On May 17, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups in more than 50 countries will commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), an initiative launched in 2005 that marks the day in 1990 when the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality from its roster of disorders.

In South Africa, OUT LGBT Well-being and the Durban Community and Health Centre have issued a statement drawing attention to this important day on the international calendar.

“Whilst we proudly celebrate our constitutional rights to equality and dignity, many lesbian and gay people in South Africa and on the African continent continue to face high levels of homophobic violence and abuse, fuelled by the prejudice of others” says Melanie Judge, Advocacy Manager for OUT.

Nonhlanhla Mkhize, Director for the Durban Gay and Lesbian Community and Health Centre adds that “Hatred for gay, lesbian and transgender people in South African is often hidden in the guise of religion and culture, but homophobia is fundamentally unAfrican. As the fifth country to legalise same-sex marriage, we urge our leadership to take the lead – on the African continent and internationally – in the struggle against all forms of prejudice against lesbian and gay people.”

There is a great gap that exists between South African laws and prevailing social attitudes. Judge cautions that “Like racism and sexism, homophobia continues to be a part of the South African landscape. Efforts to address past discriminations must simultaneously tackle all forms of prejudice, including against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The Hall of Shame

In its annual “hall of shame”, released on the International Day Against Homophobia, New York based Human Rights Watch, has pointed to Pope Benedict XVI, US President George W. Bush and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as having undermined human rights by actively promoting prejudice against LGBT people.

“This ‘hall of shame’ does not claim to include the worst offenders, but it highlights leaders who have lent their authority to denying basic human rights,” said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “Bush and Pope Benedict both speak of human dignity, but their homophobic words and actions undermine families and endanger health.”

Leaders named to the “Hall of Shame” for their actions in the past year are:

  • Pope Benedict XVI: for undermining families. The leader of the Holy See has gone well beyond expressing the Church’s theological views on homosexuality. The Pope has intervened in politics in many countries to condemn and threaten figures who support equal rights or any form of recognition for lesbian and gay families. After Spain legalised same-sex marriage in 2005, Pope Benedict’s Pontifical Council on the Family commanded Spanish officials to refuse to marry same-sex couples or even to process the paperwork if they tried to adopt a child.

  • US President George W. Bush: for jeopardising public health. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) requires that one-third of HIV-prevention spending go to so-called “abstinence-until-marriage” programs. These programs threaten the health of LGBT people by sending a message that there is no safe way for them to have sex, and by denying them life-saving information. In some countries, such as Uganda, grants from the $15 billion PEPFAR program have funded groups that actively promote homophobia; in others, they have drastically reduced condom provision.

  • Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: for creating public and private scandals. President Ahmadinejad has overseen a widening campaign to “counter public immorality,” arbitrarily arresting thousands of Iranians for dressing or behaving differently. In recent weeks, for example, thousands of women have been detained for not conforming to “correct” Islamic dress. In Iran’s surveillance society, Ahmadinejad also uses religious vigilantes to raid homes and other private places in search of “deviant” behavior – including homosexual conduct. The Iranian regime polices public behavior and violates the right to privacy on a massive scale.

  • Roman Giertych, Polish Minister of Education and Deputy Prime Minister: for endangering children. Part of a right-wing government that has made homophobia a centerpiece of policy, Giertych’s education ministry has proposed a law to fine or imprison teachers, school officials, or student human rights defenders who even mention homosexuality. Vital facts about safer sex and protection against HIV/AIDS could be banned from schools under the new law.
  • Bienvenido Abante, Member of the Philippine House of Representatives and Chair of the House Committee on Civil, Political and Human Rights: for trying to force his sexual orientation on others. Representative Abante has urged that homosexuals be “cured” and turned into heterosexuals. He has repeatedly blocked a landmark bill that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the Philippines. He has also suggested that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are excluded from the “definition” of human rights.

Cause for hope…

At the same time, Human Rights Watch also highlighted four areas where advances in human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have given reason for hope:

  • In Nepal, after years of abuse directed at lesbians, gays, and transgender people during a violent civil war, the authorities in February gave a meti (transgender person) in February an official citizenship ID with a gender listed as neither male nor female. This was first time that a government in South Asia has given transgender identity full state recognition.

  • In Denmark, Parliament in June extended equal access to reproductive technologies to lesbians and single women. Denmark in 1989 became the first country in the world to create civil unions for same-sex partners, but such unions have still discriminated against same-sex couples in many areas, including reproduction. The Danish decision marked a recognition of women’s equal worth as parents, and a further step toward full equality.
  • In Mexico, Mexico City and the northeastern state of Coahuila passed civil-union laws opening recognition to same-sex couples. Unions solemnised in Coahuila must be recognized as valid across Mexico. These moves come after the 2003 passage of a sweeping federal antidiscrimination law offering protection against unequal treatment based on sexual orientation.
  • Internationally, the Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Law in Relation to Issues of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity were launched during the March session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Adopted in November at a meeting of international legal experts in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta, these groundbreaking principles spell out the international legal standards under which governments and other actors should end violence, abuse and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and ensure full equality.

Reporting on state homophobia

The International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) also chose May 17 to launch its new report on State homophobia around the world in order to raise awareness of the exten

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