On August 2nd 2013 New Zealand politicians voted to legalise same sex marriage in New Zealand. I was ecstatic. As a straight woman who had been part of equal rights initiatives for the LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex) community since I was 15.
I was over-joyed. The bill was one of the forerunners of a wave of mandates ushering in equality in 14 states of America and 15 countries world-wide. However my elation was short lived.
About one month after the bill was passed I was at a party and happened to be wearing a rainbow wrist band, a young man at the gathering pointed to it and observed “why are you still wearing that? Gay marriage is legal in New Zealand now.” That’s when it hit me, the battle for gay rights is far from over.
There is an environment of complacency in the West which permeates all aspects of our society. We live governed by cultural constructs so deeply ingrained as to be inherent, which tells us that if a social issue is alleviated in our immediate vicinity, it is no longer relevant. In 2009 Uganda passed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The “Kill-the-gays” bill as it is colloquially known, states that all people confirmed to be practicing same-sex intercourse can be jailed, subject to corporal punishment or executed.
A young Lesbian named Stosh was outed by a Ugandan magazine as being homosexual, a practice which is perfectly legal in Uganda. Stosh was gang raped and subsequently contracted HIV from her attackers. Upon seeking help Stosh’s attackers went unpunished on the grounds that they were doing their duty as good Samaritans in raping her gayness away.
In Saudi Arabia, sodomy is an offence punishable by lashing, exile, imprisonment or death. But this isn’t just an issue of the far flung exotic; in Malaysia there are still laws condemning sodomy and homosexuality. Still too distant? How about Russia? Russia is currently enforcing subjugation and suppression of all open displays of homosexual activity or support, including same-sex couples displaying affection publically and gay-rights protesting. Perhaps that is still too distant, after all it is very easy to classify a nation as the distant and backwards “other” when they don’t speak your language. In 2010, in New York city 10 people were arrested regarding the kidnap, assault and torture of a gay man. It was confirmed that the attack was a direct result of the group’s contempt for his sexuality.
In 2012 Palmerston North, New Zealand, my friend’s brother had “Faggot” drawn on his car in red paint after he came out.
This article is far from an attempt to make an example of nations which persecute homosexuals, nor is it an attempt to give New Zealand a pat on the back and a gentle reminder that there is still a long way to go; that we can’t rest until the “other” accepts the LGBTI community too.
I am writing this today in hopes of illuminating the fact that there is no success until the success is absolute. New Zealand and Uganda, Saudi Arabia and even America may be separated by geography, culture and legal system but we are united by responsibility. Every moment a nation does not act out against oppression of the LGBTI community world-wide, is another day we stand accused in unison with those whom we condemn. This is not an issue of one nation being more forward than the rest, of one being right and one being wrong.
So long as the LGBTI community have their rights taken, are discriminated against and harmed for their sexuality, we as human beings stand jointly accountable. Remember back, if you would, to high-school history. Be it African-American-Civil-Rights, Apartheid or women’s rights, it is not just those who raised a hand in hate, but those who stood complacent who are admonished.
It is those who fought not just for those in their own lives, but recognised that the rights of those across the globe as just as valid as the rights of their kinsmen, who are remembered as champions of change and justice. It was once said by Martin Porter that “all that is necessary for evil to triumph, is that good men do nothing”, something which New Zealand and indeed the whole world should reflect on, in a time when we so teeter on the edge of progression.
Letter | Amy Cohen