LGBT+ Rights Abroad: What Needs To Be Done

Boycotts and stopping aid will not make countries less queerphobic argues Elliot Fitzgerald. Credits: Teresa Valdez Klein

Boycotts and stopping aid will not make countries less queerphobic argues Elliot Fitzgerald. Credits: Teresa Valdez Klein

When someone hurts a person who is close to you it is tempting to lash out by sending a hard, strong message to the offender. Sometimes that’s necessary, and sometimes the goal of helping them gets lost and more damage ends up being created. In the last few years the world has had to face two major infringements on the rights of LGBT+ people: the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act in 2014 and the Russian LGBT Propaganda Law in 2013. In the former, the UK threatened to cut aid to Uganda over the bill and the US stated ‘all dimensions’ of US-Ugandan relations would be consequently reconsidered. The World Bank went as far as to suspend a $90m loan to Uganda destined for their health care.

While it is very comforting as an LGBT+ person to see your government take such strong action against injustice, the reality is that people are suddenly deprived of aid that they really need. This scenario does not even lead to a greater good; western countries withholding aid with the purpose to control governments is the perfect political ammunition for these leaders to turn LGBT+ rights from an injustice to the distinction between ‘African’ and ‘Western.’ Presidential advisor John Nagenda stated these actions showed an “ex-colonial mentality” and Ugandan people were “being treated like children.” Minister of Ethics and Integrity in Uganda, Simon Lokodo, has described homosexuality as “not African” and a “foreign behaviour.” Author of the anti-gay bill David Bahati said the announcement of a collective $115m in cuts by the international community was worth it to protect Ugandan values. Britain attempting exert control on Africa only strengths the idea that homosexuality should be rejected in order to protect nationalistic integrity. An odd situation, considering most of Ugandan queerphobia is thought to have originated from outside influence such as ex-colonial laws and American Evangelical Christians.

Therefore, these actions actually worsen queerphobia because citizens see LGBT+ people as the reason why basic services are taking a hard hit, such as their health care. This is why Ugandan NGO Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law has condemned large cuts and instead suggested redirecting certain aid to support LGBT+ organisations as part of a grassroots movement (as countries such as Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands and Sweden did) in order to create change from within. 

Putin also revelled in the critical stance that Western Europe took on him during the Sochi Olympics as he does now with Ukraine, and his popularity has only gone up (from 32% in 2013 to 68% now according to the Russian Public Opinion Foundation). I saw more damage than good coming out of just boycotting the Olympics both to athletes and LGBT+ people. Demanding and implanting change overnight is either unsuccessful or could lead to a rift between civil society and the government. However I thought the political boycott and Obama sending two openly gay delegates to the opening ceremony were both useful.

Aside from supporting NGOs, LGBT+ organisations and being clever about how the UK presents itself to countries with poor LGBT+ rights records, the UK seriously needs to sort out asylum for LGBT+ people. The following quotes are taken from members working at the UK Border Agency considering asylum status, and asylum seekers found in Stonewall’s 2010 UKBA report ‘No going back’ (peoples’ full names are not given presumably to protect their identity). Staff have admitted they do not receive thorough training for LGBT+ cases, which becomes clear by their testimonies.

People are pressured into having sex to prove their sexuality. The following comments refer to the activity of people seeking asylum who have already managed to get to the UK,  “presumably coming to London would give you the chance to go to Soho or Heaven and enjoy the kind of lifestyle and bars and opportunities that that presents.” – UKBA Worker

A person cannot be gay in a country for five years and not go out to a gay pub or have a gay relationship…” – UKBA Worker

The expectation to have sex to receive asylum is explicit and the results made manifest:

“I feel the Home Office is forcing people to have sex when they’re not ready. I was just sixteen but I had to force myself to prove and to save myself. I had no choice. The pressure was too much.” – Asylum seeker

“You want to forget about your past but then you have to try and think of everything again to explain what you’ve been through. They ask you, what are your reasons? Tell them the date, the time, everything – but it’s buried…they say you’re telling lies but that’s not what you’re doing.” – Asylum seeker

Stonewall claims the information the UKBA has on LGBT+ rights abroad is not regularly updated and therefore unrepresentative. This is particularly a problem for lesbians, also pointed out by a UKBA worker, who stated people are rejected because there is nothing explicitly outlawing sexual activity despite widespread queerphobia in their country, sometimes even corrective rape. A widely publicised example is found in South Africa, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2006 but corrective rape is notoriously rife. According to nonprofit organisation Luleki Sizwe approximately 10 lesbians are corrective raped or gang-raped per week. Equally, on paper South Africa condemns discrimination against transgender people and transitioning is legal, however transgender people are subject to abuse in a country with rigid gender boundaries.

Although the laws within the UK protecting LGBT+ are some of the best found in the world, there is clearly a lot of work needed to be done for LGBT+ people abroad and also foreign LGBT+ entering the UK. The good news is that not appearing as a colonial giant and reforming the UKBA might not be too hard (the latter of which the government has promised to do, however unfairly treated cases are still widespread), the bad news being that change abroad may be without immediate result. However, at least it will actually lead to change instead of fanning the flames of queerphobia.

Elliot Fitzgerald 

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