays in the Islamic Republic of Iran, on which their silence has been deafening. Demand they give Iran full-throated attention, through demonstrations—like the ones European gay organizations have been holding repeatedly all across the continent—public forums, and their own publications. Demand they provide concrete and material help for the penniless gay Iranian refugees from torture who are living precariously from day to day, under constant threat of deportation back to certain persecution for how and whom they love.
The lives of people whose only crime is that they’re like us is at stake. And remember: if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
If you don’t want to wait for our national gay groups to get off their backsides on the Iran gay crisis, contact the PGLO through its English-language website, pglo.org.
Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at http://direland.typepad.com/