I HOPE everyone has a happy Mardi Gras. For many, this will be possible in Australia. For LGBTI people in our country, things are definitely getting better — but they are not perfect.
A symbol of the change is that Rodney Croome, longtime leader of the community, was chosen as Tasmania’s Australian of the Year. However, the national prize went elsewhere. In four decades, it has never gone to an openly-gay Australian. In addition, the marriage equality debate moves slowly along, although its ultimate outcome is not in doubt.
Jonathan Cooper is the head of the Human Dignity Trust in London. They fight cases in far away countries to uphold LGBTI rights. He recently gave the Stonewall Lecture on the state of the oppression of LGBTI people worldwide. As he analysed the situation, his tone became increasingly angry. By the end of his lecture, he was insisting that the world must turn a corner. It must get rid of the horrible laws that penalise LGBTI people in 79 countries. The following facts clearly justify Jonathan Cooper’s anger:
· 175 million LGBTI people live in conditions of brutal persecution. Yet only 2500 have been recognised as entitled to refugee status.
· 79 countries lock gay men up. Many more turn a blind eye to hostility and prejudice that gravely impede HIV awareness.
· There is no such thing as “benign criminalisation”. The unquantifiable levels of fear and suicide are still growing.
· In many developing countries (e.g. Nigeria, Gambia, Cameroon, Uganda, Jamaica) law unleashes violence on LGBT citizens.
· While several other countries, the laws have recently become worse (e.g. Russia and Iraq); big test cases have failed (India, Singapore, Botswana); or change from elected parliaments has hit a global logjam.
· There is a shocking lack of leadership on the part of religious organisations. Some inflame homophobia. Others turn a blind eye.
What can we in Australia do to correct this ongoing affront to human equality and to rationality? At the very least, we should be documenting the oppression, present and past. We should do so in Australia. We should do so around the world. We should create museums that explain the history of oppression. They should be modelled on the Holocaust museums. Of the thousands of gay men rounded up by the Nazis in Germany, over 60 per cent were killed. And the killing goes on in many countries today.
If these wrongs were happening on the basis of race, skin colour or gender, it would be an outrage. There is a need for our own government to make the ongoing oppression of LGBTI people a priority of Australia’s foreign policy. It has an economic cost. Where the human rights arguments have failed to secure action, economic data may get traction on this issue.
For 70 years the world has known the science of human sexuality. Yet ignorant hostility and hatred exists everywhere. So, in the midst of celebrating and enjoying Mardi Gras in Australia, we owe it to those whose lives and limbs are at risk to press forward urgently. We must demand education, reform and redress for past wrongs. We must press our own government to take a lead in our region and the world.
We will never really be able to have a happy Mardi Gras until the joy and pride are truly possible everywhere.
Michael Kirby is a member of the UNAIDS Reference Group On HIV and Human Rights. He is also a Patron of Kaleidoscope Human Rights Foundation and a former High Court judge.
**This article was first published in the March edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.
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