Imagine living in a country where it is illegal to be gay, and queer sex could result in a lifetime prison sentence or even death. Now imagine that the government wants to go even further and criminalize the formation of gay societies, clubs and organizations. Even people who attend a same-sex wedding, but are not gay themselves, could be jailed for half a decade.
Sadly, we do not have to imagine it. This is the reality faced by gays and lesbians in countries including Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Iran. A recent law proposed by the Nigerian government aims to criminalize any expression of support for gays or same-sex marriage, making it virtually impossible even to protest against the law. Protesters could be imprisoned for up to five years. In Iran, homosexuals are publicly hanged. In Zimbabwe and Nigeria homosexuality also carries a death sentence.
Often we in Canada feel helpless about the injustice in other countries. Helpless because we are only one person, because the injustices are taking place so far away, because we don’t know what we can do, and whether it would even make a difference. But we are not helpless. As we stand together, we have a voice, and every person that chooses to take a stand strengthens that voice.
One person can make a difference. It only takes one person to start a petition, to write a letter, to call the media, to write an article or to send an e-mail. Every great movement, every civil rights triumph and every victory begins with one person having the courage to take a stand. One person with a vision is more powerful than a million people who choose to do nothing.
It is true that distance can be an obstacle to action. However, this is not because we are not close enough to effect change, but because it is easier to ignore the problem. Yet no distance is far enough away to justify ignoring our brothers and sisters being murdered. If this were happening on our doorsteps, we wouldn’t sleep until we found justice. So let’s make sure that these governments know that we refuse to let queer victims be forgotten, and we will fight until there are no more victims to fight for.
We are lucky enough to have the embassies of Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Iran right here in Ottawa. These countries are represented here, which makes our voices even easier to be heard. We have the ability have a dialogue with the governments of these countries without ever leaving our own city. What excuse do we have now? How can we justify not letting people hear our outrage?
Many people have already started to take action, but need your support. For example, on May 13, Integrity Ottawa held a protest starting at the Human Rights Monument. The crowd then marched to the Nigerian embassy to present a letter of protest. There’s room for you in this effort: you can sign petitions, write letters to the embassies, governments and local newspapers, organize demonstrations and so much more.
The road to change is often long and requires a lot of energy and effort. Because the impact of our actions is often not seen immediately, it can be hard to tell if we are making a difference. However, every effort counts and has a cumulative effect. One act on its own may do nothing, but many protests, letters and organizations cannot be ignored. If any change is to be made, it will be a result of the combination of many efforts.
Our brothers and sisters in these oppressive countries have had their voices taken away. We are not only speaking for ourselves, but we are speaking for those who will die if they do and for those who have died already. If we don’t speak up, who will? Unfortunately these governments have made it our battle. It is up to us to show them that we will not stand for their actions, and that there are global consequences for the crimes they are committing.
It is our time to stand up and fight. The war on homosexuality is one that we must all fight. If we stand united, despite our differing countries and cultures, we can win. We can not only change lives, but also save them.