Monday, May 03, 2010

Homophobia: A Threat To The Achievements Of Human Rights And Civilisation!

Thirty-seven years after a giant move was made to remove homosexuality from a book that listed it as a mental and emotional disorder, homophobia, homophobic attacks and homophobic laws aimed at stifling the human rights of the homosexuals are sadly still on the increase. It was a very controversial move and that move nearly broke the back of the American Psychiatric Association; the body that made the move of removing it from its official manual that lists mental and emotional disorders. It was in 1973 and two years after that another controversy ensued when the American Psychological Association followed suit by passing a resolution to support the removal. In 1990, the World Health Organisation made a similar move by urging all mental health professionals to help dispel the stigma of mental illness that some people still associate with homosexual orientation. Sadly, despite all these developments many countries still consider homosexuality as a form of disorder punishable with various forms of punishment including imprisonment, persecution, torture, lynching, and death penalty. For instance, according to issue 155 of May/June 2009 edition of the 'Amnesty Magazine', "At least 25 boys and men are reported to have been killed in Baghdad this year because they were or were perceived to be gay. The killings are said to have been carried out by armed Shi'a militiamen and by members of the tribes and families of the victims".

Under Saddam Hussein's regime homosexuality was criminalised in 2001. However, there were no recorded executions or imprisonments. It is only in recent years that militias have sought and murdered gays and lesbians in Iraq. In the neighbouring Iran which is a theocratic state the story looks scarier. Homan, an Iranian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender exile group, estimated that around 4,000 people were executed for homosexuality from 1979-1990 alone. The figure for 1990-2010, though not officially released is feared to be higher. Following the Iranian revolution of 1979 a very large number were either executed or lynched without trial. Those killed reportedly included foreign visitors including gay activists from the Lavender Crescent Society in San Francisco who were taken from the airport in Tehran shortly after their arrival and summarily shot dead. In the early 1980s, an attempt to set up a gay organisation in the country led to 70 executions. In 1992, about 100 gay people were sentenced to death following one raid on one private party.

During this period, it is very common to see in the media images of gay and bisexual men hanging from trees. Executions of lesbians took place as well. The executions were carried out with impunity to the extent that additional ‘smokescreen' charges, such as rape and kidnap, were rarely made, probably because there was very little international interest or protest at these widespread killings of homosexuals. Since the world did not care much about the execution of homosexuals in those days, the tyrants in Tehran felt no need to disguise their actions and motives. If the scenario is bloodcurdling and could be understood because of the status of Iran as an Islamic and theocratic state, then what happens in the democratic Jamaica would certainly make a person to feel sick. In Jamaica, homosexuals are extra judicially beaten, lynched and often murdered. The story of a young man called Brian summarises the treatment being meted out to homosexuals in Jamaica on daily basis. These days he wears sunglasses to hide his left eye damaged, he claimed, by kicks and blows with a board from a Jamaican reggae star Buju Banton. Brian is gay and Banton is an avowed homophobe whose song ‘Boom Bye-Bye’ decrees that gays "haffi dead" (have to die). In June 2004, Brian claimed that Banton and some of his thugs burst into his house near Banton's Kingston recording studio and ferociously beat him and five other men. After complaints from international human rights groups, Banton was finally charged but couple of months later a judge dismissed the case for lack of evidence. It was a bitter decision for Brian, who lost his landscaping business after the attack. This is not an isolated case; in fact it is one amongst many. Few years back, two of the island's most prominent gay activists Brian Williamson and Steve Harvey, were murdered and a crowd celebrated over Williamson's mutilated body. This did not happen in Iran or Saudi Arabia but in Jamaica in the Caribbean. Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that many anti-gay assaults have been acts of mob violence. In 2004, a teen was almost killed when his father learned he was gay and invited a group to lynch the boy at his school. Months later, witnesses accused the police of aiding and abetting another mob that stabbed and stoned a gay man to death in Montego Bay. And recently a man from Kingston, Nokia Cowan, drowned after a crowd shouting ‘batty boy’ (Jamaican word for homosexual) chased him off a pier.

"Jamaica is the worst any of us has ever seen," says Rebecca Schleifer of the US-based Human Rights Watch and author of a scathing report on the island's anti-gay hostility.

Jamaica may be the worst offender, but much of the rest of the Caribbean also has a long history of passionate homophobia. Islands like Barbados still criminalize homosexuality and some seem to be following Jamaica's more violent example. Recently two American CBS News producers were beaten with tire irons by a gay-bashing mob while on holidays in the Caribbean Island of Saint Martin. One of the victims, Ryan Smith, was airlifted to a Miami hospital, where he received an intensive care as a result of a fractured skull. Gay-rights activists attribute the scourge of homophobia in Jamaica largely to the country's increasingly thuggish reggae music scene spiced with gangsterism. Buju Banton is an epitome of this culture. One of his first hits, 1992's ‘Boom Bye-Bye’, boasts of shooting gays with Uzis and burning their skin with acid "like an old tire wheel." Another artist, Elephant Man declares in one song, "When you hear a lesbian getting raped/ it’s not our fault...Two women in bed/ that’s two Sodomites who should be dead." As if there is no end to this, yet another artist called Bounty Killer urged his fans and listeners to burn "Mister Fagoty" and make him "wince in agony."

Reggae's anti-gay rhetoric is also deep in the country's politics. Jamaica's major political parties have passed some of the world's toughest homophobic laws and regularly incorporate homophobic music in their campaigns. "The view that results," says Jamaican human-rights lawyer Philip Dayle, "is that a homosexual isn't just an undesirable but an unapprehended criminal."

In Nigeria, the biggest black nation on earth, the story is also the same. Despite having had her own fair share of the evil of homophobia in 1998, Nigeria is yet to learn a lesson. It is fast becoming the homophobic capital of Africa. Justin Fashanu was a Nigerian-English footballer who played for a variety of clubs between 1978 and 1997. His transfer to Nottingham Forest in 1981 made him the first £1m black footballer. In 1990 Fashanu encountered hostility after becoming the first prominent footballer to identify himself publicly as homosexual. In May 1998 he committed suicide as a result of the ugly homophobic reception he received including public rejection by his own blood brother, John Fashanu. Despite the wide publicity the ugly incident generated, the Nigerian National Assembly recently initiated what has been described as the toughest homophobic bill in Africa; an achievement that was only recently toppled by the Ugandan Kill-The-Gay Bill. If the Nigerian homophobic bill had made it into law, it would have handed out a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment on same-sex couples, those engaging in same-sex wedding ceremonies, as well as on those who perform such services and attendees. Homosexual acts between consenting adults are already illegal in Nigeria under a penal code that dates to the British colonial period. The bill's vague and dangerous prohibition on any public or private show of a "same sex amorous relationship" which could be construed to cover having dinner with someone of the same sex would open any known or suspected gay man or lesbian to the threat of arrest at almost any time. The bill also criminalizes all forms of political organizing on behalf of gay rights. In a country with a high rate of HIV and AIDS, the ban on holding any meetings related to gay rights could make it impossible for medical workers to counsel homosexuals on safe sex practices or for specially-tailored medical care to be delivered to homosexuals. Efforts to pass the bill last year met a stumbling block partly because of strong condemnation from the United States and the European Union. It was however recently revived.

If the Nigerian scenario is too bad, in the neighbouring Senegal-the only West African country to have had democracy since independence-it is certainly barbaric and heartbreaking. To the long list of abuse meted out to suspected homosexuals in Africa, Senegal has added a new form of degradation; the desecration of their bodies after burial. In the past two years, at least four men suspected of being gay have been exhumed by angry mobs in cemeteries in Senegal. The violence is especially shocking because Senegal, unlike other countries in the region, is considered a model of democracy and tolerance. Even though homosexuality is illegal in Senegal, colonial documents indicated that the country has long had a clandestine gay community. In many towns, they were tacitly accepted, says Cheikh Ibrahima Niang, a professor of social anthropology at Senegal's largest university. In fact, the visibility of gays in Senegal may have helped to prompt the backlash against them. The latest victim of this barbarism is a young man named Madieye Diallo. Madieye Diallo's body had only been buried for a few hours when the mob descended on the weedy cemetery with shovels. They exhumed the corpse, dragged it away and dumped it in front of the home of his elderly parents. The scene of May 2, 2009 was filmed on a cell phone and the video sold at the market. It passed from phone to phone, sowing panic among gay men who say they now feel like hunted animals.

In the United Kingdom, the fight against homophobia has gone a long way but unfortunately there are still some pockets of homophobic incidents here and there including in some government quarters especially in the nation’s asylum system. “Britain’s asylum system is homophobic. The Home Office is refusing asylum to genuine lesbian and gay refugees and sending them back to countries where they are at risk of arrest, imprisonment, torture and even execution,” said Peter Tatchell of the gay human rights group OutRage! “The government seems more interested in cutting asylum numbers than in ensuring a fair, just and compassionate asylum system. It is failing gay refugees who have fled savage persecution, including death squads, vigilante attacks and attempted so-called honour killings,” he added.

The United States of America does not have a good picture ether. Despite the fact that five states have successfully legalised gay partnership in the past couple of years, homophobia regrettably, is still on the increase. It is still taking ages to repeal the controversial ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy that forbids openly gay men from serving in the United States Army. And recently, in the State of California, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints otherwise called the Mormons played a very pivotal homophobic role in the successful passage of a piece of legislation called ‘Proposition 8’. The ‘Proposition 8’ upturned the State’s Supreme Court ruling legalising gay marriage. In a letter dated June 29, 2008, Mormon leaders in Salt Lake City told the church members to work hard to pass Proposition 8 in California. Members of the Mormon Church contributed a whopping $8 million to the "Yes on 8" campaign to pass a ballot measure that removed basic civil rights from the state constitution. But the homosexual members of the church are not immuned from the stress of homophobia. The alienation felt by this group was highlighted in 2000 when one of them, 32-year old Stuart Matis committed suicide on the steps of the Mormon’s church in Los Altos, California, over the church treatment of gays, lesbians and bisexuals. This scenario echoes a similar incident in the Vatican when Alfredo Ormando, a 40-year-old gay man from Palermo, Sicily, set himself on fire in St. Peter's on Jan. 13, 1998. He died of his injuries 10 days later. In his suicide note, Ormando wrote at length of how he felt rejected by the church and the pain it had caused him. To many, he has become a symbol of what they see as the intolerance of Italian society and the Roman Catholic Church.

The story continues with no end in sight. As of December 2008, homosexuality was illegal in 80 countries and punishable by death in seven including Nigeria. In its 1994 decision in Toonen v. Australia, the UN Human Rights Committee, which is responsible for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, declared that such laws are in violation of human rights. Also the Principle 21 of the Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Says that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and that these rights may not be invoked by the State to justify laws, policies or practices which deny equal protection of the law, or discriminate, on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. It is purely against this backdrop that the 34 member countries of the Organization of American States in 1998 unanimously approved a declaration affirming that human rights protections extend to sexual orientation and gender identity.

With Panama decriminalising homosexuality in 2008 and Burundi for the first time in its history criminalising it in 2009, the world now counts 80 countries with State-sponsored homophobic laws. Seventy-two countries and three entities (Turkish-occupied North Cyprus, Gaza and Cook Islands) punish consenting adults with imprisonment, while five countries (Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen and parts of Nigeria and Somalia) punish them with death penalty. As a result of the ugly dimension homophobia is taking there was a meeting recently between the French Minister of Human Rights and Foreign Affairs Rama Yade and Louis George Tin, the founder of the International Day Against Homophobia. At the end of the meeting, Yade announced that she would be appealing at the UN for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality. The appeal was quickly taken up as an international concern. Co-sponsored by France, which then was holding the presidency of the European Union, and The Netherlands on behalf of the European Union, the declaration had been intended as a resolution but later changed to use the format of a declaration because there was not enough support for an official resolution. The declaration was read out by Ambassador Jorge Arg├╝ello of Argentina on December 18, 2008, and was the first declaration concerning gay, lesbian and bisexual rights to be read in the General Assembly of the United Nations. The declaration condemned violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization, and prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It also condemned killings, executions, torture, arbitrary arrest, persecution and deprivation of economic, social and cultural rights on the grounds of sexual orientation.

1 comment:

  1. This is an excellent article with a lot of useful information.

    In the Caribbean, all the English-speaking countries, except for the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos have buggery laws and are very homophobic. It really is "Better in the Bahamas."

    For your information and the information of your readers, Mark Myrie, aka "Buju Banton," has been in U.S. federal custody since December 10, 2009. He is charged with "conspiracy to distribute 5 or more kilos of cocaine" and "aiding and abetting each other and knowingly and intentionally possessing a firearm in furtherance of, and carrying a firearm during the course of a drug trafficking crime." His trial is scheduled to start June 21, 2010 in Tampa, Florida. You you would like to see the charges against Buju Banton and some of the alleged evidence see

    If convicted, Buju Banton is said to be facing up to 20 years in prison.

    In the U.S. it does seem like progress is slow. But states keep passing gay marriage and civil unions laws. We are optimistic about getting "don't ask, don't tell" repealed in a year or two. We are also optimistic about passing an ENDA bill (employment protection for LGBT) during President Obama's terms in office.