Title: The Undeclared Baggage of Homophobia  Credit: Alexander Lowë Comment Tuesday 5th April 2016 - 12:21pm1459815660 Article: 18126 Rights
In Europe, cartoons have been produced and handed out to refugees, showing that battering women is bad and that it is OK to be gay. This happened in the wake of a recent surge of sexual attacks on women by new migrants, with notable events during New Year’s night when over a thousand women were sexually assaulted across Germany with similar incidents reported in Scandinavia. Sexual harassment in public places may have become a daily occurrence in some places and several swimming pools in Germany and Switzerland have temporary banned migrants after a flow of complaints and are now handing out special education leaflets. LGBTI people have also been targeted, for example in the UK, where a shocking rise in homophobic hate crimes has been connected with the rise of immigration, with a range of gay-bashing incidents disproportionately occurring in the predominantly migrant-populated eastern suburbs of London. This area is where a significant proportion of Muslim migrants live and it is believed anti-gay sharia patrols are in operation. In Germany, two trans women were recently stoned by Syrian migrants and there was a horrific ritual fetish killing of a gay man by two teenage refugees in Sweden.Charlie Hebdo magazine created backslash by not just depicting Muhammad in its imagery but as some argue specifically for portraying him as gay. It is hardly disputed that there is a clash of cultures in Europe where established European freedoms collide with the perceptions of newly arrived people, specifically when it comes to the topic of women and LGBTI rights. Unfortunately, cultural differences could turn into a stand-off of ideologies, morals and beliefs, and in the absence of dialogue and compromise, may breed a feeling of rejection and lead to disobedience, escalating into hatred and need for ‘revenge’. Young Osama Bin Laden migrated with his family to Sweden. The infamous ISIS executioner Jihadi John was raised by the family of migrants in London. The Sydney Lind cafe bomber was a refugee. What is intriguing is that all of these people became radicalised in their new countries, and I believe failed integration is to blame. When my partner and I came to New Zealand, we were given an introduction packet for newcomers with vital information including local cultural norms and expectations. On our arrival we signed up for the Kiwi Ora program, a comprehensive introduction into New Zealand Life with plentiful reference literature that included books on NZ history, brochures on writing a winning New Zealand CV and even the Edmond's Cookbook. I attended seminars for migrants and designed English classes. There is various community classes run for migrants and volunteers who go to migrant’s homes to help them adapt to the new life and culture. There is also a comprehensive program run by volunteers for refugees teaching them how to take their first steps in New Zealand, things like getting a bus or visiting a supermarket and this is continued with on-going support through their first years in the country. There have been however drastic cuts in the government's finance of migrant support programs. The Kiwi Ora program was shut down due to the lack of funds and many other classes and programs were also terminated. This is happening as New Zealand experiences the highest migration on record with vast numbers arriving from culturally diverse places like India and China. These countries score well below New Zealand in personal freedoms and particularly gay rights. In China, gay people can still be subjected to conversion therapy that includes 'treatment' with electric shock and in India, gay sex is still a criminal act. The New Zealand government has never challenges partner countries such as the Cook Islands on its anti-gay laws and doesn’t specifically target migrant communities to promote LGBT rights and education. One might expect that tightly knitted migrant communities would be evolving on their own, self-eradicating homophobia and adopting kiwi attitudes towards LGBT rights. This is unfortunately not the case with tight-knit migrant communities. I have come across a range of migrants from Asia, Pacific and Middle Eastern countries who consciously decide to stay in the closet, especially within their communities. One can suggest that this is just a groundless fear and that communities would not dare to oppose gay rights vocally. I was quite shocked to read the comments on a Russian migrant's blog post about the Auckland Pride Parade. While some fellow migrants remained neutral, the vast majority of over 1000 comments was blatant hate speech. Cultural ideologies and attitudes could be the hardest thing to change. Potential new migrants to New Zealand are required to undergo a medical examination, go through a background check and terrorist screening and there is also an English language assessment. There is, however, no screening for homophobia and there is no program to support and change the attitudes of people who are homophobic when coming to New Zealand. Migrants may not go through New Zealand school's sexual education and may not learn that ‘gay is OK’. Migrant communities maintain close links with their birth countries and remain heavily dependent on them. If left on their own with no integration attempts, without cross cultural education and with homophobic attitudes unchallenged, these groups would have little to no incentive to adopt a new lifestyle, and in the absence of healthy exchange and discussion, may further distance themselves from New Zealand’s values rejecting kiwi culture and potentially become radicalised. On the contrary, well integrated migrant communities could become bridges between societies, ambassadors of their nations while also serving as New Zealand missionaries in their home countries, helping stimulate the cultural exchange, introduce New Zealand values and promote positive changes in their motherland. New migrants in New Zealand can therefore be viewed as potential advocates of the kiwi lifestyle, recruits for human rights and freedoms and possibly even active supporters of LGBTI rights, initiating their acceptance and progress in their countries of birth. I think that, as is already the case in other western countries, LGBTI groups in New Zealand could also actively engage with organisations who support migrants and refugees. LGBTI education and support is needed within migrant communities. Unlike other countries, we have a unique chance to implement proactive rather than reactive measures. If we would like to see New Zealand among the world’s fairest and most progressive nations, we have to continue to attract the best people to this country and excel in helping people to grow and develop to the best of their potential. Education is the key and many people within migrant communities who have been brought up in anti-gay countries are often under the false pretense that the concept of LGBTI people is foreign to their culture. Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific regions have all had their indigenous and endemic LGBT identities and a long and rich history of queer love, which has in fact helped to shape the modern Western concept of sexuality. It is ironic that while Britain, along with its most developed former colonies, has recently excelled in LGBTI rights. Some former colonies have in fact relatively recently adopted Western Puritanism, Victorian morals and archaic anti-gay British legislation, all concepts once foreign to them. They now sincerely believe that homophobia is endemic to their countries and that they should protect abandoned and discredited piece of legislation from the fallen British Empire as the matter of their own sovereignty. I have no intention to start a scaremongering campaign against migrants with my article. In New Zealand we are all either migrants or descendants of migrants even if our ancestors’ migration happened some hundred years ago. Neither am I against Islam or any other religion or nationality. But I do wantto draw attention to the unrecognised and unchallenged smuggling of homophobia into this country and its prevalence in some migrant communities that are centred around homophobic religious institutions - for example the Russian community centred around the aggressively homophobic Orthodox Church. While we migrants are lucky to be in a much safer place here compared to many other countries, we still can learn from experience. We need to acknowledge that LGBTI migrants in New Zealand are also still likely to be treated unfairly within their migrant communities and therefore continue to be discriminated in their new home New Zealand. New Zealand should be supporting and encouraging those few migrant groups and individuals that do vocally endorse equality and LGBTI rights. 
We could and we should be working together, communication and visibility can help in destroying stereotypes and facilitating mutual understanding. After all, LGBTI people and migrants are still two minority groups with potentially a lot in common and we may often experience similar issues, prejudices and discrimination. It is so beautifully inspiring when we can come together and learn from each other. Alexander Lowë - 5th April 2016    
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