Russia has voted to ban LGBT events and is in process of voting to solidify antigay demonstrations, gatherings, and events such as Pride, as well as potentially fining foreigners with jail time for up to 15 days if they are perceived to be homosexual. The antigay bill will also allow for fining gay people or organizations a considerable fee for simply being queer identified or perceived as LGBTQ.
I saw in the Advocate that the IOC is trying to calm fears of LGBT olympic athletes, stating that they will not be deported or jailed if they participate in the Russian winter games in 2014. Is this not a gross human rights violation to jail, fine and deport LGBT people? And why is the IOC accepting and trying to gloss over this human rights violation? Where are the voices of all athletes gay or straight, and all countries in standing against the antigay legislation? Should the IOC be going to countries where there are large human rights violations? And how “safe” are LGBT athletes? How can anyone guarantee the well being of LGBT individuals in countries where it’s considered illegal to be who you are, to be out and queer?
I listened to an amazingly brave interview with gay activist from Uganda, Frank Mugisha with Anna Maria Tremonti on the CBC. Frank is the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda. If I hadn’t understood the bravery of LGBT people before listening to Frank, I was reminded of the definition. In Uganda being LGBT is punishable by death, beatings and prison sentences. He was in Canada talking about HIV and LGBT rights in Uganda. He lives a life of constant fear coupled with activism. His determination to make lives better for LGBT people in Uganda is inspiring. He is always looking over his shoulder, always accompanied by friends, never leaves his apartment to shop for groceries or go to work without someone knowing what time he is leaving and where he is going, just in case he “disappears.” His comrade was murdered for being gay, but still he continues to speak out for LGBT rights, education and International support. He directly linked hatred of LGBT people to the right-wing evangelical fundamentalist indoctrination by North American people in his country, people who linked being gay to AIDS and HIV, and condemned LGBT people with false information and outright lies, a poisonous and hateful indoctrination. It was a far more intelligent and eloquent interview then I am quoting here in this blog, but after listening to the interview and reading the Advocate about the IOC, and the uprising against queer people in countries like France, Russia, and Iran, I am filled with mixed emotions; anger, deep sadness, as well as absolute awe and gratefulness for people like Frank Mugisha who put their lives on the line for human rights, for our brothers and sisters in Uganda who are LGBTQ. (Please listen to Frank’s interview: http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/episode/2013/06/12/ugandan-gay-rights-frank-mugisha/ ).
I am also thankful that I do live in a country that has adopted legislation to protect LGBT people who were once seen as criminal, that we were one of the first countries to make same sex marriage legal, and that we do have social policies and human rights codes now that protect us. But not all countries share this and the banning, imprisoning, beating and terrifying LGBT people is all too common and accepted in many places and continents.
After World War II, many people are still asking what they could have done differently, how they could have stopped the Nazis from killing millions of people. I wonder what it will take for all people from all countries to ask, “How can we protect LGBT people from murder and criminalization and what can be done so that all LGBT people feel safe, counted, and free to live out lives that are recognized and celebrated?”
I believe that organizations like the IOC should do more then try to tell LGBT athletes that they will be safe. I believe that all countries must look closely at their own policies around LGBT rights and human rights, that trade, communications and banking/business should be examined where human rights abuses occur, and that we could all do that little bit more to give back in our own communities where LGBT children are trying to grow up without violence and fear of death just for being who they are. I’m not sure it helps to cut off trade or aid to countries that need it, but perhaps speaking out about gay rights as human rights Internationally as well as women’s rights, will help elevate the freedoms and rights for all. I am deeply inspired by Frank Mugisha and LGBT freedom fighters and activists all over the world. And I challenge organizations with power like the IOC to do more then tell their LGBT athletes that they will be safe. It does take time for laws to change and for freedoms and rights to be recognized, but if South Africa and ending apartheid can happen, if criminalizing rape in India can happen, if marriage for LGBT people in America, France and Canada can happen, then surely at some point, LGBTQ people will be able to live freely all over the world without fear or death, bullying, or jail time.
I certainly don’t have answers, and must ask a lot of questions and do a lot of soul searching in my own life and in my own country. I believe it’s important to be out, to speak and share information. I will continue to speak out and write, and hopefully the words will have value or meaning to someone who needs it.