Human Rights for Gays Somehow Still a Point of Controversy

Last week President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum directing “all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons.” On the same day, Secretary of State Clinton gave a speech on human rights emphasizing that “[l]ike being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human.”

U.S. politics being what they are, the suggestion that gay people have rights sparked immediate backlash. From America’s favorite extended practical joke, Rick Perry:

“Promoting special rights for gays in foreign countries is not in America’s interests and not worth a dime of taxpayers’ money.”

This is heartbreaking. Not just because it confirms that Rick Perry is real, or at best a really vivid mass hallucination, but because if there’s anything “special” about gay rights, it’s that they are far more limited than the class of rights straight people enjoy. In fact, the specific gay rights mentioned by the memorandum are (1) not to have their sexual orientation criminalized, and (2) asylum.

Given that the right of asylum only kicks in when an individual is a victim of past persecution (which usually means torture) or has a well-founded fear of future persecution (generally, torture or murder), it should be clear that the rights the Obama administration is attempting to guarantee are not your fancier sorts of rights. (Unless I missed the fine print on the memo reading “A swimming pool for every gay!”) Not being subject to criminal penalty or violence due to one of your innate and inalterable characteristics is about as basic as human rights get.

Bonus round: The Memorandum instructs U.S. government agencies to target foreign aid towards efforts to improve gay rights. Notably, it does not suggest that the U.S. will make aid to foreign governments conditional on their treatment of LGBT persons. I point this out because moves by European governments to cut aid to countries that criminalize homosexuality have met with criticism from gay rights activists in Africa on the grounds that such policies impede their work and risk triggering backlash against the LGBT community.

WTF Friday, 1/28/2011

“The Egyptian government appears ready to do all it can to force citizens back into their homes.” Funny. My mom would cut off the Internet to force me to go outside.

For Belarusian president Aleksander Lukashenko, sanctions, sanctions, and more sanctions. Invoking a Belarusian folk saying, the prez had this to say: “Don’t start a fire at your neighbour’s house. It might just spread to yours.” Dare I say, another hot metaphor?

Ugandan gay activist, David Kato, was beaten to death in his home on Wednesday. To make matters worse, some asshole priest decided, amongst hundreds of mourners, to go on his (wholly original) “homosexuality is evil” rant. Really doing God’s work there.

WTF Friday, 10/22/10

In “creepy as shit” news, a life-size sculpture of comatose Ariel Sharon has premiered at the Kishon Art Gallery in Tel-Aviv, complete with open eyes and (somehow) the appearance of breathing. Truly disturbing stuff…

The “Rolling Stone” newspaper (no relation) of Uganda has published the names and addresses of gay and lesbian Ugandans, encouraging readers to, no exaggeration, “hang them.” At least four people have been attacked so far. How unbelievably shitty.

Former President of Botswana and chairperson of the Champions for an HIV Free Generation , Festus Mogae, has spoken out against the possible criminalization of HIV infection in Zambia. Great now let’s try not to invoke homosexuality in this con…well, I tried…

WTF Sunday, 10/10/10

A lot of change going on in Cuba right now, but any more important than this?

And as long as I’m in a silly mood, Evo Morales kneed a political rival in the groin during a soccer match. Two players from each side got ejected, Morales excluded. I guess if this guy can avoid ejection, why shouldn’t the Prez?

The ANC is making efforts to increase its support both racially and geographically. I’m not sure saying things like this is the right strategy: “‘We got a fisherman to be a candidate and every time I went to a meeting with him he was mumbling something,’ said Mantashe. ‘I couldn’t understand him, but the fishermen in the area understood him perfectly. The point is we have to have people in those communities who can speak to those communities.’”

How to successfully seek political asylum: look gayer!

WTF Friday, 8/27/10 and 9/3/10

I purposely withheld last week’s WTF Friday just to hit you guys with a double whammy this week.

8/27/10
Omar al-Bashir made a surprise appearance at the celebration for Kenya’s new constitution. The ICC has reported Kenya to the UN Security Council, but in the words of Kenya’s foreign affairs minister, “He is a state guest. You do not harm or embarrass your guest. That is not African.” Well thank you, Miss Manners.

Africa: Land of Rape and UN Condemnation of Rape

In non-African rape news, the rape of a transgender woman in the Vietnamese province of Quang Binh may not be prosecuted. The judicial authorities in Quang Bin province are apparently under the impression that rape law in Vietnam only covers the rape of women by men, and “the victim had not reclassified her legal gender from male to female.” According to the chief judge of the provincial People’s Court, “Even if the group raped her ten times, we would not be able to sentence them.” I sure hope the perpetrators haven’t seen that quote! (Vietnamese law actually says nothing about the gender of rape victims or perpetrators.)

Double secret reverse genocide in the DRC? Say it ain’t so, Pauly K.! (via FP Passport).

9/3/10
I don’t think it’s premature to name this photo the “Cutest/Saddest of the Pakistan Flood.” Disaster porn at its finest.

I find it kind of unfortunate that the Football Association elections in Sudan seem to have been run more fairly than the actual elections. And that the Sudanese government seems to take FIFA more seriously than the ICC. Just saying.

So Wyclef seems to be taking his disqualification from the Haitian Presidential Election well: “‘Do you intend to continue supporting people who have no respect for Haiti’s Constitution?’ read the message on his Twitter account, which was later translated into English. ‘Do you continue to support people violating the right of the person who [do] not believe in the value of mankind, that every man is a man, and everybody has to live decently?’” And of course, he’s dropped a protest song and video in record time. This whole thing is starting to make more sense to me now that I realized Wyclef is dropping a new album on December 4 (less than a week after the election) featuring two songs with “Haiti” or “Haitian” in the title, another called “Political Correctness,” and I believe an album cover in which the Haitian flag is wrapped around his head. In fact, and I am definitely delving into conspiracy theory here, his last 3 albums seem to be quite a bit more Haiti-centric than his earlier offerings. Has he been planning this since 2004? I think I need to find a new internship/use for my brain.

Lastly, Fidel Castro has issued an apology and taken responsibility for the discrimination faced by homosexuals during his time as President. He claims to have been too busy with food, medicine, the CIA, traitors, etc, to worry about homosexuality, which wasn’t decriminalized until 1979. You gotta make time to worry about rights and stuff, dude. I take like a whole 45 minutes out of my schedule every week!

WTF Friday, 5/21/10

  • More drama in the Campbell-Taylor-Farrow saga. Naomi Campbell may be subpoenaed to testify at Charles Taylor’s trial as she allegedly received a diamond from him. This story basically seems true unless Mia Farrow, who says Campbell told her about the diamond and is willing to testify, is completely making it up. The more I write about this the more it feels like a weird dream.

*Correction. The couple is actually a male and a transgender woman. Thanks to tinarussell for directing me to this article. Sorry for the mistake and for taking so long to correct it. I will try to do better next time.

WTF Friday, 5/7/10

  • Speaking of homophobia, check out this little gem that was linked from a banner ad. Really thought-provoking stuff.
  • This sounds just incredibly awkward: “‘If we could work with members drawn from the Rhodesia front that oppressed us, what was there to prevent us from working with him?’ Mr. Mugabe asked, laying his hand on Mr. Tsvangirai’s arm. Mr. Tsvangirai, who has survived at least two assassination attempts in Zimbabwe, remained inscrutable and for several seconds, the room fell silent. Mr. Mugabe only smiled broadly. ‘This young fellow… of mine,’ he added, patting his arm. He coaxed another laugh from Mr. Tsvangirai and the audience.”
  • National League for Democracy (NLD), main opposition and pro-democracy party in Burma, has officially disbanded so as to not recognize bogus law that nullifies their 1990 victory.
  • BBC asks readers of this article about checkpoint bribes in Ivory Coast, “What do you think about bribes being paid at checkpoints?” I really want to hear what an extortionist has to say because, honestly, who else is gonna have a divergent opinion on this one?

How Not to Elevate the Political Discourse

Worn down by the constant confusion over whether to castigate your government for being socialist, fascist, or god forbid, Muslim? Consider moving to Zimbabwe, where a simpler dynamic prevails. If you’ve ever been to the 4th grade, you’ll feel right at home.

Last week, the Sunday Mail newspaper (controlled by Robert Mugabe’s party, Zanu-PF) published a report that Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC party supports the extension of constitutional rights to gays. Apparently, them’s fighting words; the MDC categorically denied the claim and fired back with the rough equivalent of “I know you are, but what am I?”

“For the record, it is well-known that homosexuality is practised in Zanu PF where senior officials from that party have been jailed while others are under police probe on allegations of sodomy. It is in Zanu PF where homosexuality is a religion.”

So there you have it. Mugabe’s party is totally gay. You heard it here first.

Places Not to Be Gay: Malawi Edition

Last week, police in Malawi arrested 21 year old Peter Sawali for putting up posters reading “Gay rights are human rights” in response to the public indecency trial of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga. (The two men face up to 14 years in prison for attempting to marry.)

Apparently, the government believed Monjeza and Chimbalanga were Malawi’s only gays, so imagine their surprise to be confronted with a well-organized gay rights campaign secretly producing and distributing “expertly and expensively printed” posters and leaflets. The authorities have announced that whoever is doing it had better reveal themselves so that they can be arrested too.

I’m thinking given how poorly Malawi has treated the two gays they’ve got, it’s not likely anyone’s going to respond to the request “if there are others, let them come out in the open.” When will governments learn that gays are a privilege, not a right?

Hattip to @SoAfricaAIUSA

Update: If you’d like to blow the Malawian government’s mind by demonstrating that people who are neither gay nor Malawian (or at any rate, not both) care about this issue too, head on over to Amnesty and sign their petition.

Museveni Realizes Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill Is a Gigantic Embarrassment, Backs Away Slowly

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has apparently connected the dots between the hideously repressive Anti-Homosexuality Bill under consideration in Parliament and the gajillion dollars in assistance that Uganda receives annually from liberal western governments.

The bill (which I posted on previously here) would expand the repertoire of Uganda’s institutionalized homophobia considerably and embroil snarky bloggers everywhere in a race to coin a catchy slang term for the act of failing to report another’s gayness “to the relevant authorities within twenty-four hours of having first had that knowledge.”

As recently as two months ago, Museveni seemed to be on board with neutralizing the gay menace, cautioning Uganda’s youth to watch out for “European homosexuals [] recruiting in Africa.” However, the Ugandan government has come under substantial pressure from both NGOs and donor governments, including the U.S. (motto: “America – A Marginally Better Place to Be Gay than Uganda”).

Museveni’s comments today, as reported by AFP, suggest that he’s gotten the message:

“Because it is a foreign policy issue, it is not just our internal politics, and we must handle it in a way which does not compromise our principles but also takes into account our foreign policy interests.”

The bill’s sponsor, Parliament Member David Bahati, has so far refused to withdraw it. However, as this letter to the New York Times points out, Museveni undoubtedly has the power to compel Parliament to get rid of the bill. So cross your fingers that we can soon all settle back into complaining about Uganda’s corrupt government and lack of democratic process and forget this whole thing ever happened.