Global Grassroots

There is so much more we can do to support our LGBT peers in oppressive countries

by Will O’Bryan
Published on June 2, 2011, 4:02am | Comments

Although I'm writing this on Memorial Day, Monday will be a distant news-cycle memory come Thursday's publication. That does not stop me, however, from considering my appreciation for America's citizen (and plenty who are hoping to become citizens) servicemembers.

Granted, I have some resentment for a policy that allows noncitizens to serve, while gay and lesbian American servicemembers have yet to receive the green light to come out of the closet. Even in the face of such injustice, I am boundlessly grateful to America's military for holding the union together against the Confederates. The world would be a horrible place had our military not led the way in defending the freedoms of democracy from Nazism and imperialism. So too, had Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, as GOP president, not deployed the 101st Army Airborne Division to protect African-American students during the desegregation of Little Rock High School. I'm grateful to Army Ranger Pat Tillman who joined the Army in the wake of 9/11, served dutifully in Iraq despite his disagreement with that action, and was killed in Afghanistan by ''friendly fire'' – a fact the Pentagon initially withheld.

Looking at more recent events, I have particular praise for combat veteran Lt. Dan Choi, who continues his fight for justice even after having been booted from the Army for being gay. That fight took him all the way to Moscow, where on May 28 he was beaten and arrested for his part in standing for LGBT equality. While the Soviets likely considered themselves some sort of defender of social justice against us capitalist lackeys, there's no way today's Muscovite authorities could make any such claim with a straight (no pun intended) face.

As Peter Tatchell, Choi's British comrade in Red Square, observed in PinkNews: ''During the Second World War, Muscovites stood against the Nazis. Now the Mayor of Moscow is colluding with neo-Nazis. He gave the neo-Nazi groups permission to stage a protest for violence against gay people, while denying Moscow Gay Pride a permit to rally for gay equality.''

There is a lesson for LGBT Americans in Choi's actions abroad. That lesson is that we can do more globally. Those opposed to LGBT equality already are.

Take the American Center for Law and Justice, for example. You might recall their support of Harry Jackson in his attack on D.C. marriage equality. It's the sort of organization that is fond of the phrase ''radical homosexual agenda.'' And they've gone global. The next time Choi finds himself in Moscow, he can drop in on the ACLJ's affiliated Slavic Center for Law and Justice. Or if his travels take him to France, why not stop by the European Centre for Law and Justice in Strasbourg? Certainly we've all read of American homophobes meddling in Uganda, where Parliament has considered a measure that could enhance current laws against being a gay person to include the death penalty.

Fighting back, we have organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. These are not, however, really grassroots groups, and only one is focused exclusively on LGBT issues. There is also the Council for Global Equality, whose Mark Bromley got an audience with Uganda's ambassador to the U.S. as LGBT locals protested that country's anti-gay bill. But that's not Bromley's job, either. His organization exists to influence U.S. policy abroad, not to put direct pressure on foreign governments.

That's our job. As regular, everyday LGBT Americans, we can stand up for our oppressed peers around the world. Maybe you have a softball team or a book club – surely you could together to raise a few bucks for Sexual Minorities Uganda. Our collective actions so far have been pretty meager, while our potential to help is enormous. And the opposition has an unsettling head start.


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