The Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) – a fellowship of Christian churches with a special ministry to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people – will present its triennial Human Rights Award to Human Rights Watch on July 4. The award recognizes Human Rights Watch’s groundbreaking work defending LGBT people worldwide from violence, discrimination, and abuse.

“Faith used as a pretext for hatred often fuels violence against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people,” said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “For the Metropolitan Community Church, religion means inclusion, and we are proud to work with them in spreading the message that human rights are for everyone.”

Founded in 1968, Metropolitan Community Church is the largest and oldest worldwide Christian denomination with a special affirming ministry to LGBT people and communities. The church’s United Fellowship presents its Human Rights Award every three years at its International General Conference. This year, Scott Long will accept the award at the conference in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The Metropolitan Community Church has almost 300 local congregations in 28 countries. Each year, almost a quarter of a million people attend MCC’s programs and services. It has collaborated successfully with LGBT groups in countries such as Jamaica, Romania and South Africa to foster public acceptance and promote human rights.

“Human Rights Watch works to build a world in where everyone’s rights will be respected, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Long. “The Metropolitan Community Church is a vital part of this common struggle.”

The award recognizes Human Rights Watch for these achievements against prejudice and persecution, among others:

  • Human Rights Watch played a central part in ending a massive crackdown on men having sex with men in Egypt. After years of research, Human Rights Watch in 2004 released a report on the government campaign in which hundreds, possibly even thousands, were arrested and tortured. The day after its release and the accompanying high-level advocacy, the crackdown stopped.
  • Human Rights Watch’s HIV/AIDS and LGBT Rights Programs brought human rights groups in Jamaica into a coalition to condemn widespread violence against gay men. Its report on the issue, called “explosive” by the Jamaican media, sparked an unprecedented debate within Jamaica about the rights of LGBT people and the struggle against HIV/AIDS. The report also gave strength to a growing movement to repeal Jamaica’s colonial-era sodomy laws.
  • Human Rights Watch played a key role in realizing the “Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in Relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity,” developed by a group of international law experts meeting last year in Indonesia. The principles set out standards for how states should ensure full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. They also affirm that human rights do not admit exceptions.
  • Human Rights Watch has documented abuses against LGBT Iranians, supported over a hundred asylum claimants in dozens of countries, and helped change refugee policies to safeguard LGBT people in exile.

“Homophobic violence fuels the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Jamaica and around the world, and Human Rights Watch works to combat both,” said Rebecca Schleifer, advocate for the HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Program. “In Jamaica, I’ve seen how MCC has created spaces for people living with HIV to live and worship, and has helped link human rights and faith communities.”

Human Rights Watch’s HIV/AIDS Program has been documenting human rights abuses linked to HIV/AIDS – including state-sponsored violence and discrimination against LGBT people, and outreach workers to them – since 2001. Human Rights Watch’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program – the first of its kind at a major mainstream human rights organization – was formed in 2004. Scott Long was its founding director. Long has nearly 20 years of experience in fighting abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity. He launched his human rights career in Eastern Europe, where his documentation of arrests and torture under Romania’s repressive anti-gay measures helped draw global attention to the effects of sodomy laws.