Tuesday, December 20, 2011

UN Report: LGBT Persons Experience Violence and Discrimination across the Globe



Several days ago, the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations issued a report (pdf file) surveying the discrimination and oppression to which LGBT human beings are subjected around the world.  As the introduction to the report notes, serious discrimination and outright violence are practiced against LGBT persons and even those perceived as gay or gender-transgressive in many places around the globe:

In all regions, people experience violence and discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In many cases, even the perception of homosexuality or transgender identity puts people at risk. Violations include – but are not limited to – killings, rape and physical attacks, torture, arbitrary detention, the denial of rights to assembly, expression and information, and discrimination in employment, health and education (¶1).

And there's this: 

Violence against LGBT persons tends to be especially vicious compared to other bias-motivated crimes. According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), homophobic hate crimes and incidents often show a high degree of cruelty and brutality and include beatings, torture, mutilation, castration and sexual assault (¶22).

As Brian Tashman notes, reading this stomach-turning report causes one to wonder precisely what some people of faith can have been thinking when they attacked the Obama administration several weeks ago after Secretary of State Hilary Clinton gave a powerful address in Geneva affirming and supporting the human rights of LGBT persons.  When the administration announced that it will take steps to pressure nations grossly violating the human rights of those who are gay to stop the oppression, religious right spokespersons reacted with outrage.

It's instructive to read the UN report side by side with a statement the Catholic bishops of Nigeria issued (the link opens a documents file) a few weeks ago, applauding the Nigerian government for outlawing same-sex marriage.  The bishops' statement continues an argument the Vatican itself has pushed forward in recent years: namely, that gay and lesbian people have no inherent human rights as LGBT persons, and that society is therefore not violating the human rights of gay people when it enacts laws discriminating against them.  In fact, it is (as the Nigerian bishops' statement argues) protecting its moral "health" against a minority group spuriously arguing for its right to impose its aberrant values on society as a whole

But as the UN report shows (¶46), in parts of Nigeria, people are still susceptible to the death penalty simply for being gay.  For a Catholic bishops' conference to argue (in line with Vatican rhetoric) that people who are facing the possibility of death simply for being gay or lesbian have no human rights as gay and lesbian persons is astonishingly dangerous.  It's downright cruel, given the real-life situation LGBT people face in many African nations.

As Steve Chapman notes recently in the Chicago Times,

In many places [in the word], abuse [of those who are gay] is the norm. Gays across Africa "have been denied access to health care, detained, tortured and even killed," reports The Washington Post. The Gambian president promised to "cut off the head" of any homosexual. These nations, we are told, are just trying to uphold traditional morality.

The stance of the Vatican and the Nigerian bishops places the Catholic church on the side of oppression and violence.  It does so overtly.  Just as does the Thomas More Society's defense of bullying of students who are gay or perceived as gay: the influential and ├╝ber-rich Catholic legal aid society is now suing a Michigan school district to challenge its anti-bullying regulations.

And this just when the teen, Brandon McInerney, who shot and killed his gay classmate Larry King four years ago, is back in the news as McInerney receives a sentence of 21 years in prison for the crime . . . .

Read what even the best and brightest in the Catholic intellectual world--our centrist opinion-makers--are saying about homosexuality and their gay brothers and sisters these days against the backdrop of reports about the real-life violence to which gay folks are subjected around the world, and you have to wonder what these folks can be thinking.  And what kind of educations our best and brightest are receiving, when they can continue to chatter on in an entirely parochial way about the issue of homosexuality as if the personal behavior and "choices" (a word that still looms large in their vocabulary) of those who are gay are the primary moral issue that should command their attention.

And not the oppression and violence with which those who are gay deal on an ongoing basis around the world every day.

The divorce of many of the centrist Catholic conversations about homosexuality, which focus on whether or not gays can or should choose to be celibate (see, e.g., the response to Lisa Fullam's recent posting at the Commonweal blog), from the broader context of widespread societal oppression of the LGBT community: it's astonishing.  This ability to talk about gay folks as an object in isolation from any recognition of the oppression gay folks endure trivializes the Catholic moral conversation.  It trivializes us Catholics by placing us in a self-chosen ghetto in which we focus excessively on the gnat of personal "choice" (when there simply is no choice to be gay or straight: these are givens of the human personality), while ignoring the camel of discrimination, prejudice, oppression and violence--the really significant moral issue that ought to be demanding our attention.

And it places the silent centrists, who do not see and will not talk about the discrimination and violence their LGBT brothers and sisters endure, on the side of violence.  Along with the Vatican itself.

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