International anti-gay groups have become stronger and more organized than international LGBTI human rights groups fighting for equality, so stated during the WorldPride Human Rights Conference in Toronto, June 25-27.
My reaction: Shock!
I came to the conference as a delegate representing the Conféderation des Syndicats Nationaux (CSN) trade Union from Montreal and as co-organizer of the LGBTI caucus for the People’s Social Forum (PSF) taking place in Ottawa, August 21-24. Three days of workshops and plenary sessions changed my whole perspective on LGBTI rights and the frightful impact on our international communities.
My mission was to connect with as many unions, LGBTI rights groups, community organizations as possible to create a strong pan-Canadian unified voice for LGBTI rights. Sowing the seeds of solidarity in the hopes that during the PSF we would lay a foundation to fight the ever increasing government anti-gay hate propaganda plaguing our global community.
The different speakers from Romania, Ukraine, Uganda, Kenya, India, Russia and other countries whose LGBTI rights had been revoked, told us, “This is what we need of you, go out and talk about what we are experiencing.”
Masha Geesen, Russian journalist and LGBTI activist summed up the situation quite plainly: “The global battle for LGBTI rights did not start with the Sochi Olympics and certainly did not end with the Sochi rainbow flags.”
State intolerance and propaganda
In the workshop on “State Intolerance,” speaker Rebecca Parks, from the Human Right’s Campaign Foundation (HRC), offered participants an in-depth presentation about their campaign to end hate propaganda against the international LGBTI community by shedding light on the groups responsible, namely, American right-wing evangelical fringe groups travelling the world exporting hate. Oddly enough, their motto is “Everything the West asks you, do the opposite.”
Three groups are being closely monitored by HRC: World Congress of Families, American Centre for Law and Justice, and National Organization for Marriage.
The workshop’s main message was: “If you hear of any of these groups organizing in your country, contact us immediately!”
These propaganda groups enter countries by organizing family-themed conferences, in order to instil geopolitical fears that the West is exporting homosexuality by “rainbow bombing” different countries and threatening family values. In Russia, not only was one of these conferences successful, but it was able to influence the drafting of the anti-gay law and secure funding for their work from Russian oligarchs.
The same scenario is happening in Uganda and Nigeria. Fortunately, the LGBTI defence group, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), together with the cooperation of the Centre for Constitutional Law, filed a federal lawsuit against one of the leading evangelical ministers, Scott Lively, accusing him of inciting hate resulting in the persecution of LGBTI persons in Uganda. This is an important lawsuit that, if won, could create a precedent and weaken these right-wing groups considerably.
The politics of pride
The workshops on “The Politics of Pride Parades” uncovered a complicated subject matter which brought together money, race, poverty and segregation. The perfect example of this is in Johannesburg, South Africa, where Whites have found a way to keep poorer Blacks out of their festivities by putting up metal fences, charging admission fees and selling water, beverages and food.
The result: white LGBTI celebrate while black LGBTI persons stand behind fences watching them.
My first Montreal Pride Parade in the 198Os was fundamentally political. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I participated in a political action which consisted of using a pink marker to colour all the money one used: enhance LGBTI visibility and its financial contribution, which in turn should give us equal rights recognition. At the time, I didn’t take it too seriously and was more amused by the fact that we were colouring our money in a blatant display of civil disobedience. What a difference some 20 odd years could make!
In fact, the “pink dollar” market has become quite lucrative and was estimated, in 2012, at $835 billion, in the U.S. alone! No wonder corporate sponsors have latched onto our parades no matter the city, country, or continent, prompting organizers to replace political messages by dollars and consequently, feeding the myth of a well-off community.
Nothing could be further from the truth, and the WorldPride Conference reflected this sad reality by offering workshops on homelessness, poverty and income-insecurity based on discrimination due to sexual orientation. The politics of pride parades is the creation of a false reality which fosters segregation based on income inequality. This phenomenon is happening faster worldwide than we can count the gentrified neighbourhoods.
A sobering reality of anti-gay hate laws
The plenary session with speakers, Dr. Frank Mugisha (Uganda) and Justice Monica Mbaru (Kenya) offered a sobering account of the realities behind the anti-gay hate laws of LGBTI persons in Africa. Near the end of the plenary there was a chance to ask questions.
My question was simple: “Are the anti-gay hate laws having an impact on the fight against HIV/Aids?” Justice Mbaru’s answer was short, “Yes, but it is a very complicated issue and full of contradictions.”
There seemed to be a hesitancy in her answer.
The 2014 World Aids Conference taking place in Melbourne, Australia has brought up the issue of anti-gay hate laws as well. Fear of persecution will certainly discourage individuals from seeking treatment or even testing. Countries with discriminatory hate laws, have international AIDS communities up in arms, angrily worried for the safety, treatment and the funding of programs all over the world. Delegates at the convention are being urged to sign the “Melbourne Declaration Nobody Left Behind.”
This week, President Barack Obama signed an executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity for all federal employees in the U.S. Euphoria over this historical signing in these times of international backlash towards LGBTI rights is definitely a step in the proper direction.
But, also criticism from the American Family Association, Bryan Fischer tweeted this comment, “In his remarks, President Obama politicized Malaysian airliner tragedy, used it to press the radical homosexual agenda.”
The World Aids Conference and Obama’s signing of the executive order, are promising, but still we need to be vigilant and watchful. According to UNAIDS, 79 countries criminalize same-sex practices and seven of them use the death penalty to punish. Many countries have come quite far in the recognition of LGBTI human rights, but this has prompted unsettling, violent, anti-gay laws in other countries.
LGBTI rights are human rights! We need a unified global movement to get the message across. The WorldPride Human Rights conference brought the international community together, and now it is up to us to mobilize.
Mary Ann was born and raised in Thetford Mines, Qc. But has called Montreal her home for the last 27 years. She lives with her partner Diane of 20 years, and her two cats that control her life.
Notable publications: “A Non refundable Christmas Gift”, Life As a Human, 2012.
Also, “My Partner’s Clutter Was Getting out of Control”, The Globe and Mail, 2012
Mary Ann works for the McGill University Healthcare Centre. She is presently General Secretary of the Executive Committee of her local Union representing 5000 members which is unionized by the FSSS-CSN.
A 30 year activist: student activism, feminist, anti-poverty and social housing advocate, LGBTQ rights and so much more. Also, she is co-organizer of the LGBTQ caucus for the upcoming People’s Social Forum.