Saturday, August 11, 2007

Worldwide Vigils Call for Support of LGBT Human Rights

A series of vigils is taking place around the world this weekend in an effort to focus attention on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) human rights.

It was images of Russian LGBT citizens being attacked during last summer’s Pride march in Moscow, that galvanized Irish activist and New York City resident Brendan Fay into action.

Tired of such regular and worldwide occurrences of violence and discrimination against LGBT persons (as documented here, here, and here), Fay joined with others to plan a series of international vigils and rallies that would highlight the poor state of LGBT human rights and push for greater awareness and action so as to expand and protect the rights of LGBT people.

Yesterday (Friday, August 10), this series of consciousness-raising events was launched at the United Nations’ Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza in New York City. Here religious leaders and U.N. officials joined with LGBT activists and concerned citizens for a vigil.

Says Fay: “We refuse to be silent in the face of torture, discrimination and executions in Iran, of beatings on the streets of Moscow, of Lithuanian authorities preventing the rainbow flag from being carried on the streets of Vilnius. We refuse to be silent when many LGBT and HIV positive refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants arrive on the shores of the U.S. only to encounter discrimination and closed doors.”

Trenton Strube of the New York Blade reports that “similar events took place in Caracas, Cologne, Mexico City, San Diego, San Francisco, Stockholm, Vancouver, Warsaw and Washington.”

Along with drawing attention to the state of human rights of LGBT people across the globe, this weekend’s series of vigils also calls for the implementation, endorsement and support of what are known as the Yogyakarta Principles.

Reports Strube: “Last November, experts on international human rights laws met in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, to draft a set of principles that spell out the protections of human rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity. They were launched in Geneva in March of this year.”

According to Scott Long of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, the goals of the Yogyakarta Principles are two-fold.

“One [goal] is to lobby governments to take them up,” says Long. Governments can use the principles as guides for their internal and foreign policies. Strube notes that Long cites the Netherlands and Sweden as examples of countries that use the principles as a valid guide when funding non-governmental organizations (NGOs). “Basically, if an NGO doesn’t follow the principles, it doesn’t receive funding,” reports Strube.

The second goal of the Yogykarta Principles is to give activists and citizens a specific and viable demand. “The principles,” Long explains, “give a tool for grassroots LGBT activists around the world to put pressure on their governments, to say, ‘Look, here is what a body of international legal experts say you need to do.’”

Following is a brief except from Trenton Strube’s New York Blade article on Friday’s vigil at the United Nations:

The U.N. vigil was also a chance to honor past human rights activists, such as Dag Hammarskjöld. The Swedish diplomat was the second secretary general of the U.N. and died in 1961 under mysterious circumstances in a plane crash. Recent biographies assert that Hammarskjöld was a closeted gay man.

“I’m moved to recall Roger Casement,” said Fay, referring to the turn-of-the-century Irishman. “In his own time, he responded to human atrocities against people in Africa and Latin America.” The vigil also marks the 1916 execution of Casement (the release of Casement’s controversial personal journals, called “The Black Diaries,” revealed florid homosexual activities, though some critics claim the journals were forged).

Images of both Casement and Hammarskjöld were carried during Friday’s vigil.

Long said that events such as the U.N. vigil help U.S. citizens focus on and learn from international movements. He points out that nations less advanced in many ways than the United States offer their citizens protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. “In South Africa, sexual orientation is protected in constitution,” Long said. “In Brazil, there is a nationwide program called Brazil Without Homophobia to address affects of prejudice across county. Now those are two conservative countries. Why have they been able to go so much farther than we have, and what can we learn from their struggles?”

“This vigil reflects a spirit of global responsibility among gay activists worldwide,” Fay said. He added that the Internet has played a vital role in connecting activists worldwide.

Long agreed that the Internet can play a role in connecting ordinary folks and in getting information out. But, he cautioned, there are downsides. “It gets harder to check the accuracy of information the faster it moves,” he said. “We in the United States are in a world were information is available freely. But in China, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, web sites that deal with LGBT issues are blocked. Owners of them in China can be arrested or even jailed. So we shouldn’t congratulate ourselves for all this information that’s moving at the speed of light.”

For activists like Brendan Fay, though, the web has been instrumental. “We’re no longer isolated from each other,” Fay said. “News can come from streets of Moscow and we can have responses around the world. To me it’s very moving.”

To read Trenton Strube’s report in its entirety, click here.

Image: Leading the procession of activists Friday at United Nations’ Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza are, from left, Brendan Fay, Kelebohile Nkhereanye and the Rev John Denaro. In the background are Barbara Mohr, Scott Long and the Rev. Edgard Danielson-Morales. Human rights pioneers such as Roger Casement and Dag Hammarskjöld (whose pictures are being carried) were also honored during the vigil. Photo: GRCC.

See also the related Wild Reed posts:
Worldwide Gay Pride
Irene Khan: Shaking Things Up Down Under
Naming and Confronting Bigotry
The Real Gay Agenda
Equality Riders Experience the “Great Dissonance at the Intersection of Catholic Beliefs”
Our Catholic “Stonewall Moment”
A Simple Yet Radical Act
In Search of a Global Ethic
What’s a Conscientious Faggot to Do?

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