Human Rights Day (9 December) marks the 65th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN General Assembly in 1948. The progress of LGBT rights since then has been momentous, but there is still progress to be made in Africa and the Middle East in particular.
In the UK, it was announced this week that the first same-sex marriages will take place from 29 March 2014 and, whilst this is progress to be celebrated, LGBT citizens in countries that used to be part of the British Empire are not so fortunate. Whilst we are breaking down barriers at home, we’ve forgotten about the Victorian barriers we exported to other countries. Which is why initiatives like the one announced by Planting Peace are so important. Called “Uganda Underground,” it is a safe-housing project with sites positioned throughout Uganda. Its homes will provide shelter and refuge for those attempting to protect themselves from widespread prejudice and institutionalized violence. The goal is to create safe places that serve as starting points for those who have been robbed of their dignity and are seeking to start their lives again in Uganda. I wish them every success, but I am disappointed that the initiative is not a British one.
Whilst on the subject of archaic colonial laws, India’s LGBT community was hit with the news that their Supreme Court upheld Section 377 of a 153-year-old colonial-era law stating that same-sex relationships are an “unnatural offence” and punishable by a 10-year jail term. This is a shock as India has for some years been remarkable for its acceptance of its LGBT population, largely due to the fact that its major religion, Hinduism, does not specifically condemn homosexuality and, in many of the religion’s mythic stories, celebrates it as a natural expression of human love.
In an amazing statement ahead of elections, India’s ruling Congress party came out against the Supreme Court’s decision a day later. It will be interesting to see where this news item goes next. Although it might take some time to remove Section 377 from Indian law, one thing’s for sure the fight to do so is not over yet. For what the Supreme Court’s decision means to one gay Indian couple, you can read an excellent piece here.
It’s also been a bad week for Australian gay and lesbian couples who got married in the Australian Capital Territory. The ACT parliament passed a bill in October making the territory the first part of Australia to legalise same-sex weddings, but the national government challenged the decision, saying it was inconsistent with federal laws. The High Court said the issue should be decided by parliament, which in September 2012 voted down gay marriage legislation. As a result, some 27 couples who married since the law came into effect last weekend will now have their unions declared invalid. For one couple who married just a week ago, the ruling was a massive blow. You can read about their reaction here.
Whilst it seems that equal marriage is taking two steps forward and one step backwards at the moment, equality for transgender individuals is creeping forward. There was a positive piece in the Guardian this week by Kayla Williams, a former sergeant and linguist in a military intelligence company of the US army. In it, she speaks about her change of focus regarding campaigning for transgender soldiers to be allowed to serve in the US military, holds up the UK as a positive example of how the issue of transgender servicemen and women is a big “whatever” for Brits, and predicts that soon it will be a similar non-issue in the USA.
Meanwhile, opposition to the so-called “bathroom bill” in California is petering out like the damp firework it always was. In an opinion piece for the LA Times, Robin Abcarian, states that the political right has lost: it lost on gay marriage and now it has lost on the bathroom bill, and they should pack up their tents and go home. Robin is optimistic that the fight for LGBT rights is all but over in California.
It would be great if she was right but, if India and Australia teach us anything this week, it is that you should not underestimate the staying power of those who have nothing better to do with their lives than fixate on opposing LGBT rights. I have no idea why they are obsessed by it. It’s not like those who are LGBT in any way impinge on these people. As Stephen Fry said, in his excellent documentary, it’s a little like someone being obsessed with banning red telephones. Why?
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