Academic journal article Nebula

Strategies for Challenging Homophobia in Islamic Malaysia and Secular China

Academic journal article Nebula

Strategies for Challenging Homophobia in Islamic Malaysia and Secular China

Article excerpt

Recently I served as an expert witness for a gay Malaysian who is applying for asylum in the United States Immigration Court. There is a provision in the U.S. immigration code that offers asylum based on persecution "on the basis of membership in a particular social group" that is discriminated against. During the Clinton administration, Attorney General Janet Reno issued a declaration that LGBT people constituted "a social group" that can be considered under this provision of the law. Since that time, quite a number of immigrants have won asylum on this provision.

The first court case on which I served as an expert witness was the case of a gay man from China. In 1998 I was called as an expert witness due to work I had been doing with Dr. Wan Yan Hai, China's leading gay activist and AIDS educator. In 1997 my longtime activist friend Lyle Henry, who has traveled widely in China, asked me to try to bring Dr. Wan to America. I was able to arrange for him to be accepted as a visiting scholar at USC so that he could continue his work under my direction. It was crucial at that time for Wan to be granted this official academic position, because he was on the verge of being arrested by police due to his AIDS-activist political activities in China. Fortunately, USC approved my request quickly, and Wan was able to receive a formal invitation as a visiting scholar at the University. With the offer of this position he was able to receive a visa from the Chinese government. In this case, the Chinese government's desire for its scholars to receive international recognition trumped its police department, or perhaps they were just happy to see this troublesome activist leave the country.

I was also able to use my position with another organization to help Wan. Since 1989 I have been a member of the board of directors of the Institute for the Study of Human Resources (ISHR), a foundation that was established in 1964 by ONE founder W. Dorr Legg and female-to-male activist Reed Erickson, in support of the work of ONE Institute. In the decades since then ISHR has had a huge influence on reducing homophobia by awarding many fellowships and grants for research on human rights. ISHR has also been a major supporter of the INTERNATIONAL GAY AND LESBIAN REVIEW (2) which I founded in 1996 and served as its first editor. I am also extremely grateful to ISHR for a grant in support of my research.

In addition, the directors of ISHR have awarded fellowships to a large number of scholars who I have recommended. Quite a number of important Ph.D. dissertations, journal articles, and award-winning books have been published as a result of ISHR's support. Especially important books by Chuck Stewart, Mark Blasius, Holly Devor, Jim Kepner, Martin Dupuis, James Green, and others, have been published. (3) Many dissertations were also sponsored by ISHR. It is an unsung organization that has had a tremendous influence, and one of the greatest legacies of gay rights pioneer W. Dorr Legg. Recently ISHR has merged into the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation and the Law, as sponsor for researchers coming to its programs at the University of California, Los Angeles. (4)

Probably the most influential grant that ISHR has ever made was to Wan Yan Hai. Subsequently, a friend of mine who is very generous offered to underwrite a contribution to ISHR for another grant to be made for Wan to stay in America longer. Lyle Henry generously provided Wan a place to stay in the guest bedroom at his house. Wan has now made several research trips to America, and he is internationally known for his work in AIDS education.

When Wan first came to Los Angeles in 1997, James T. Sears and I were just publishing our book, Overcoming Heterosexism and Homophobia: Strategies That Work with Columbia University Press. Dr. Sears is the nation's leading expert in challenging homophobia in schools, and at that time he was Professor of Education at the University of South Carolina. …

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