Going Global on Gay Rights

Going Global on Gay Rights

Louis-Georges Tin, French black activist, pursues solidarity among worldwide LGBT peoples

May 17 will be the second annual International Day Against Homophobia. This year, IDAHO has been endorsed by the European Parliament, in its landmark resolution condemning homophobia, passed January 18, as well as by the Belgian Parliament, and will be observed with public actions and demonstrations in more than 50 countries, including China and Iran—but not in the United States.

Neither of the two largest national gay organizations—the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force—has seen fit to join in this international manifestation of solidarity against anti-gay hate. Neither has the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission organized any event to participate in IDAHO.

The International Day Against Homophobia was the brainchild of its president, a remarkable young French university professor, Louis-Georges Tin, born in the overseas French department of Martinique, in the Antilles chain in the Caribbean. Tin, 31, is not only one of the most creative gay leaders internationally, he is also a rising star of France’s emerging black activist community.

The founder of IDAHO, Tin also initiated the Representative Council of Black Associations in France. Begun last November during the ghetto riots that shook 150 French cities and towns, CRAN—an alliance of some 120 associations—has already been recognized by the political establishment as a force to be reckoned with. Its first annual national convention of 2,000 people, held this past weekend in Paris, saw all major political parties on the left and right send important emissaries as observers in an attempt to curry favor with the assembled delegates.

How did IDAHO come about?

“In 2003, after I published the “Dictionary of Homophobia” [“Dictionnaire de l’Homophobie,” Presses Universitaires de France], I began to work on the idea of an international day of struggle against homophobia,” Tin told Gay City News. “For me it was the obvious way to move from thought to action, from theory to practice. Everybody said it was a crazy dream, but I took my proposal for this project to LGBT groups all over the world, to political parties and institutions—and that’s how the first International Day Against Homophobia was observed on May 17, 2005—15 years to the day after the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.”

“This year,” Tin recounted proudly, “IDAHO will be observed in over 50 countries, from Guyana to Sri Lanka to Canada, England, the Ivory Coast, Russia, and Japan. There will be all sorts of actions—public awareness campaigns, conferences, street demonstrations, artistic expositions, film festivals, forums, meetings of associations, and so on.”

IDAHO is an all-volunteer organization.

“It may be surprising to some to learn that we work with no budget and no paid staff,’ Tin explained. “In the beginning this was a necessity, as I began IDAHO alone and with no money. But it is also a choice—because an association with a base in 50 countries can quickly become a bureaucracy. I wanted to avoid this at all costs. I tried to imagine a structure that would leave the most room for local initiatives, enthusiasm, and independence—even if there’s enormous work coordinating IDAHO at the international level with the help of our correspondents in each country. And I think this formula has worked rather well!”

Tin was born in the small Antilles island into the black middle class. Both of his parents are high school teachers.

“I was 10 when I first realized I was attracted by another boy,” he remembered. “I was never in the least ashamed of this desire, ever—but I was afraid of rejection by everyone else. Not without sadness, I accustomed myself to the idea that all homosexuals hid themselves like I did then, and that I’d never have a real sexuality or love-life. Martinique is very small, everyone knows everyone else, and that explains in part why there is no public gay space, no gay bar, no gay publication there. Nothing. All the Martinique gays live clandestinely. I didn’t begin to have a homosexual life until I went to Paris at the age of 17 for my university studies—for me, Paris was like life on another planet!

“I came out to my friends and family at 19, when I was living in Paris and had acquired total financial and moral independence from my family. To my great surprise, even though I came from a fairly religious Catholic family, they took it rather well—not all my gay friends were so lucky.”

A brilliant student, young Louis-Georges was admitted to France’s prestigious Ecole Normale Superieure.

“I was the first person from Martinique admitted to Normale Sup since Aime Cesaire [the renowned poet] in the 1930s,” Tin recounted. “In the beginning, all went well, and I studied literature. But when I began to declare my interest in gay and lesbian studies, things progressively degenerated. It may be the school of Sartre, Foucault, and Derrida, but I can assure you the intellectual climate there is less open than is commonly believed. The school administration did everything to oppose the conferences on gay and lesbian themes that I organized through the LGBT group I had created at the school.”

Tin’s academic career suffered greatly after he began his gay activism, even though his post-graduate work received the highest national honors, and despite his having published several books—including an anthology of 16th century poetry and “Homosexuel: expression et repression” (Editions Stock, 2000).

“It was after I published the ‘Dictionary of Homophobia’ that things really got bad,” Tin said. “My career paid for that book very dearly, I can tell you. Even though it was unanimously hailed by the critics, and got a great front-page review in Le Monde’s book supplement—which is the biggest honor a book can receive in the French press—after it appeared my academic career simply stopped, from one day to the next. The kind of teaching jobs that I’d previously obtained without any problem whatsoever became inaccessible. It was discrimination pure and simple, and I was even told so unofficially—but there was no way to prove it, especially given the French judicial system, which is hardly protective of the rights of minorities of any sort. I wound up leaving France for university posts in Manchester, England, and then in Pittsburgh in the U.S. After I’d given up all hope of obtaining a teaching job in France, I finally got one at the university in Orleans.”

What does Tin see as IDAHO’s greatest accomplishments—and how does he envision its future?

“Last year on May 17, we organized the first gay public actions in Bulgaria, Ivory Coast, and China,“ he said. “Because they felt themselves supported by an international movement of solidarity, our friends in those countries found the courage to dare what they’d never dared try before—a political coming-out. This year, the same thing will happen in Russia. With Gay Russia.ru, we have organized an International Festival Against Homophobia, as well as the first gay pride march ever, in Moscow. Despite the fact that the mayor of Moscow has banned the march, we have mobilized support for the right to have that pride march in the Council of Europe, and it will happen. This is typical of the kind of actions the IDAHO committee favors.

“I should also mention that, this year, IDAHO is co-sponsoring an all-day seminar on homophobia with the European Parliament, to be held at its headquarters in Strasbourg, to discuss how to fight homophobia in the member states of the European Union. But I intend to propose that the Euro Parliament take the lead in fighting for the universal abolition of the crime of homosexuality, the theme I have proposed this year for IDAHO. This may appear a utopian goal to some, but it isn’t really. After all, two-thirds of the U.N.’s member states have decriminalized homosexuality, and one may reasonably expect a majority of the U.N. Human Rights Council to support this goal.”

Tin further elaborated on the international parliamentary strategy.

“The key objective now is to get the decriminalization resolution presented at the U.N., and I’m working hard on that goal. One step toward it is to have the European Parliament condemn those countries which make homosexuality a crime, to pressure them to change their laws. This could be a historic first in human rights. Yes, I’ll have a lot of work on my plate to get there. But people told me I was crazy when I decided to launch the International Day Against Homophobia. I believe we can succeed!”

But getting the U.N. to support decriminalization of homosexuality will be more difficult if the large national gay organizations in the U.S. continue what could be called their “abstinence-only” attitude toward international gay solidarity actions like IDAHO.

For more information on IDAHO, visit its English-language Web page at http://www.idahomophobia.org/index.php3?lang=en.

Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at http://direland.typepad.com/