(New York) - A United Nations General Assembly panel that met this week broke new ground and helped build new momentum for ending human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, a coalition of sponsoring nongovernmental organizations said today.
The meeting included discussion of discriminatory and draconian "anti-homosexuality legislation" currently before the Ugandan parliament, and of the role of American religious groups in promoting that bill and homophobia across Africa. In a groundbreaking move, a representative of the Holy See in the audience read a statement strongly condemning the criminalization of homosexual conduct.
The panel, held yesterday on the 61st anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, featured speakers from Honduras, India, the Philippines, and Zambia, as well as Uganda, where the proposed "anti-homosexuality law" shows the steady threat of government repression.
Sweden organized the panel in coalition with Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, France, the Netherlands, and Norway. It was sponsored by a group of six nongovernmental organizations that defend the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. The audience of 200 people included delegates from over 50 nations.
The statement from the Holy See said it "opposes all forms of violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons, including discriminatory penal legislation which undermines the inherent dignity of the human person. ... [T]he murder and abuse of homosexual persons are to be confronted on all levels, especially when such violence is perpetrated by the State."
Ugandan lawmakers are currently debating the "anti-homosexuality bill." While there were reports that the death penalty provisions might be stripped from the bill, other punishments would remain that would drive many Ugandans underground or out of the country, participants said.
Speaking on the panel, Victor Mukasa, cofounder of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and program associate for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLRHC), described how he was forced to leave Uganda following police brutality and raids on his home. He said that Uganda's "anti-homosexuality bill" reflects a pattern of state-sponsored homophobia spreading across the African continent.
"Lack of security, arbitrary arrests and detentions, violence, and killings of LGBT people have become the order of the day in Africa," said Mukasa. "Nothing can change as long as LGBT people live in fear for their safety when they claim their basic human rights."
Also at the panel discussion, the Reverend Kapya Kaoma, an Anglican priest from Zambia who is project director for Political Research Associates (PRA) in Massachusetts, presented the group's new report, "Globalizing the Culture Wars: U.S. Conservatives, African Churches, and Homophobia."
Kaoma said that many anti-LGBT attitudes across Africa are fueled by US groups actively exporting homophobia. He called on US religious figures who have been promoting hatred and fear of homosexuality in Africa to denounce the Uganda bill unequivocally and support the human rights of all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Citing their moral responsibility to prevent violence, he also urged them to make such declarations in Africa, not just before US audiences.
Other panelists highlighted governments' complicity in prejudice and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Indyra Mendoza Aguilar, coordinator of the Lésbica Feminista Cattrachas network in Honduras said that an atmosphere of impunity since the June coup in Honduras has meant spreading violence against already marginalized people.
"In Honduras, as in many countries, the state turns a blind eye to violence against our communities," said Mendoza Aguilar. "Today we issue a call for reforming our societies, free of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and free of impunity."
Vivek Divan, an Indian attorney and member of the team that led a successful legal challenge to India's colonial-era sodomy law, described the provision's insidious effects: promoting inequality, excusing violence, and permitting state intrusion into private lives. The Delhi High Court overturned the law this year in a landmark decision affirming diversity as a core value of the Indian state.
Speakers also stressed how torture, killings, and other grave abuses target people not just because of their sexuality, but because they look, dress, or act in ways that defy deeply rooted patriarchal norms for expressing masculinity and femininity.
"Now is the time to realize that diversity does not diminish our humanity," said Sass Sasot, cofounder of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP). "You want to be born, to live, and die with dignity - so do we! You want to live with authenticity - so do we!"