LESBIAN AND GAY RIGHTS
Gay men and lesbians were persecuted and discriminated against in many countries throughout the world in 1999 and were often the targets of hateful invective by prominent state officials. The few positive developments that occurred during the year were mainly in the area of legislation, rather than in practice.
According to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), in 1999, some eighty-five countries maintained laws that criminalize sexual activity between consenting adults of the same sex. In some countries the statutes regulated specific sexual acts regardless of the gender of the people involved, whereas other countries maintained laws that prohibit a wide range of same-sex practices. Many laws were broad in scope, dealing with "unnatural acts," "immoral acts," or acts causing "public scandal." In some countries, general laws against "loitering" or "hooliganism" were used to arrest or persecute homosexuals. Laws in other countries discriminated by imposing different standards for homosexuals, for example, with regard to the legal age of consent.
South Africa, which accorded constitutional protection for gay men and lesbians, continued to set a good example in 1999. In February, the Cape High Court ruled that the Aliens Control Act unfairly discriminated against gay and lesbian couples by denying foreign partners of South Africans the right to live and work in South Africa. The case was heard on appeal by the Constitutional Court in August, and judgment was pending at the time of this writing.
The Medical Schemes Act, approved in South Africa in 1999, included partners in the definition of dependent, enabling gay men and lesbians with health care coverage to include their partners in their coverage. The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of UnfairDiscrimination bill, introduced in the parliament in the fall of 1999, would create mechanisms, other than the Constitutional Court, to enforce the constitutional provision that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. According to the constitution, it would have to be adopted by February 2000.
Edwin Cameron, a South African High Court judge who openly declared his homosexuality three years ago, declared that he had AIDS during an April 1999 hearing for a position on the Constitutional Court. He said he had done so to highlight the plight of millions of other AIDS sufferers less fortunate than he. In late December 1998, Gugu Dlamini, a volunteer AIDS worker, was beaten to death by neighbors in her township of KwaMashu for making her HIV status public.
A potentially positive development occurred in the Czech Republic in October where a bill that would legalize homosexual partnerships and afford such partners all the rights of conventional marriage was put before the parliament.
On September 27, the European Court of Human Rights declared unanimously that Britain's long-standing ban on homosexuals in the military was a violation of the basic human right to privacy. Homosexuality had been legal in Britain for some thirty years, but gays and lesbians had been forbidden to serve in the armed forces. According to local activists, at least 600 gay men and lesbians, and probably many more, had been discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation. Britain was party to the European Convention on Human Rights which required it to follow the court's rulings, even, if necessary, to change its domestic laws.
The British government introduced a bill to equalize the age of consent for gay men. It passed overwhelmingly in the House of Commons in March, but was defeated for a second time in the House of Lords on April 14.
On April 18, Swiss citizens approved a new constitution which prohibited discrimination on the basis of "way of life," a phrase generally acknowledged to cover sexual preference.
On May 20, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that same-sex couples must be accorded the same recognition as heterosexual couples under Canada's Charter of Rights. Quebec was the first province to comply with the decision by changing its definition of "spouse" to include same-sex couples.
In October, the French parliament passed a law giving legal status to unmarried couples, including gay men and lesbians. Under the law, couples, whether of the same sex or not, could enter into a union and be accorded the same rights as married couples in areas such as income tax, inheritance, housing, and social welfare. The new form of legal coupling, known by the acronym PACS, required couples to register before a court clerk and could be dissolved by either party in writing, giving three months' notice. Couples were required to register and then live together for three years before they could file a joint income tax return.
In October in the United States, the state of California passed three new laws to protect gay rights. The first outlawed the harassment of gay and lesbian students and teachers in public schools and colleges; three other states-Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin-had similar laws. The second established a state domestic partners registry for couples who are homosexual or over age 62, extending hospital visitation rights and allowing state and government workers to get health benefits for their partners. The third law blocked job and housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gave the State Fair Employment and Housing Department authority over such cases.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would protect workers in every state from discrimination based on sexual orientation, was introduced but not acted upon by the U.S. Congress at the time of this writing.
Despite criminal prosecutions and public outrage over the October 1998 torture and killing of Matthew Shepard, a twenty-one-year-old openly gay student at the University of Wyoming, only eleven states in the U.S. had legislation that specifically prohibited anti-gay hate crimes, and eight states had no hate crime laws at all. The two men charged in the Shepard case were accused of kidnapping, aggravated robbery, and murder: one pleaded guilty and was given consecutive life sentences; the other faced the same charges and the death penalty at the time of this writing.
Gay men and lesbians in the U.S. military continued to face harassment within the confines of the "don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue" policy. The policy required that military officials refrain from asking military personnel about their sexual orientation, while also requiring that members of the armed forces not disclose that they are gay, lesbian, or bisexual, and prohibiting "witch hunts" by setting limits on investigations of allegedly gay servicemen and women by military personnel. Members of the armed forces were not allowed to make any statements indicating that they were gay or bisexual and were prohibited from any sexual acts, including hugging or holding hands, with others of the same sex.
Since the policy took effect in 1994, discharges increased dramatically, with 1,145 discharges in 1998, up from 617 in 1994. This called into question whether the policy is being implemented properly and whether the policy was workable at all. In August the Pentagon announced that it would issue guidelines to curtail abuses of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy by giving military personnel at all levels training to end anti-gay harassment and requiring that only senior officials handle investigations. However, training was limited and superficial, raising concerns that such training at all levels would mean little.
Blatant discrimination against homosexuals continued in Romania in 1999, and the government failed to provide protection to those who came under attack. The government did not fulfill its promises to the Council of Europe to repeal the articles of the penal code that criminalize homosexuality, nor did the council restart its monitoring procedure on Romania. President Constantinescu failed to fulfill the promise he made to Human Rights Watch representatives and others in January 1998 to pardon all persons jailed under these articles. The number of such imprisoned persons still remained unknown.
In June, Human Rights Watch sent an observer to Malaysia to attend the beginning of the second trial of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. Together with Sukma Dermawan, his adopted brother, Anwar was charged with sodomizing Azizan Abu Bakar, the former driver of Anwar's wife. Sukma was charged with aiding and abetting Anwar. Malaysia's penal code prohibited "carnal intercourse against the order of nature." In April, Anwar had been convicted on four counts of misusing his office to cover up alleged sexual misconduct and had been sentenced to six years in prison. The first trial was marred by procedural and evidentiary irregularities and by the beating of Anwar in prison, prompting an international outcry. The second trial was still in progress as of this writing. Both trials were widely viewed as aspects of a politically motivated vendetta against Anwar, who had grown increasingly vocal in his criticism of corruption and cronyism in the government of Prime Minister Mahathir.
In July 1999, twenty-three Muslim men who took part in a May 1998 drag beauty contest in Alor Star, the capital of the Malaysian state of Kedan, were found guilty and fined by an Islamic court for wearing dresses and acting like women. The non-Muslim participants in the pageant were not tried.
In December 1998, the state of Tasmania in Australia passed new anti-discrimination protections that included sexual orientation, giving it the best protections in Australia, according to local activists The law prohibited both discrimination and incitement of hatred or severe ridicule on the basis of sexual orientation.
The recently approved constitution and Bill of Rights of Fiji, which received international acclaim for their democratic character, were under threat from a proposal to amend the Bill of Rights to make same-sex marriage and homosexual relationships illegal.
In 1999, sodomy laws were repealed in Ecuador and in Chile, although same- sex relationships in Chile were still not afforded the same status as heterosexual relationships. Ecuador's new constitution, passed in December 1998, explicitly guaranteed non-discrimination for gay men and lesbians.
Mexico's penal code was reformed to eliminate homosexual activity as an aggravating factor in corruption-of-minor cases, and Mexico City's penal code was reformed to criminalize discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. Yet authorities in Mexico showed little inclination to investigate homophobic crimes. In July the mayor of Cordoba city in Veracruz state launched a cleanup campaign aimed at ridding the city of gays, lesbians, and prostitutes, among others.
Similar vilification of gay men and lesbians was heard in Africa during 1999, most distressingly from the presidents of Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Homosexuality remained illegal in these countries. In October, Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi denounced what he called the "scourge" of homosexuality; he said that homosexual behavior was "abnormal" and contradicted biblical teaching and African traditions. In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni ordered the arrest of homosexuals for carrying out what he described as "abominable acts." In Uganda, homosexuals could be punished with life imprisonment under a penal code provision that barred gaining "carnal knowledge of another against the order of nature." Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has been especially outspoken in recent years, vilifying homosexuals and blaming them for his country's ills. Yet despite Mugabe's virulent anti-gay campaign, the gay community in Zimbabwe was active and organized. Keith Goddard, a Zimbabwean gay activist with the organization Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), who was arraigned in June 1998 on sodomy charges after he complained to police about attempts to blackmail him, had the charges of sodomy dropped in March 1999, although further, similar charges were reinstated and pending.
Human Rights Watch worked with local groups in several African countries in 1999 to help them build a consensus around the need for political and legal reforms. In September a Human Rights Watch staff member participated in a week-long training session for human rights activists from seven African countries, organized in Johannesburg by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and the Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality.