|Helen Clark looks set to become a key player on the world stage for the UN, and now it's time NZ's LGBT organisations think globally too, writes Craig Young.
Given Helen Clark's forthcoming appointment as Director of the UN Development Programme, New Zealand LGBT organisations need to take a stronger and more proactive stance against homophobia and transphobia overseas.
Granted, the notorious Southern nations are not unilaterally prejudiced. Singapore and India may be about to decriminalise male homosexuality, and Thailand is a bastion of progressive sexual politics in South East Asia. Indonesia may adopt antidiscrimination legislation and has already decriminalised male homosexuality. As for the North, Russia and the United States aren't exactly paragons of civility and inclusion, either.
However, there are LGBT human rights blackspots out there. Nigeria has imposed draconian penalties against same-sex marriage. Uganda's Christian Right is advocating legalised psychiatric abuse of lesbians and gay men, forced to submit to charlatan 'exgay therapy.' Brazil's military and paramilitary groups engage in 'social cleansing' against urban poor gay men and transsexuals in its favelas. Jamaica's ragga industry continues to churn out homophobic lyrics that encourage homophobic violence and homicide. Shia paramilitary militia prowl the streets of Baghdad and either abduct or murder lesbians and gay men, while Iran's government orders flogging and execution of LGBT Iranians.
With the exception of Iran and Malaysia, most of the above natures have compound injustices and inequalities festering inside them. Most have had lamentable histories of democratic instability, marked by intertribal, ethnic minority and sectarian religious violence and civil war, and long periods of military dictatorship and/or brutal government corruption. Independent trade unions, liberal religious organisations and any permissible opposition movements are also subjected to harrassment, violence and homicide. There are negligible levels of higher education and/or professional middle-class employment prospects, either.
As for Iran, while it may be a relatively affluent society due to its oil revenue, sex work and drug abuse are commonplace, as is high youth migration.
So, how does one explain homophobia and transphobia in these countries? Be it fundamentalist Christianity or Sunni or Shia Muslim social conservative movements, 'enemies within' are a useful tool to divert attention away from other human rights abuses, civil liberties violations, extrajudicial murders and other hideous excesses of corrupt and unaccountable regimes and their elites. Homosexuality is denounced as a sign of western decadence, as if those societies had no histories of indigenous LGBT cultures themselves. Why have they been allowed to get away with this?
In many cases, western governments have made foolhardy alliances of convenience, as with the United States and Nigeria, now a West African strategic partner, thanks to the former Bush administration. In the case of Iran, Nigeria, Uganda and Malaysia, conservative Christians and Muslims don't criticise governing regimes as long as they proselytise for conservative social morality. Sadly too, there's also the 'anti-imperialist' left to consider. If a regime opposes US foreign policy, then it is beyond anti-imperialist criticism, even if it does engage in manifold other abuses that would be denounced if they occurred in western societies.
It has been left to Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and brave individuals like expatriate Australian LGBT human rights activist Peter Tatchell to demonstrate that one can deplore both western military and economic aggression, and condemn anti-democratic elements with civil society and regimes of the same. As well, one can only applaud the courage and determination of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, Sexual Minorities Uganda, Al-Fatiha (LGBT Muslims) and independent media and trade unionists, dissident clergy,media and trade unions and other signs of hope in their respective civil societies.
It's time that they weren't left to battle on alone. New Zealanders supported the anti-apartheid movement of the seventies and eighties, as well as solidarity with Nicaragua and the Philippines back then. It's time that LGBT New Zealanders did so again. Craig Young - 27th March 2009