Ref. HRA 1999/1
©1999 Paola Marziani and Human Rights Awareness
A CRUCIAL MOMENT FOR CIVIL RIGHTS OF
GAYS AND TRANSGENDERS WORLDWIDE
Human Rights Awarereness
Recent high profile cases suggest that the struggle for Gay rights in Europe, America, and in the rest of the world is far from over. It is yet a struggle for endangered fundamental rights, for the right to life and to the respect of fundamental rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: a student in Wyoming and another person in Alabama have been savagely murdered because of their sexual orientation. Even more appalling than hate crimes has been the reaction of American people. They have shown to be split between a supportive attitude – epitomized by the candlelight vigils in the memory of Matthew Shepard – and a murderous one – the banners reading “God hates Fags” which were visible at Matthew’s burial. How can hate run so deep, and defy reason and Christian pity?
For the Gay Transgender, Bisexual (GTB) community, the fight for life and acceptance has reached a crucial momentum. Gays are gaining visibility, and apparently there is an ongoing reaction against them. As pointed out by TIME magazine, a war is being fought over Gays in America.
Nor is the plight of homosexuals basically better in Europe. The struggle for same sex marriage – for equality, for benefits, for adoption rights are the classical tops of the iceberg. These are important fights – as once was, for example, the fight for political right of women. There are still, even in the most progressive European countries, many limitations to overcome. But these fights can be fought only in few countries – where there is an open, acknowledged and organized Gay community. One should not forget that in most countries across Europe – not to mention the rest of the world -- Gays are ostracized by society, and they are outcasts as, for example, women who had a child out of wedlock once were. Several European countries are experiencing a drop in birth rate a demographic crisis. This crisis – driven by the life-style prevailing in the wide majority – may turn homosexuals, transgenders and other sexual minorities into scapegoats.
At a less visible level, the plight of homosexuals and transgender shows additional similarities across different countries. Segregation, ignorance, discrimination, loss of respectability, enforcement of stereotypes appear widespread.
Brutal violence is often vastly underestimated and underreported, and at the same, the high end of a continuous spectrum of a abuses. In several countries there is no hope of getting support by police or sympathy by society. Hate crimes go unreported (the victims themselves would not reveal their homosexual identity), go unpunished, and are ultimately supported by a silent majority: the wide majority becomes a background of silent accomplishes over which violence against Gays erupts with impunity. Even the most murderous violence most often gains little attention in the media. For example, who knows that in the state of Chiapas, in Mexico, 20 murders of homosexuals were reported in the state capital between 1991 and 1994? In other Latin American and European countries, death squads have targeted homosexuals, and serial killers have operated at least under public and police indifference.
Regarding hate crimes as the product of isolated, deviant individuals is unfortunately wrong. Hate crimes are not isolated events. They are an extremum in a spectrum of abuses that encompasses insinuating remarks, gestural and verbal harassment, discrimination, exclusion from several careers, negation of the fundamental civil and human rights, the labeling as “broken-rotten”, subhuman people, the legitimization of hatred through a faulty association between sexual diversity and criminal tendency.
It seems that the spread of American media and popular culture has lead to increased awareness and openness on Gay issues. It is, unfortunately, only in part so. Several, especially southern-European countries lack an open and objective debate on Gay rights – which are in many instances a verbal taboo. In other case media and politicians only pay lip service to Gay issues. The role of the Catholic Church has been, and is still the most deleterious in this respect: it is not inappropriate to say that pastors are following the herd. Catholic priests often – even if they do not foster hatred -- provide ethical justification for hatred, depicting homosexuality as an “ethical sickness” which leads to the inability of distinguishing between right and wrong. This is a straight endorsement of a de-humanizing attitude that literally wants to deprive Gays of a defining capability of human being. In Italy, Gay activists were arrested while they tried to unfold a banner displaying “Catholic Moral kills Gays." And indeed it kills Gays as it once killed and oppressed women. And there is zero tolerance for straight people supporting Gays. Again in Italy, the director of the popular weekly magazine "Famiglia Cristiana" was fired not much time after he signed an article entitled "Jesus Loves Lesbians, Too".
Equality is still far beyond the horizon. It is not too fanciful to see the main limits of Western democracy in the difficulty for openly Gay and transgender persons to get elected as representatives i.e., to be endowed of passive political rights. The difficulty becomes an obvious impossibility in case of prominent governmental positions. It is not an exaggeration to say that several fundamental issues of the struggle for women’s rights are resurfacing now in the struggle for Gay rights. One may think to the efforts that led to the acceptance of women as medical practitioner – efforts that were associated to loss of respectability to un-cleanliness in a time when a gender-role obsessed, male-dominated society perpetuated the “feminine mistique” of virginal purity. So many time being Gay is associated to the loss of respectability. So often being uncovered as Gay means break of social ties – with deep suffering. The struggle for the rights of transgender women is, in this respect, the frontier of a frontier. Not much differently, women were outcast and rejected because they wanted to enter a practice that made them disreputable and unclean because it involved touching of bodies. A few centuries ago women could be scapegoated and labeled as witches and burned at the stake. This kind of violence is still possible against Gays and especially against transsexual women – and has occurred in many instances – also because the present day public is often blinded by mass-media whose concerns have been mainly to foster diffidence, even to incite hatred -- rather than to spread understanding and a culture of acceptance. Right the attitude of the general public toward hate crimes shows how much the struggle for Gay rights lags behind the struggle for women rights.
It is a sad fact that present-day public opinion seems unable to recognize when the legitimate struggle for basic rights is re-fought by a minority – just because the minority has changed, and to acknowledge when a minority needs to fight for its rights because of stereotypes and segregating behavior of society at large. It is a sad truth that still too many "progressive" European forces fail to recognize that the struggle for free sexual and gender identity expression has become the diamond spear in the struggle for preservation and affirmation of human rights in Western Europe. The contribution given to Western culture by GTB individuals is invaluable: the foremost artists and poets in countries like the US, Russia, Italy, Greece, Spain, France were homosexuals. Now forces are emerging that would make this contribution impossible. Even a ghastly dichotomy between Europe and America seems to resurface: in the Thirties, Americans were split about anti-Semitism, similarly as they are now split on anti-Gays attitudes, while anti-Semitism in Europe was extremely widespread and eventually lead to the Jewish Holocaust.
March has been the month of "Equality begins at home." This important initiative was born out of the right approach: an attempt at eliminating the cultural segregation that labels Gays as deviant. It is a duty of everyone to intervene and disrupt labels which are born out only from ignorance and lack of social relationship with Gays, to acknowledge how creative Gays are and have been, and to avoid that anti-Gays attitude may take the worse turn and lead Western societies – which are now not as differentiated as it was in the Thirties, and may therefore act much more similarly in creating scapegoats in case of crisis – into a sliding corridor of calamitous injustice.
Ref. HRA 1999/1
©1999 Paola Marziani and Human Rights Awareness