Show solidarity with Women’s March on Washington- 21st January 2017

By Rosa Brown

On Friday, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America. Even if Mr Trump’s political inexperience, his inability to commit to clear policy outlines and those appallingly constructed tweets are overlooked, his ascension into one of the most prestigious positions in the world remains problematic.

Though it may be kinder to ourselves and our sanity to block out the US Election campaign trail, let us revisit that point in which 2016 reached new lows of shadiness. As of November 2016, there were seventy-five active lawsuits against the President Elect, ranging from fraud, unpaid bills and sexual discrimination. However, the presence of these lawsuits failed to damage the candidate’s campaign for good. As did the stories from women who claimed to have receive unwanted sexual advances from Trump, some of whom waivered their right to anonymity. Even Trump’s imitation of a disabled news reporter did not stand in his way to the White House. In summary, Trump ran a campaign focused on hate, mockery and lies and no one cared.

But they did. On Saturday 21st January 2017, there will be a Women’s March on Washington to stand against the demonising rhetoric of Trump’s campaign. The march is an opportunity to celebrate diversity as a strength of the community rather than a weakness. It is an opportunity to reject the fear of those who may look or sound differently, a fear that Trump’s success and certain figures in the UK is dependent on. Ultimately, it is an opportunity to recognise women’s rights as human rights, regardless of race, age, sexual identity or religion.

In solidarity with the event and its objectives, there are Sister Marches organised across the globe, two of which are scheduled in Wales: Cardiff and Bangor. Both marches encourage the participation of anyone and everyone to safeguard the freedoms that have been threatened by recent political events.

If you would like further details about these events please follow the links. More information about the global movement can be found at #breakthesilence.

Cardiff Sister March

Facebook page.

Bangor Sister March

march

 

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A reflection on the positive developments the world has seen in 2016

By David Hooson

 Every year, December encourages us all to look back on the year as it comes to a close. In 2016 perhaps more than ever, upsetting events have dominated and can naturally dominate our memories of the year. However, there were also plenty of positive events this year, as well as things that can give us hope that the world is still progressing towards peace and understanding between all people. Let’s recall just a few of these positive developments.

The Paris Agreement on tackling climate change, which was drafted at the end of 2015, was signed in April and came into effect in November. As the most comprehensive international agreement on climate change, with the most international signatories, it has been hailed as a historic step towards tackling the environmental challenges of the future.

The terrorist group Boko Haram, one of the greatest threats to peace and security in West Africa in recent years, was further weakened this year and now appears to be on the brink of total extinction. The January release of 1,000 women held hostage was a big moment, and a further 600 people have been freed in December. The group are still holding many of the Chibok schoolgirls they kidnapped in 2014, but some have been returned to their families throughout this year.

The 52-year conflict in Colombia, in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed and millions displaced, was resolved with a peace deal between the Colombian government and the FARC rebel group. Negotiations had been ongoing for four years, and the first draft of the deal was rejected by a referendum in October. However, a revised peace agreement was signed by President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leaders in November and the Colombian Congress voted to approve the deal. President Santos was also presented with this year’s Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his efforts to bring peace to his country.

In June, the United Nations’ 47-member Human Rights Council voted to appoint an independent expert on LGBT rights to monitor violence and discrimination against LGBT people globally. Past attempts to make progress on LGBT issues at the UN have been frustrated or defeated by opposition from countries where the law actively discriminates against LGBT people, so this decision represents a significant breakthrough. An attempt to overturn the decision through the UN General Assembly was defeated in November, giving this new role an even more solid basis to campaign for an end to violence and discrimination against LGBT individuals.

The Council of Europe’s ‘Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence’ – known as the Istanbul Convention – was finally ratified by 22 countries, having been signed five years ago. In some of these countries, the Convention is now the strongest protection women have against gender-based violence, sexual violence and domestic abuse. The UK is now in the process of becoming the 23rd country to ratify the Convention.

In stark contrast to divisive media rhetoric and concerning hate crime statistics, refugees from Syria arriving in Wales were warmly welcomed by local communities. The number of refugees allowed into the country is determined by the UK Government, but Local Authorities across Wales have been more than willing to help families and individuals fleeing violence, with refugees being settled all across Wales.

Examples of refugees being welcomed:

Aberystwyth

Wrexham

There will be many challenges for the international community to address in 2017, some new and some continuing, but stories like these should give us hope that we can and will continue to make progress. Hopefully next year the stories of hope and progress will dominate, and 2017 will keep the world on track towards a peaceful future of justice and equality for all.

The Orlando Mass-Shootings: Homophobia or Terrorism

Megan Griffiths

On the morning of the 12th of June, the world woke up to the news of a mass shooting in a LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Another mass shooting. As the death toll in the Orlando shooting has increased to 49 people, debates on homophobia, terrorism and gun control have been stirred up. Mateen’s homophobic and religious motives are not mutually exclusive but entangled, and the events resonate painfully with both recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Ankara and Beirut but also, attacks on gay men and women in New Orleans and London.

In the next few days and weeks, as is the case with every act of violence, messages of solidarity, prayers and love will be sent from all over the world. Yet the range of different controversial issues will no doubt spark debate and will lead to an array of different perceptions of the deeper rooted issues in American society. It’s easy to point the finger towards terrorism, especially considering the inherent American fear of radical Islam. This crime cannot be simply ascribed to being an act of terrorism but as Obama pointed out, also an act of hate. According to Mateen’s father, Mateen became completely enraged when he and his young son saw two men kissing in Miami a few months back, and according to media speculation, it seems his sexuality may be more of a motivation for his actions than his religion. Statistics show that US Muslims are actually more likely to support same sex marriage (42%) than US evangelicals (28%) and are just as likely to support it as general US Christians, suggesting opposition to same sex relationships may not necessarily be a product of any particular religion but of their extremist factions.

T Lt. Governor Dan Patrick tweeted early on Sunday morning a bible verse from Galatians 6:7 ‘Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.’ The very fact that a prominent political figure can take such an anti-gay stance in such a public way illustrates perfectly the depth of homophobia amongst certain Americans, and how, in some ways, it is actually accepted. A pastor from California gave an impassioned sermon on the shootings, lamenting that “The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. The tragedy is — I’m kind of upset that he didn’t finish the job!” He went on to add that “I wish the government would round them all up, put them up against a firing wall, put a firing squad in front of them, and blow their brains out.” If a member of the Muslim community used these words, they would likely be used as newspaper headlines to inspire shock amongst people. But due to his supposedly ‘Christian’ faith, the effect is not the same. What is more, Trump’s use of the attack to forward his ideas on banning Muslim immigrants shows the extent of his ignorance on the state of his own country. Mateen was born in America. Whilst he undoubtedly had outside influences on his ideology throughout his life, he was also brought up in an American society where there is often some form of negative stigma on being gay. Politicians such as Trump will use the attack to ignore the flaws in society and place the blame on anyone but straight white Americans.

Of course, America has made real progress in legalising same-sex marriage and equality for homosexual and transgender people, and indeed does not see this as a crime unlike some countries around the world. Still, the fact that this took place in a LGBT club, during the national pride month, needs to be observed and we should reflect on the homophobia and transphobia that evidently still exists. We should not become complacent in how far we have come. An attack directly on LGBT people has shattered the security that many people had come to accept and has revealed the deeper roots of hate, prejudice and insecurity that have evidently been bubbling under the surface of society. Through the juxtaposition and intertwining of terrorism and homophobia in this particular case, it is impossible to extract one from the other.

Indeed, to some, it is easier to simply place the blame for his homophobia on his radicalisation. It is easier to continue our debates on ISIS and terrorism strategies than also consider our attitudes to gays and lesbians, often a slightly taboo subject at the best of times. Owen Jones’ reaction live on air on Sky News shows just how sensitive the situation is and how people’s perceptions of the attack differ. But this totally ignores the fact that Mateen was brought up in America and was therefore exposed to home-grown ignorance and anti-LGBT rhetoric in American society and government which itself leads to marginalisation and violence against the community on a day-to-day basis. He may be Muslim, but is this actually relevant when we consider how anti-LGBT policies are a fundamental mainstream in many parts of America, regardless of faith.

It would be interesting to ask ourselves if the dialogue surrounding the shootings would be different if Mateen was not a seemingly radicalised Muslim, but an anti-gay Christian acting in the name of God. Where does the fact that, completely aside from his faith, he is cited to be a violent and perhaps mentally unstable individual fit in? Would the event have taken on the shape of a less high-profile hate crime? Or merely another mass shooting? By solely labelling it as a ‘terrorist attack’ and linking it to ISIS, it inspires a specific response in us due to recent events attributed to ISIS. The fact that homophobia is not exclusive to a single religion or belief system means that we cannot allow ourselves to simply focus on this as an ISIS inspired terrorist attack. Much focus has been placed on the fact that the attack marks the deadliest domestic terror attack since 9/11 yet it is also the largest targeted attack on the LGBT community since the holocaust.

Increasing acts of terrorism around the globe, coupled with the European refugee crisis, have led to general negative shifts in attitudes towards immigrants and often, islamophobia, ordinary peaceful Muslims are tarred with the same brush as radicalised extremists, leading to ill-conceived fears of Islam itself. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in the US and the rise of right wing movements in Europe have led to a general increase in ‘hatemongering’. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al- Hussein warned that ‘Hate is becoming mainstreamed’. We cannot afford to allow this latest attack to inspire yet more hatred and fear by using Mateen’s Muslim faith as a scapegoat and exploit his faith to forward political agendas on terrorism. To do so blatantly ignores the cracks in tolerance and acceptance within our society and towards the LGBT community. Homophobia, Transphobia and Islamophobia all come together under the same umbrella of hatred and it is not until we have dismantled them all that we can be completely peaceful.

The shows of humanity in Orlando as people go out of their way to help and the messages of solidarity and vigils for the victims and the LGBT community held all over the world show us that love can indeed win. But love will only win if we don’t allow tragedies like this to inspire yet more hatred towards other innocent people. We owe it to the 49 individuals who lost their lives and their families.

 

March 29th – a day to celebrate and remember

While cheering the first same-sex marriages we should remember those suffering under state-sanctioned homophobia


BRITAIN-POLITICS-GAY RIGHTS

In late September 2003, the mid-Uganda town of Soroti was pillaged by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The militant movement, led by Joseph Kony, is infamous for its use of child soldiers and indiscriminate violence.

While working there four years later, I heard stories from children orphaned as a result of the attack. One girl saw her parents killed, her brother taken away and their house burned down. She was then walked two hundred miles north to the Sudanese (now South Sudan) border. Miraculously, she escaped and arrived back in Soroti where she was reunited with her brother.

The LRA has since continued their activities in Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo but northern Ugandan live in fear of future attacks. Yet a different fear is currently affecting half a million Ugandans.

Under the guise of Christian morality and the protection of children, Ugandan President Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act in February.[1] Originally prescribing the death penalty, the Act punishes homosexual activity with up to life imprisonment. The Facebook page of Uganda’s Ministry of Information & National Guidance provided Museveni’s statement following his signature:

Since my original thesis that there may be people who are born homosexual has been disproved by science, then the homosexuals have lost the argument in Uganda. They should rehabilitate themselves and society should assist them to do so.[2]

Such thinking isn’t unique to Uganda. Sudan, Mauritania, parts of Nigeria and Somaliland hold the death sentence as appropriate punishment. In 2012, Ban Ki-moon pressed the African Union to encourage respect for gay rights throughout Africa, but there has been little evidence of action.

Most disturbing was the possible influence of US Christian conservative groups in the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill’s formation. Religious conviction of the sinfulness of homosexuality was apparently bolstered by the preaching of missionary groups. In the UK, this belief has declined in recent years, yet it still lives on in local churches around the country. One book I read as a teenager, ‘The Top 100 Questions Remix’  (written for questioning young Christians), ensures that because homosexuality is not genetic (an assumption it bases on varying sexual orientations of twins) it is ‘something that we decide, not something that we are. It is therefore a moral choice.’[3]

If short-sighted politicians and religious folk can fool themselves into believing homosexuality to be a “moral choice”, then to them rehabilitation or punishment by the state is the logical response. This is why, for Museveni, his decision relied on whether sexual orientation was genetic – because, of course, anything that isn’t is a choice and therefore punishable.

While we celebrate with the newly-weds in England and Wales, we should remember and make steps to support those who were simply born at a hostile time, in a hostile place. Recalling the people I met in Uganda, I worry for the 500,000 in fear of public humiliation, terrifyingly-long prison sentences and small hope for a peaceful life with the ones they love.


If you are interested in finding out more about gay rights around the world, follow @WCIAVoices or go to the WCIA campaigns page for further information of a future event considering gay rights in Wales and the world coming soon to Cardiff.

References

1 Guardian, Feb. 24, 2014. Uganda politicians celebrate passing of anti-gay laws [online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/24/uganda-president-signs-anti-gay-laws [Accessed 25 February 2014].
2 Facebook: Ministry of Information National Guidance Uganda, 2014. H.E THE PRESIDENT’S STATEMENT AFTER SIGNING THE ANTI-HOMOSEXUALITY BILL INTO LAW. [online] Available at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ministry-of-Information-National-Guidance-Uganda/553727154705981 [Accessed 25 Februrary 2014]
3 Bewes OBE, Richard and Ian Thompson, The Top 100 Questions Remix: Spiritual Answers to Real Questions (Christian Focus Publications, 2006).

Difference, stigma, shame, harm: the call for a new approach to gay asylum seekers

Google's Winter Olympics Doodle captioned with a quote from the Olympic Charter.

Google’s Winter Olympics Doodle captioned with a quote from the Olympic Charter.

Few Britons would have watched on in support of the vigilante groups filmed in the Channel 4 documentary, Hunted, on Wednesday. Seeing the baiting, beating and the humiliation of gay people and gay right supporters, it’s no wonder thousands around the world seek asylum in more accepting countries. Yet such prejudice and disrespect isn’t isolated to overtly homophobic nations, it even exists in the very places refugees seek help.

Over the weekend, the Observer revealed the “shockingly degrading” interrogation on those seeking asylum in the UK based on their sexuality. One individual, Sharon from Uganda, who was questioned by the Home Office, stated, “I was asked by a male interviewer how I, as a Christian, could justify my sexuality with God. He asked me how could I know I was a lesbian if I had never slept with a man.” Other such intense falsification techniques are apparently common and some in desperation have photographed or filmed themselves having sex as further evidence.

Due to a recent leak disclosing questions asked of gay asylum seekers, some are now calling for a more humane solution. S Chelvan, a barrister involved in the rights of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) refugees, has produced the DSSH (difference, stigma, shame, harm) model which he believes is “a more accurate way to confirm a person’s true sexuality”. In October 2013, the UN chose to replace the UNHCR Guidance Note on Refugee Claims Relating to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (2008) with Guidelines on International Protection No. 9 (2013) which had within it Chelvan’s model.1 Paragraph 62 states,

Ascertaining the applicant’s LGBTI background is essentially an issue of credibility. The assessment of
credibility in such cases needs to be undertaken in an individualized and sensitive way. Exploring elements
around the applicant’s personal perceptions, feelings and experiences of difference, stigma and shame are
usually more likely to help the decision maker ascertain the applicant’s sexual orientation or gender
identity, rather than a focus on sexual practices.2

Chelvan’s address, ‘From silence to safety: Protecting the gay refugee?’, given at the Eleventh Annual Stonewall Lecture detailed the struggle gay asylum seekers experience upon entry into the UK. Under the last Labour government, thousands were refused entry because, it was argued, they should go back home and act more discreetly rather than “flaunting” their sexuality.

Instead of humiliating needy individuals, Chelvan argued for a better system of testing, considering how they felt different growing up, how this produced stigma and shame and how it ultimately led to a fear of harm. “What I say the new test should be: Get rid of discretion and have a two-stage test. Is the appellant gay or perceived to be gay? and are openly gay or lesbian people at real risk of persecution?”

unfe_image_364_full

UN Free & Equal Campaign Poster

When gender and sexually diverse individuals face imprisonment or even the death penalty there is a need to tackle the “systematic homophobia” that exists in the UK’s asylum system. It remains to be seen whether Guideline of International Protection No. 9.62 will be effective, but if such degrading and frivolous questioning continues today, then we should be slow to judge the state-sanctioned homophobia that is driving gay refugees to our borders. Indeed, such decisions that have the power to preserve life should not be made on whether or not someone has joined a Gay Pride march or, as in one case, “looks like a lesbian”.

References

1 UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Guidelines on International Protection No. 9: Claims to Refugee Status based on Sexual Orientation and/or Gender Identity within the context of Article 1A(2) of the 1951 Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, 23 October 2012, HCR/GIP/12/01, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/50348afc2.html [accessed 9 February 2014]
2 Ibid. p. 15.

We can’t let the UN’s Free & Equal campaign pass us by

Ministerial meeting on the Role of the United Nations in Ending Violence and Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)

Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, addresses a ministerial meeting on the role of the UN in ending violence and discrimination against LGBT individuals.

With a result that “reverberated around the world”, Nicholas Toonen’s complaint against Australia in 1994 heralded the first recognition of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender) equality by the Human Rights Committee.

Speaking in 2011, Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated, “Since 1994, more than 30 countries have taken steps to abolish the offence of homosexuality…and in many parts of the world we have witnessed a remarkable shift in public attitudes in favour of greater acceptance of gay and lesbian people.”1

Much of western society has progressed since the 1969 Stonewall Riots and the criminalisation of Alan Turing. But stories still appear of suicides, violent acts of homophobia and of moronic politicians condemning gay persons who are apparently able to wield meteorological disaster in the midst of copulation. And for thousands every day, bullying is a common phenomena in homes, schools and workplaces.

In other parts of the world, similar tales are made worse by state-sanctioned homophobia. Whilst Ugandans can breathe a small sigh of relief as President Museveni refuses to jail homosexuals for life or nail them to a crucifix, Indians are subject to a ban on homosexual acts and Russians, well, just turn on the telly.

But unless you follow #lgbtrights or Peter Tatchell on Twitter, you probably haven’t heard of the UN’s new campaign tackling global homophobia and transphobia. This latest movement by the Human Rights Office is determined to end social prejudice and barbarism towards those who know themselves to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Free & Equal, launched on 26 July 2013, is “a global campaign designed to raise awareness of homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination and to help stop millions of LGBT people being abused for being who they are.”2 The campaign, scheduled to last one year, was introduced by Pillay and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. “A campaign like this”, said Pillay, “is critical right now because of the enormous human rights violations suffered by LGBT people.” Archbishop Tutu was open about his religious views on this matter, saying he “could not worship a homophobic God.”3

Although everyone who supports LGBT rights should be thrilled with this campaign, there are a couple of problems. First, without state freedom and equality, this message won’t be heard or felt by those who need it, or need to be challenge by it, most. Of course, this is the most difficult obstacle as the UN can only urge states to action with no hard-power at all. Second, even if one may live in a “free and equal” state, the message will be filtered through religion, politics and prejudice before being misconstrued, forgotten or flung into the Equality Wheelie-Bin with race and gender. Thus, the road to anti-homophobia will be slower than it has to be.

The responsibility, then, is the individual’s. It’s our decision whether we insist on fighting homophobia or choose to live with it. It’s true the UN can’t enforce such social norms on this multicultural, small blue dot, so it is up to us to stop the guilt, suicidal thoughts, self-loathing and bullying of LGBT people. Even if we’re not lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, there are people suffering that are – so we shouldn’t, we can’t, let this campaign pass us by.

If you’re interested in keeping updated with LGBT news, see the links below.

References

1 UN HUMANRIGHTS, 2011. How gay rights debate began at the UN. [video online] Available at: [Accessed 25 January 2014]
2 UN HUMANRIGHTS, 2013. A History of LGBT rights at the UN. [video online] Available at: <youtube.com/watch?v=XvpHn_zdkTY#t=32> [Accessed 24 January 2014]
3 MaximsNewsPEOPLE, 2013. WorldLeadersTV: “FREE & EQUAL” U.N. CAMPAIGN for LGBT EQUALITY: NAVI PILLAY, DESMOND TUTU. [video online] Available at: <youtube.com/watch?v=IurGhTFrxRI> [Accessed 24 January 2014]

External Links