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Gay rights victories in ‘North’ hurting gays and lesbians in developing countries

Gay rights progress in North American and Europe creating backlash

Alistair Stewart, assistant director of Kaleidoscope Trust. Credit: Kaleidoscope Trust

Advances in gay rights and same-sex marriage in North America and Europe are having a negative impact on the lives of gays and lesbians in developing countries. That warning from Alistair Stewart, assistant director of Kaleidoscope Trust, a UK based charity that works to uphold human rights of LGBT people internationally.

“In this perverse way the successes of the LGBT movement in the North, and in particular in the United States, have acted to worsen conditions in the South,” Stewart writes in a op-ed column for Huffington Post UK.

Stewart says anti-gay crusaders are increasingly shifting their attention to developing countries.

“Because they are losing ground in the West, our opponents are increasingly moving their resources (and their rhetoric and their hate) to more fertile grounds in developing countries. American Evangelical Churches are abandoning the fight against equality at home, in favour of supporting homophobic laws abroad. Why fight a losing battle against social liberalism in America or Europe, where you are increasingly ignored and ridiculed, when in Uganda, Belize or Nigeria you are welcomed with open arms,” states Stewart.

Stewarts writes that 76 countries continue to criminalize homosexual conduct. Those convicted face prison sentences and hard labour — and in five countries the death penalty still applies.
“As champagne corks popped in London and Paris … countless setbacks, reversals and outrages occur elsewhere,” says Stewart — highlighting the torture and murder of Cameroonian gay activist Eric Ohena Lembembe, whose body was found in his home on July 15.

In the aftermath of Lembembe‘s murder, Cameroon’s government has warning media about how it reports such crimes.

“[The Cameroon government] lashed out at the media on Friday (July 19) for its reporting on the recent killing of a prominent gay activist and warned that future ‘provocative commentary’ on the case would be illegal,” reports Divine Ntaryike in the Huffington Post.

Some history of anti-gay violence in Cameroon is detailed in the report “Guilty by Association: Human Rights Violations in the Enforcement of Cameroon’s Anti-Homosexuality Law,” which states that at least 28 people have been prosecuted for being gay in Cameroon since 2010. 

What amounts to government sanctioned hatred towards gays and lesbians is not uncommon in countries like Uganda, Zimbabwe — and, more recently, Russia.

“The Ugandan parliament continues to flirt with introducing the death penalty and imprisoning parents for not turning in their own gay children to the authorities,” notes Stewart.

In November, when Uganda’s so-called ‘Kill the gays’ legislation was being debated, parliamentary speaker Rebecca Kadaga, who reportedly has ties to the evangelical Christian organization Family Life Network pushing for the bill's adoption, urged quick passage of the bill — amid calls by anti-gay activists saying its enactment would be a "Christmas gift" to the country.

On May 20, while launching his re-election campaign, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on declared Gays and lesbians who don’t conceive children should be arrested — just one comment in Mugabe’s long history of public anti-gay rhetoric. “To hell with you” Mugabe infamously said of British Prime Minister David Cameron last year during one of his anti-gay rants following Cameron’s call for global gay rights.

The US State Department's 2009 report on human rights in Zimbabwe paints a grim picture of for gays and lesbians living in that country: a broad definition of sodomy carrying a $5,000 fine or up to a year in prison, government censorship and confiscation of any queer materials, lack of treatment for HIV/AIDS for gay men and disturbing reports of "corrective" rape. 
Meanwhile, in Russia, gays and lesbians have suffered violence on the streets and earlier this month president Vladimir Putin signed into law a new gay propaganda law.

And on July 22, in St James, Jamaica a violent mob ‘chopped and stabbed’ to death a 17-year-old teenager who was crossdressing or possibly transgendered. Police found the body in the bushes the next morning.

“The Jamaican religious right keeps claiming all attacks are gay on gay violence. They even have the police say this foolishness,” said Jamaican LGBT rights advocate Maurice Tomlinson.

“Of course, no one is saying that battles for same-sex marriage shouldn't be fought in the West and victories celebrated,” writes Stewart. “[But] the battle for equal rights in the global North is woven, intimately, with the battles for equality and dignity further afield. We'd do well to remember that and that, in many places, there is far more at stake than embossed invitations or a gift register at John Lewis.”