Orlando attack: gay rights progress in doubt
Last weekend saw the worst hate crime against LGBT people in the West since the Holocaust. Gay people around the world face a struggle for acceptance and tolerance. Is progress slowing down?
Barbara Poma opened Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2004. She had lost her brother John to AIDS 13 years earlier, and wanted to create a place where LGBT people could be accepted and enjoy themselves freely.
But her guests were not safe on Saturday night. A deranged gunman pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS) and murdered 49 people.
On Monday activists attended vigils in liberal cities across the world. ‘We aren’t bad human beings. We just love our own sex,’ said a mourner in Orlando. ‘So why so much hatred?’
The shooting seemed incongruous with recent progress in the Americas and Europe. The USA and 21 other countries now allow gay citizens to marry. Five countries have allowed people to change their gender without medical intervention.
There have been openly gay prime ministers in three countries. Even in seemingly reactionary Vietnam and Singapore, gay pride parades now attract large turnouts.
But such changes are recent, even in the West. Gay people were stigmatised during the HIV epidemic of the 1980s. Homosexuality was illegal in Ireland until 1993. Anti-gay views remain strong among conservative religious groups. LGBT people face hate crimes.
And legal progress is not universal. Russia has introduced legislation to ban gay ‘propaganda’. Same-sex sexual acts are illegal in 72 countries. Half of them are African, where evangelical Christianity is strong. In countries such as Uganda, gay people can go to prison for life.
The Islamic world is even less tolerant. Gays can be executed under sharia (Islamic law) in part or all of 13 countries.
In Saudi Arabia and Yemen, the penalty is enforced by stoning. Video footage from IS-held territory in Syria and Iraq in recent months has shown gay people being thrown from high buildings.
And polls suggest that large majorities of people in African and Muslim states believe homosexuality is immoral. Last year a gay refugee from IS, Subhi Nabas, told the UN: ‘If a victim did not die after being hurled off a building, the townspeople stoned him to death’.
The march of progress?
Progress is inevitable, say some. As people travel and communicate, they share experiences and ideas. Regressive attitudes are challenged and tolerance promoted. This process has delivered rights for gays, women and black people, among others. The ride may be bumpy, but things will get better.
That is an arrogant, western-centric view, respond others. We have heard before that liberalism is destined to win. But the evidence now suggests a growing gap between the moral views of people in secular societies and elsewhere, on issues such as women’s rights and free speech as well as gay rights. Reactionaries will not disappear quietly.
- Is your generation more tolerant than previous ones?
- Is social progress inevitable in the long-term?
- What makes us more tolerant? Make a list of five ideas (for example, ‘travelling around the world’ could be one answer). Then discuss with a partner which of them you think are most important.
- Write a one-page plan for an essay with the following title: ‘Social progress is inevitable. Discuss.’
Some People Say...
“Reactionary people are on the wrong side of history.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- I’m not gay. Doesn’t this just affect other people?
- You may not be affected directly, but as a fellow human, it is worth thinking about what life is like for LGBT people. Consider how you could cope with facing stigma, or if something which you found entirely natural was illegal in 72 countries. And as the gunman on Saturday showed, repressive attitudes towards homosexuality can help create not only bullies but even killers and terrorists — and you, or someone you know, could be affected by that.
- I’m gay, and terrified of the stigma. What can I do?
- There are plenty of people you can talk to. The charity Stonewall offers advice on dealing with your sexuality or gender identity and reporting discrimination or hate crimes. If you are in the UK, you can also call SupportLine on 01708 765200.
- The gunman had reportedly visited the club previously. This suggests his own sexual repression may have played a part in the massacre.
- The final state sodomy laws were abolished in 2003. Gay, lesbian and bisexual people have been allowed to serve openly in the military since 2011. And gay marriage became legal in all 50 states last year.
- Argentina, the first country to allow this, has been seen as a pioneer by some activists.
- Prime ministers
- Iceland, Belgium and Luxembourg have had gay prime ministers.
- Hate crimes
- Over 20% of US hate crimes are committed because of sexuality or gender identity, according to the FBI.
- This is 37% of the states recognised by the UN.
- The punishment is laid out in colonial-era laws. But last year the president attempted to introduce tighter anti-homosexuality legislation.
- The national government enforces the death penalty in five of these.
- For example, in 2014, the Pew Research Center found that 95% of people in both Jordan and Egypt, and 93% of people in Uganda, considered homosexuality to be morally unacceptable.