Sexual orientation
3 min

Battle for hearts and minds rages on

BY NATASHA BARSOTTI – Institutionally, the rhetoric in
support of queer rights on a global scale has been turned up a few notches.

Prior to the most recent Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth, Australia, Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma penned a May 2011
opinion piece in The Nairobi Star
, reminding member states that anti-gay
discrimination and violence run counter to Commonwealth values. He
reiterated his statements at the People's Forum in Perth. 

These are steps in the right direction that came up short in the
end but signalled a major turning point in political leadership at the international level.

By now, many of us have Facebooked, tweeted and
retweeted US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's no-holds-barred gay-rights-are-human-rights speech at the UN in Geneva in December.

Toward the end of last year, the UN human rights commissioner, Navanethem Pillay, included all the right language in a November
report,
"Discriminatory Laws and Practices and Acts of Violence Against Individuals Based on Their Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity," outlining member states' obligations under international human
rights law: to protect the right to life, liberty and security of persons
irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity; prevent torture and
other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment on grounds of sexual orientation or
gender identity; protect the right to privacy and against arbitrary detention
on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity; protect the right to
freedom of expression, association and assembly in a non-discriminatory
manner."

She gave a nod to the role of educators: confronting
discrimination against queers "requires concerted efforts from school and
education authorities and integration of principles of non-discrimination and
diversity in school curricula and discourse." She even referred to sexual
education, which to be done right, "must pay special attention to
diversity, since everyone has the right to deal with his or sexuality." 

Still, the battle for the hearts and minds of those who
would hound, harass or publicly execute queers, remains very much an
uphill one on the ground.

Two days before 2011 became 2012, a reported 1,000
anti-gay protesters, cheered on by spectators, took to the streets in Freetown,
Sierra Leone
, to register their fear of, and opposition to, just "the
possibility of recognizing same-sex marriage in the country,"
africareview.com reports.

The protest's organizers, the Inveterate International
Islamic Revitalists, apparently are worried that the growing and persistent
queer-friendliness of "major powers" will encourage Sierra Leone's
political leaders to give their stamp of approval to "alien" and
"immoral" practices that supposedly run counter to an imaginary
laws-of-nature, heterosexuals-only culture.

And to ensure that they don't, the
Revitalists intend to make the protests a biweekly affair. 

Over in Hungary, queer activists and their allies rang in
the New Year with protests as well
, against the country's new
constitution, which came into effect Jan 1. It limits marriage to heterosexuals
and provides no protections for queer people. 

Compounding the new constitution's dictates is the Family
Protection Bill, which "defines the family unit as heterosexual and says
that preparing for family life should be part of the school curriculum."
It also requires media to broadcast programs that respect the institution of
marriage and family, Gay Star News reports. 

Essentially, we're in for more of the same conflict
between entrenched cultural/religious attitudes, imported and homegrown,
against queers and human rights, and therefore it is up to progressive
politicians, institutions and average citizens to make sure the rights part of
that equation continues to win allies and gain momentum.

Key to that momentum, say gay rights activists, are the
voices of the so-called global South: sympathetic countries like South Africa
and India, which have decriminalized homosexuality; others such as São Tomé and Príncipe, the Seychelles, the South Pacific island of Nauru, and Northern Cyprus, which
have signalled their intention to decriminalize gay sex; and the Caribbean
nation of Belize, which has begun a constitutional challenge against
criminalization.

End-of-the-world predictions aside, it should be an interesting year.

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