TV & Radio
Make prejudice history
The worldwide repression of homosexuals is a disgrace that our leaders must address urgently
Sunday July 3, 2005
From the stage of the Live8 concert in Hyde Park yesterday, I could feel the crowd's great anticipation that the G8 leaders really will act to make poverty history this week. We have never before had such an intense focus on the suffering of the world's poorest people, and the feeling that this is a unique historical opportunity to relieve this suffering is palpable.
The world's leaders at Gleneagles are aware that they will be made to answer for it if they do not make big commitments to end poverty. I hope that what comes out of the G8 meeting also sends an unambiguous message to all governments that respect for human rights is as essential as poverty reduction to ensuring people all over the world have a better life.
As the Live8 players took to the stage, central London was also host to a huge Gay Pride march, our annual celebration of lesbian, gay and bisexual people's 'out and proud' lives. There are many parts of the world where such a celebration could not take place, because basic human rights are not respected and people face threats, attacks, prosecution and even possible execution just because of their sexuality.
Amnesty International has established that around 80 countries still have laws that criminalise sex between same-sex consenting adults. In some states, these laws are vigorously enforced.
In Saudi Arabia, for example, four men were recently sentenced to 2,000 lashes and two years' imprisonment after attending a 'gay wedding'. A further 100 men who attended the event were imprisoned and face 200 lashes each. The human body cannot usually withstand being flogged more than 50 times, so the punishment will be administered up to 50 lashes at a time at intervals of two weeks. These punishments could take place any day now.
Article 76 of the Jamaican Offences Against the Person Act punishes the 'abominable crime of buggery' with up to 10 years' imprisonment with hard labour. Homophobic violence, including beatings by whole crowds, rape, torture and even murder, is rife in Jamaica. Once a person's homosexuality becomes known to family or community, they are at serious risk.
Several Jamaican men have been granted asylum in the UK because the authorities recognise the risks they face if sent back. Those who campaign for gay rights often become a special target for attack. Brian Williamson co-founded Jamaica's first gay rights organisation, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays, in 1998.
A brave campaigner, he determinedly took to the airwaves, appearing on television and radio phone-ins to champion gay rights and calling for tolerance. He was brutally murdered for this in his own home just a year ago.
Alongside these extreme human-rights violations, gay people in dozens of countries are routinely denied their basic rights: to freedom of association, freedom of speech, the right to be free from persecution, the right to education.
In Namibia, even in schools, a place where tolerance and understanding should be fostered, children routinely face discrimination and abuse from students and teachers because of their sexuality. For many, this environment is so unbearable that they are forced to leave school and forgo their right to education. It is hardly surprising that this atmosphere of hatred is fostered in schools when former President Nujoma makes such statements as: 'Homosexuality deserves severe contempt and disdain from the Namibian people and should be uprooted totally as a practice.' He is not alone in his beliefs. In Uganda, President Museveni is notoriously outspoken with his anti-gay campaigns: 'I have told the Criminal Investigations Department to look out for homosexuals, lock them up and charge them.'
Many politicians, from Africa to Asia and Latin America, proclaim that homosexuality is 'not part of our culture', an imported 'European perversion' that needs to be eradicated. 'Those who want to [continue with homosexual activities] must pack up and go back to Europe,' was how President Nujoma put it.
In Colombia, paramilitaries and armed groups have made it their business to target gay people for 'social cleansing' as part of their policing of communities.
In addition to these daily violations, such discrimination undermines the excellent work being undertaken to combat the HIV/Aids epidemic. In Uganda, for example, a radio station was recently fined US$1,000 for broadcasting a talk show that featured sexual-rights activists discussing the need for HIV/Aids services for men who have sex with men.
This is just a snapshot of the discrimination that gay and lesbian people face across the globe today. We need to shine a light on these human-rights violations. Amnesty and its members are doing this work, and it is one of the reasons I became a patron of the organisation.
We hear often that the UK government is committed to the promotion and protection of human rights around the world, and that it makes respect for human rights a condition of many of its foreign relations.
I want our government, which has presided over many positive changes for gay people here in the UK to ensure that ending violations of gay people's fundamental human rights around the world becomes an explicit issue in its diplomatic relations with other countries.
I strongly believe that when thousands of us refuse to look away and stay silent, we make a difference to what politicians do and say. The sheer force of our numbers will ultimately help those who are suffering from extreme poverty and extreme prejudice all over the world.