The United Nations at the Fulcrum

The United Nations at the Fulcrum|When future gay historians examine 2006, they may well conclude that this year marked the point at which the United Nations became the new battleground of struggle for the global LGBT movement. Several reasons stand out.

BY DOUG IRELAND | When future gay historians examine 2006, they may well conclude that this year marked the point at which the United Nations became the new battleground of struggle for the global LGBT movement. Several reasons stand out.

In a historic breakthrough, in early November the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention condemned the detention of 11 men in Cameroon-whose only crime was having been caught in a raid on a semi-clandestine gay bar. The U.N. group said putting the men in prison constituted “an arbitrary deprivation of liberty” contrary to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The 11 men had been arrested under Cameroon's law criminalizing homosexuality and making it punishable by up to five years in prison. Their presence in the bar led to the presumption that they are gay.

When future gay historians examine 2006, they may well conclude that this year marked the point at which the United Nations became the new battleground of struggle for the global LGBT movement. Several reasons stand out.

One of the arrested men died in custody of complications from AIDS, his health having been aggravated by the inhumane, harsh conditions of his imprisonment.

The U.N. decision marked the first time since 1994 that an official body of the world organization had condemned a member state for prosecuting homosexuality as a crime.

In another victory, on December 11 three gay organizations were granted consultative status by the United Nations' Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)-the Danish National Association for Gays and Lesbians, the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany, and the European branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA).

The worldwide ILGA organization, as opposed to its European branch, once had ECOSOC status, for only one year from 1993 to 1994, but was stripped of it following a scandal orchestrated by the U.S. right wing in which a small number of ILGA's member organizations around the world were accused of not taking a strong enough stance against pedophilia. Gay groups faced an uphill battle at the U.N. ever since.

By allowing the three LGBT groups consultative status, ECOSOC overrode a January report of its Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations, which had called on the Council to withhold status from the gay groups. The negative report had been instigated by Iran with the support of the Bush administration, which in January joined an “axis of evil” coalition of homophobic states, including Cameroon, China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, Senegal, Sudan, and Zimbabwe, to block the gay groups from joining the nearly 2,900 organizations which have ECOSOC consultative status.

These two encouraging developments gave added impetus to a new initiative hailed as “the next big thing” for the global LGBT movement-an initiative, launched in November, to put the U.N. on record in favor of the abrogation of the anti-gay laws in all 75 countries that still make homosexuality a crime.

The worldwide petition campaign for such a declaration by the U.N. Human Rights Council was launched by the Paris-based International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), which in 2006-only its second year of existence-was observed on May 17 in more than 50 countries and endorsed by the European Parliament. The annual date of May 17 was chosen by IDAHO to mark the anniversary of the day in 1990 when the General Assembly of the World Health Organization (WHO) removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

The new IDAHO campaign was launched in Paris on November 20 with the support of ILGA and dozens of other international and country gay organizations, from Spain to Brazil, from Kenya and Senegal to Israel. The effort was also endorsed by a roster of V.I.P.s that included five Nobel Prize-winners, 11 Pulitzer Prize-winners, and six Academy Award-winners. Among the celebrity endorsers of the campaign are Desmond Tutu, David Bowie, Meryl Streep, Tony Kushner, Mike Nichols, Bernardo Bertolucci, Salman Rushdie, Gore Vidal, Tom Stoppard, and two former French prime ministers.

The IDAHO petition-entitled “For the Universal Decriminalization of Homosexuality” and based essentially on the articles of the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights-says, in part, “We ask the United Nations to request a universal abolition of the so-called 'crime of homosexuality,' of all 'sodomy laws,' and laws against so-called 'unnatural acts' in all the countries where they still exist.”

The brilliance of this long-overdue idea is multi-fold. First, it provides a vivid way of highlighting the continued oppression of LGBT people around the world and the vital need for international gay solidarity. Second, it gives people in many countries a common goal around which to organize. Third, when the resolution is passed, it will serve notice on repressive nations that, as IDAHO's founder, Professor Louis-Georges Tin of France-who also conceived the idea of the U.N. decriminalization effort-put it, “gays and lesbians around the world cannot wait any longer for their love to cease being made a crime. Many are in jail, or at risk of being jailed. Some are being killed. This has to stop now.”

If you wish to join the IDAHO campaign, visit the group's Web site at

Gays, lesbians, and the transgendered here in the U.S. need to pressure our national institutions, like the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, to make this campaign for universal decriminalization of homosexuality a part of their agenda and to agitate for it.

Unfortunately, 2006 was also the year of the dog that didn't bark as these U.S. LGBT institutions continued to be largely silent on the oppression of gays and lesbians around the world.

This reporter's work in the pages of this newspaper has regularly examined, in depth, the horrors that have befallen homosexuals in countries less free than the U.S., as well as their brave struggles that demand our support. We have reported-to name just a few examples-on the fight by a fledgling LGBT group in Indonesia to repeal 54 regional laws in the country's provinces that penalize and criminalize homosexuality; on the dictatorial Belarus government's anti-gay crackdown that forced cancellation of the country's first public gay conference; on stepped-up police raids and arrests of lesbians and gays in Peru prior to local elections there; on the serial murders and lynching of gays in Jamaica, one of the globe's most homophobic countries; on anti-gay witch-hunts in Ghana and Uganda; on the police and fascist assaults that broke up attempts to hold Gay Pride celebrations in Moscow, Estonia, and Latvia; on the theocratic death squads systematically murdering gays in Iraq, to the utter indifference of the country's U.S. occupiers; and, of course, on the continuing lethal persecution of gays in Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death.

If you doubt the desperate need for more international solidarity on the part of U.S. gays, listen to the voice of Mani, a 24-year-old underground gay activist in Iran this reporter interviewed in July-his words could speak just as well for all the LGBT people in the other 74 countries where homosexuality is still a crime:

“You who live serenely and comfortably on the other side of Iran's frontiers,” Mani told Gay City News, “be aware that those who think and feel and love like you do in Iran are executed for the crime of homosexuality, are assassinated, kidnapped, and barred from working in offices. You have festivals, and they prisons. You select Mr. Gay of the Year, but they don't even enjoy the right to have gravestones. Be fair and tell us what difference there is between us and you. Isn't it time that all homosexuals around the world rise up and come to our defense? Listen to this poem by Sa'adi [the classic Persian 13th century poet who celebrated same-sex love']:

All human beings are different parts of the same body, who

Have inherited the same essence in creation

No part will rest in peace

If one is suffering pain

You will not deserve the name of human

If you are indifferent to others' pains.

Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at