As people in more than 50 countries marked the International Day against Homophobia on the 17th of May, Human Rights Watch named to a “hall of shame” five public officials who have actively promoted prejudice against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in their countries. Human Rights Watch also pointed to five recent advances that give hope for a future free of hatred and homophobia.
“This ‘hall of shame’ does not claim to include the worst offenders, but it highlights public officials who have failed in their basic duty to respect human rights for all,” said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “The abuses these officials have caused or countenanced symbolize the daily, invidious forms of homophobia that countless people face around the world.”
The public officials named to the “Hall of Shame” for their actions in 2005-2006 were:
- Senior Superintendent of Police Ashutosh Pandey of Lucknow, India, whose agents used the Internet to entrap four men and jailed them under his country’s colonial-era sodomy law;
- Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk of the Netherlands, who sought to deny asylum to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Iranians, threatening to deport them back to a country that imposes the death penalty on homosexual conduct;
- President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, who supports a law imposing five years of imprisonment on anyone who is involved in a lesbian and gay organization or publication, publicly supports lesbian and gay people’s rights, or even publicly displays a “same-sex amorous relationship”;
- Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who vowed to ban Russia’s first-ever lesbian and gay pride parade, claiming he had to protect the rights of “the majority”; and,
- Alabama State Representative Gerald Allen, in the United States, who moved to strip public libraries of books by lesbian or gay authors, promising to “dig a big hole and dump them in and bury them.”
“Sodomy laws and surveillance, censorship and silencing, inequality and official discrimination, arrest and torture, are realities for many LGBT people on every continent,” said Long. “Homophobia has a global reach.”
Human Rights Watch also pointed to five countries that have made exemplary progress in combating rights abuses based on sexual orientation or gender identity:
- Brazil, where a landmark government campaign for a “Brazil without Homophobia” supports LGBT groups in the struggle for equality;
- Fiji, where in August the High Court ruled that the country’s sodomy law was unconstitutional holding that, “What the constitution requires is that the law acknowledges difference, affirms dignity and allows equal respect to every citizen as they are”;
- Romania, where a decade of domestic and international pressure led to the repeal of a sodomy law and to the passage of broad antidiscrimination protections;
- South Africa, where a Constitutional Court ruling in December opened equality in civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples for the first time on the African continent; and
- Spain, where in the wake of marriage equality, parliament is debating a bill to give transgender people expansive rights to legal recognition of their gender identity, based on a psychological evaluation and without making surgery a prerequisite for those rights.
LGBT groups in more than 50 countries currently mark the International Day against Homophobia, an initiative launched in 2005. Held on May 17, it commemorates the date on which the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its roster of disorders in 1990. This year, it has been endorsed by a resolution of the European Parliament. The day is not yet marked in South Africa.