With Human Rights in Crisis, Courage Honored

US Representative Mark Takano, Justin Vivian Bond, the evening’s MC, Blanche Wiesen Cook, Kenita Placide, Jessica Stern, and Caleb Orozco. | GAY CITY NEWS

At its annual Celebration of Courage, OutRight Action International, which defends the rights and dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer people worldwide, presented its Felipa De Sousa Award to Caleb Orozco, the man who last year successfully challenged the sodomy laws then still in place in Belize. The May 15 event also honored Blanche Wiesen Cook, a John Jay College history professor best known for her multi-volume biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, where she documented the lesbian relationship between the first lady and reporter Lorena Hickok.

At a press availability prior to the gala, held in the United Nations Delegates Dining Room, Orozco and St. Lucia-based Kenita Placide, who is OutRight’s Caribbean advisor, both discussed their concerns that anti-LGBTQ forces in the region may be emboldened by the perception that the Trump administration, with strong support among right-wing US evangelicals, is indifferent to human rights concerns, especially regarding the queer community.

OutRight Action International signals its determination

“If the US regresses in setting the value of respect for diversity that means the rest of us become expendable in our own countries,” Orozco said.

Jessica Stern, OutRight’s executive director, echoed that fear, noting that neither President Donald Trump nor Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had made a public statement about the incarceration, torture, and killing of gay men in Chechnya.

“Some other governments will ask, ‘Can we even stand for LGBTI rights?,” Stern warned. “This, I think, is part of the Trump effect… This could set us back more years than we could imagine.”

In formal remarks to the gala, Stern elaborated on that theme, saying, “What happened in the US election in November matters globally, not just for those of us who are US citizens. Without knowing it or being prepared for it, we left behind a decade where the US had become a champion for LGBTI rights across the world.”

She then assured the crowd that OutRight will not slacken in its vigilance, saying, “When one government fails — the US or any other — there are 192 other governments that are members of the United Nations that are responsible for upholding LGBTI rights. And OutRight serves as a watchdog and needle in the side of every one of them.”

US Representative Mark Takano, a California Democrat who is the first out LGBTQ person of color to serve in Congress and was one of the evening’s presenters, said that Donald Trump’s victory in November should be understood as part of a global rise in “anti-cosmopolitan illiberalism.

“Liberal democracy itself is under assault,” he said, not only at home, but around the world, as well. “It’s not enough to defend our institutions here. There is a global threat.”

The evening also honored Logo TV.