“It is our right, indeed our duty, to seek equality for everybody — not just people like us. Because it seems to me, if one person is in chains we are all in chains.”
— Linda Bellos (OBE) —
The global LGBT community and our allies are all too painfully aware of the recent and rather disturbing spate of anti-gay sentiments in countries like Russia, Uganda, Nigeria and Gambia, which have led to draconian anti-gay “propaganda” laws being passed and aggressively enforced.
In brief, these laws make it virtually impossible to advocate even the most basic human rights for LGBT people. They have also opened a floodgates of LGBT-targeted violence, leading to multiple arrests and brutality — as seen in the lead up to (and duration of) the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, in Russia. In the wake of Nigeria passing a law similar to that of Russia, police “round ups” of gay men are occurring simply because of their sexual orientation.
It’s a grim picture.
I recently read an article in the Huffington Post, ‘Why All LGBT People Should Care About Places Like Russia, Uganda and Gambia’. The article poses this question: Should gay communities in other countries care about the plight of LGBT people in Russia, Nigeria and Gambia, when they have their own battles to fight on a national and local level?
From afar it may look like the ‘Berlin Wall’ of legal equality for LGBT people is steadily being levelled to the ground, especially in the UK and the United States. Perhaps this is why it’s easy for those of us who are more fortunate to be complacent about the liberation of LGBT people in countries where these alarming new laws are threatening the lives of these people, their families, loved ones and supporters.
However, there is good reason why we cannot (and shouldn’t) turn a blind eye to the dual reality we’re facing as a global LGBT community — a reality where on one side equality is within our grasp and on the other side, continued persecution and demonization of LGBT people are putting lives in danger.
As the Huffington Post article points out, in the US, in 29 states, a person can still get fired from his or her job simply for being LGBT. In most states, LGBT people still do not have marriage equality. In fact, I know a couple who has been in a loving and committed relationship for more than 37 years. In 2011, they were finally granted the ‘right’ to marry in the state of New York, where they have an apartment in NYC. However, when they visit their second home in Florida, their marriage means nothing… It’s an inhuman and unsettling juxtaposition, to say the least.
In recent years there have also been growing incidences of violence against LGBT people — especially against transgender women of colour — even in US states where legal protections exist… and yet, for LGBT people in some other states, things are very different.
Suffice to say, life for LGBT people in the US is a twofold reality and is hardly the Promised Land it is often made out to be. It’s a stark contrast that shows us how the victories and obstacles within each of our local communities are in fact a mirror image of what is happening globally in our community.
Here in the UK, LGBT people are facing similar challenges. On the one hand we have reason to celebrate and to believe that ‘things are pretty good now’: civil partnerships and same-sex marriages are legal, LGBT people have greater visibility in politics, business and the media, and a range of organisations are actively working to tackle homophobic bullying in schools and the workplace.
However, scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find a more worrying picture. In 2005, the charity Crisis reported that “There is a long-standing association between homelessness and the everyday lives of young men and women who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (GLBT)”. In 2012, the charity Stonewall echoed similar concerns when it published a research report that noted “more than half (55%) of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people experience homophobic bullying in Britain’s schools”.
According to the recent findings from the Youth Chances project, who conducted the biggest social research study into 16 – 25 year olds LGBT people in England, “more than half of young gay people have suffered mental health issues, and 40 per cent have considered suicide” and “that 50 per cent have self-harmed and 42 per cent had sought medical help for anxiety or depression”.
It’s safe to say that despite the leaps we have taken forward here in the UK, the LGBT community still stands with one foot in Paradise and the other on a slippery slope.
This begs the question: Does it really get better?
It’s probably not a question asked or discussed often on the main drag of the Gay scene. As far as I know, there are hardly any forums for different LGBT generations to come together to reflect, discuss and debate the issue of ‘how things are’, how things were’ and ‘how things could be’.
Recently, as part of the UK’s LGBT History Month celebrations, the award winning The Rainbow Intersection, founded by Ade Adeniji and Bisi Alimi, saw the need for such an intergenerational and cross-cultural conversation and they presented a panel discussion exploring some of the key issues facing the LGBT community today — not just here in the UK but also further afield.
Of course, there is yet no conclusive answer when we ask ‘Does it really get better?’ Still, I walked away after the panel discussion and thought: Surely, continuing to talk about our experiences and our lives within our local communities, campaigning on a national level and being aware of the challenges of LGBT people across the world, will pave the way for an urgent and much larger global conversation between LGBT communities… a conversation that starts with: You are not alone.
As any young LGBT person will tell you — and we have all been there — knowing that you are not alone, already make things a bit better. The same principle applies to our brothers and sisters living in countries where their lives are in danger, simply because of who they are.
I am a firm believer that charity begins at home and that addressing the issues within our local communities on a grassroots level is a continued necessity. However, it will be a mistake for us — the global LGBT community and our allies all over the world — to ignore what is happening in countries like Nigeria, Uganda, Gambia, India, Cameroon and Russia.
The fact that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) allowed the Winter Olympics to continue in Sochi this year — despite Putin’s blatant homophobic and human rights abuses — carried startling (if not frightening) resemblances to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which took place amidst Hitler’s crackdown on the European Jewish community… Back then the world turned a blind eye and in the horrifying aftermath of the Holocaust said ‘We did not know.’
This cannot happen again. LGBT people are the only minority group in the world who have rights given to them by one hand only to be taken away by another… India is a perfect example of this yo-yo effect. This leaves all of us in a treacherous position… one we may not want to think about, but nonetheless one we cannot ignore. The only way we can prevent history from repeating itself is by reminding the world — those who still scoff at us and those who don’t want to believe us — how complacency, ignorance and inaction often (if not always) have dire consequences.
Below is a short film, showing some of the highlights of the ‘Does It Really Get Better?’ panel discussion. Please share it and start your own conversation.
Does it really get better? – Intergenerational Dialogue was hosted by author and comedian, Vg Lee and the discussion was led by key note speakers Linda Bellos (OBE) and Dan Baker the Project Manager of METRO’s Youth Chances action research project.The panel consisted of Sue Sanders an LGBT rights activist, Maryam Din a queer Muslim intersectional feminist activist, Mark McCormack a Lecturer in Sociology at Durham University, Miss Sahhara a Nigerian transgendered model, singer and human rights activist in Africa, Taz Din a retired lecturer and veteran LGBT activist and Vernal Scott an HIV/AIDS activist and author of God’s Other Children – A London Memoir.The short film ‘Does It Really Get Better?’ was filmed, edited and produced by Little Red Shoes.
Images: FR Lubbe, Little Red Shoes
Text: FR Lubbe, Little Red Shoes
Video: FR Lubbe, Little Red Shoes