Metro Weekly

Tribal Warfare

Commentary: Stonewall Baby

There is plenty of inequity in our country. Whether it’s poverty, discrimination, oppression, take your pick. We’re far from perfect. We may be richer, more populous and more powerful than our northern neighbor, for example, but they’ve got us beat on the human-rights score.

The United States, as a whole, has a ways to go. And we’re getting there.

Look at the rest of the world, and it’s easy to see how far we’ve come. The Brussels-based International Lesbian and Gay Association, advocating for the gay community for more than 30 years, just released its 2009 Report on State-Sponsored Homophobia. In this first decade of the 21st century, it remains illegal simply to be gay in 80 countries. Five of them might just execute you for it.

With the possibility of Iran getting nukes, a global recession, fears of flu pandemics — and on and on — ILGA will be lucky if news of the group’s report lands a front-page/homepage mention with any mainstream media. There’s no consensus that this is even troubling news. After all, it was just three years ago under the Bush administration that the U.S. delegation to the United Nations found a rare spot of common ground with arch-enemy Iran: oppressing gay people. Iran, notably, is one of those five countries that execute gays. Ironically, that country also performs the second greatest number of gender-reassignment surgeries — after Thailand — funded in part by the government, the BBC reports. It’s not that they’re progressive in any way. They just can’t tolerate any variance in gender expression. It’s binary, or the highway.

With Iran lowering the bar, most other countries look good by comparison. Next to Iran, America is a gay oasis. As the richest country in the world, however, we have influence far beyond our oasis. Take the American “ex-gay” activists( who went to Uganda recently to perpetuate their beliefs. Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has in the past ordered all the gays in the country to be arrested to be arrested.

It’s one thing to make an ass of yourself at Thanksgiving by getting drunk and obnoxiously insisting that your gay second cousin “repent.” It’s quite another to take your wealth and ideas from America to a country where your wacky ideas are actually fashionable and your oppression dollar goes so much further.

Less directly, as taxpayers, we all have a responsibility for Iraq, regardless of whether or not we supported Bush’s folly. Our government represents us, whether or not we approve. Unless we’re willing to emigrate, this is the system we belong to. As a citizen, I marched to protest the buildup to the invasion, but I was on the losing side of that argument. That doesn’t mean I can wash my hands of U.S. involvement in that country.

As my side lost the political argument here at home, plenty of Iraqis lost, too. I wouldn’t say a majority by any means. I would guess that Shiites and Kurds in today’s Iraq have a bit more spring in their steps with visions of an executed Saddam dancing in their heads. However, regardless of their religious or ethnic identities, GLBT Iraqis are not welcome in post-Saddam Iraq.

While life under Saddam was likely a surreal nightmare, for the gays of “liberated” Iraq, things actually seem to have gotten worse. Reporting for New York’s Gay City News, Doug Ireland filed a report in late April — a report that seems more than reasonably sourced — about a gruesome new way Shiite militias have taken to hunting gays.

He writes: “[A]nti-gay Shiite death squads are sealing their anuses with a powerful glue, then inducing diarrhea, which leads to a painful and agonizing death.”

While that’s nauseating, what’s heartbreaking is what Ali Hili, who heads the group Iraqi LGBT in exile in London, told Ireland: “[W]hat makes the situation even worse and more lethal is that they have been refused treatment in hospitals when they sought it because of homophobia.”

Considering this glue can only be removed surgically, these victims, in instances where they were lucky enough to make it to hospitals, were condemned by medical staff to die.

I know we have plenty of problems here at home, but that doesn’t mean we can’t at least attempt to improve a situation that is staring us in the face. Maryland-native Jeff Cotter’s Rainbow World Fund, a GLBT humanitarian-relief organization based in San Francisco, has established an account specifically for Iraq’s GLBT community. If a donation is impossible, write a letter to the White House, or to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. If hunting gay people for sadistic executions doesn’t motivate you, nothing will.

Americans who hate GLBT people — people who hate the “sin,” at any rate — are moving beyond our borders to spread their influence. And while we’ve got plenty to fight for domestically, we must be able to spare some resources for the other parts of our tribe facing far more vicious enemies than the ones we face here at home.

To make a donation to help protect GLBT Iraqis, visit the Rainbow World Fund online at or call 415-431-1485.

Will O’Bryan, Metro Weekly‘s managing editor, was born as the Stonewall Riots ended, making him a Stonewall Baby, he insists.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.