Canada may not always be a queer utopia, but our welcoming social climate makes it easy to see how people can become complacent about LGBT rights. It’s sobering to remember that out of 196 countries recognized by the United Nations, 84 countries outlaw homosexuality and it is punishable by death in seven. In almost half the world, the freedom we have in Toronto to walk down the street as ourselves, hand in hand with the person we love, is impossible.
“Millions of people across the globe face execution, imprisonment, torture, violence and discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” says Marium Yousef, a member of Amnesty International and one of the programmers of the Reel Awareness Film Festival. “Amnesty International believes that all people should be able to enjoy all the human rights described in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” And it’s one of the reasons Reel Awareness decided to program the film Global Gay, a French documentary about the worldwide LGBT rights struggle, as a part of this year’s festival.
Directed by Rémi Lainé and Frédéric Martel, Global Gay tracks international developments in LGBT rights through five people: a South African judge, a French minister, a European Parliament member, a Cameroonian lawyer and a Russian activist. While not all the doc’s subjects are queer people, all were key figures in the political battle to get the UN to vote on a resolution to decriminalize homosexuality worldwide.
“We felt this would be a good fit for our festival,” Yousef says. “In September 2014, the UN passed the landmark resolution condemning violence and discrimination against LGBTI.” Additionally, Global Gay received the grand prize at the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights in Geneva.
Now in its ninth year, Reel Awareness fills a special niche in a city crammed with film festivals. “Our film team scouts major film festivals every year, especially those that focus on human rights issues, for submissions we feel would be a good fit,” Yousef explains. “We also receive direct submissions from filmmakers who are familiar with our scope of work.”
While the screening can be seen as celebratory, given the recent success of the UN resolution, Amnesty International is keenly aware of how much work has yet to be done. “The struggle for equal rights is far from over,” Yousef says. “Uganda is proposing new anti-homosexuality legislation since the constitutional court rejected the last bill. We felt this film was timely in calling for equal rights for all and what it will take for that one day to become a reality.”
Obviously, the organization does a lot more than screen movies — campaigning for LGBT rights is a key component of its ongoing human rights activism. “Primarily, Amnesty International is calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality where such legislation remains,” Yousef says. “This entails reviewing all legislation which could result in discrimination, prosecution and punishment of people solely for their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The subtitle of Global Gay is The Next Frontier in Human Rights, a sentiment expressed by US President Barack Obama and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon — and one certainly shared by Amnesty International. “Amnesty International considers people detained or imprisoned solely because of their homosexuality — including those individuals persecuted for having sex in circumstances which would not be criminal for heterosexuals, or for their gender identity — to be prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.”