031_Global12_InSight_GayRights_V4

Global issue 12

Global InsightLGBT Rights an increased public discussion of sexuality and a health focus on try’s penal code) on the grounds that they violate the equal protec- vulnerable populations, including MSM (men who have sex with tion clause of the constitution. The issue of sexual orientation reap- men). AIDS funding has helped health workers and emerging gay peared in public debate from an unexpected angle – the partnership movements in Africa, Asia and Latin America recognise that ac- between Yale and the National University of Singapore. How will cess to health care cannot be separated from legal equality. This Yale, dubbed the ‘gay Ivy League’ due to its progressive and in- has given renewed impetus to calls for decriminalisation, even in clusive policies, operate in an environment in which sodomy laws countries where laws that criminalise homosexual conduct exist remain on the books, despite assurances from authorities that these but are seldom implemented. are dormant laws? At the same time, this increased discussion and awareness about In a sense, this represents a microcosm of where things are sexuality has had its downside. In Africa, for example, diatribes moving – in a globalising world, what is the place of archaic laws against LGBT people echo the language used to discuss HIV and criminalising consensual relations between adults? Anwar Ibra- AIDS as a symbol of moral decay. While the epidemic affects the him, opposition leader in Malaysia, raised hopes about his com- heterosexual population and is not necessarily stigmatised by asso- mitment to equality for all when he suggested a review of the ciation with homosexuality, the scale of the epidemic has inevita- sodomy laws there, but appeared to backtrack in court when he bly led to social anxieties around sex. And, not unexpectedly, sexu- reportedly said that some discrimination against LGBT people ality has increasingly become a focus of moral panic in a situation was justified. Jamaica’s incoming prime minister, Portia Simpson of rapid social change. Miller, announced that she would review the country’s sodomy Many people feel that their traditional way of life is changing laws. Shortly after becoming Africa’s second female head of state, too rapidly, and LGBT people often become scapegoats. In some Joyce Banda of Malawi said that she hoped her country’s parlia- countries, instead of a move towards decriminalisation, we are ment would repeal the indecency laws that are used against LGBT seeing new legislation, the tightening up on existing legislation or people. Months later, she reviewed her position, stating that “Ma- even the implementing of previously dormant laws. Stricter laws lawians are not ready to deal with that right now”. Africa’s other are seen as a way of shoring up ‘traditional culture’. Of course, the woman head of state, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, irony that most of the sodomy laws are a vestige of colonialism in announced that she would neither repeal existing legislation, nor the first place is often lost. approve any new repressive legislation. Globalisation has also brought the growth of religious funda- Academics continue to argue about the effects of globalisation mentalism, as we see with the export of the US ‘culture wars’, on gender and sexual identities – some say that there is evidence to Africa, the Caribbean and Eastern Europe. The US religious of increased homogenisation and that we all march under the same right is taking its international influence to new levels by interven- rainbow flag. Others emphasise the resilience of local concepts of ing in other countries to promote laws that discriminate against sexuality and gender and the emergence of a more diverse global LGBT people. One of the prominent names associated with this movement, albeit on an uneven playing field. trend is Scott Lively, who appeared in Uganda in 2009, fuelling More recently, however, the Human Rights Council adopted on panic about a “gay agenda”. Not long after his visit, the notori- 27 September a resolution on “Promoting human rights through ous Anti-Homosexuality Bill made the first of several appearances a better understanding of traditional values”. That may seem like in the Ugandan parliament. But Lively and others may learn that an innocuous concept, but it is not – far from it. The resolution – they cannot act with impunity spreading hatred outside US borders. adopted 25 to 15 with 7 abstentions – has ominous implications. Sexual Minorities Uganda, an umbrella organisation representing Underpinning this resolution is a challenge to the foundational LGBT groups, is bringing a case against him under the Alien Tort principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: namely Statute, which allows foreigners to sue in US courts in cases in that human rights are universal and indivisible. What this resolu- which international law has been violated. tion suggests is that human rights are relative – mediated by the While the UN resolution on sexual orientation and gender iden- vague and ill-defined concept of traditional values. By legitimising tity is expressly concerned with – and limited to – violence and dis- notions of cultural relativism, it threatens established human rights crimination against LGBT people, some countries have elected to standards, in particular universality and women’s rights. go further. Argentina and Mexico City opened the door to same-sex LGBT people are one of the many groups against which tradi- marriage, while the Constitutional Court of Colombia gave Con- tional values and traditional practices are used to erode their human gress two years to legislate on equal marriage rights for same-sex rights – indeed, for many, ‘traditional values’ is code for ‘homo- couples. Brazil has also approved civil unions for homosexual cou- phobia’. This latest resolution is a pushback against the significant ples. Meanwhile, the marriage debate has intensified in Australia, gains that have been made during the past decade to protect vulner- although it was recently rejected by the Australian parliament. In able groups from abuses, violence and discrimination. New Zealand, a bill that would permit same-sex marriage has been What is clear from these recent developments, of which the two through its first reading, and a full report on the issue will be pre- UN resolutions stand as bookends, is that while sexuality remains sented to parliament for consideration in February 2013. a site of intense conflict, the terms of debate have shifted from a In Asia, the issue of LGBT rights is gaining momentum. The North versus South or East versus West dichotomy to something Delhi High Court read down the 150-year-old sodomy laws in much more promising and productive. South Africa and those who 2009. The long-awaited Nepalese constitution is likely to follow worked with it to ensure the engagement of the UN resolution on the 2007 Nepal Supreme Court ruling on non-discrimination on the sexual orientation and gender identity should maintain their com- basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In August this year, mitment to protect the universality of rights and continue to affirm cycling activists biked through the streets of Hanoi during Viet- that nothing justifies violence and discrimination based on sexual nam’s first Gay Pride march, buoyed by an announcement that the orientation. government would consider recognising same-sex marriage. And in Singapore, a recent Court of Appeal decision has opened the Graeme Reid is Director of the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch way for a challenge to its sodomy laws (Section 377A of the coun- globalfourth quarter 2012 www.global-briefing.org l31


Global issue 12
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