Out South: Gay Activism Is Growing Worldwide, Especially in the South. but Where's the Equality?

By Baird, Vanessa | New Internationalist, October 2000 | Go to article overview

Out South: Gay Activism Is Growing Worldwide, Especially in the South. but Where's the Equality?


Baird, Vanessa, New Internationalist


A woman and a man make love. It's tender, warm, giving. The next day, still glowing in their passion for each other, they step out into the street. Unashamed, they do not mind the world knowing their feelings -- which they would have difficulty hiding, anyway.

From tomorrow, however, in seven countries this couple could face execution -- just because they are together. In 18 or more countries their act of love will be punished by separation and imprisonment -- for life, in some places. Arrest, flogging, fining and public shaming may await them in a further 60 or so countries.

In some 60 other countries their love will not be illegal, but they will still be denied basic legal and civil rights that others may take for granted -- rights relating to employment, parenting, pensions, inheritance, housing.

In just three countries in the world is discrimination against them for being heterosexual outlawed and equality enshrined in the constitution -- Ecuador, South Africa and Switzerland.

These are facts (see page 18) -- bar a couple of amendments. Replace the word 'tomorrow' with 'today'. Oh -- and for 'heterosexual' substitute 'homosexual', so 'a man and a woman' becomes 'two women' or 'two men'.

Soaps and tolerance

It's easy, if you live in a relatively tolerant environment, to be unaware of the scale and extent of discrimination against sexual minorities.

Recent decades have seen a growing social acceptance of same-sex relationships between consenting adults. Lesbian and gay culture has, we are told, 'entered the mainstream'. What soap opera or TV sit-com -- those barometers of 'ordinary life' and contemporary mores -- is complete without its lesbian or gay character or 'event' today? Transgender issues too have found their way into Brazilian tele-novelas.

In the Netherlands gay people 'marrying' or having their partnerships legally recognized is no longer news. 'Out' lesbian and gay politicians are more common too, be they in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Canada, Australia or Britain. Transgender people are fighting and winning cases to keep their jobs during and after sex-change treatment. And more lesbians and gay men are becoming parents. Things appear to be heading in the direction of tolerance and equality.

Then something happens to shatter that appearance. For me -- as for many other gay people living in Britain -- it was the bombing of a packed gay pub, the Admiral Duncan, in London's Soho in April 1999. Three people were killed, scores were left with horrific injuries.

The next day the equality campaign group Stonewall received a record number of phonecalls. Callers were not expressing sympathy or outrage but approval of the bombing. 'They should have got the lot of you,' was their overwhelming message.

The hostility was reinforced during the following months when attempts to get rid of a law (commonly known as Section 28) that specifically discriminates against gay people and their children twice failed in the House of Lords, Britain's second chamber. The law, which forbids the 'promotion' in schools of the notion of homosexuality 'as a pretended family relationship' -- effectively silencing any positive discussion of homosexuality -- was kept in place thanks largely to a well-heeled rightwing campaign backed by the Christian Institute.

It's odd really, considering what's at issue. One: acts of love between consenting adults. Two: being honest about who you are.

But in all corners of the world sexual minorities are grappling with responses to them that are cruel, bizarre, illogical. Take the case of Nepali teenagers Maya Tamang, aged 18, and 17-year-old Indira Rai. The girls, who have known and loved each other for several years, finally declare their feelings and their intention to live together. A male relative reports the matter to the police. The girls are arrested and as the news spreads, both are threatened with mob violence. From the police station the girls issue a statement for their family and community. …

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