As people living with thriving gay and lesbian communities, we Australians have a duty to our gay brothers and lesbian sisters worldwide.
It is not enough to fight for legal equality and celebration of our culture and achievements here in Australia. As important as this is, it’s not enough.
The reports we hear from overseas — such as Tiwonge Chimbalanga and his partner Steven Monjeza, sentenced to 14 years hard labour in Malawi earlier this year for celebrating their relationship — are only the tip of the iceberg. Luckily for Chimbalanga and Monjeza, due to international media pressure, Malawi’s president pardoned them both.
How brave these two men must be. But still they must live in a country where being themselves is illegal.
Globally, millions of gay people live in fear. They live in fear not only of discrimination and isolation, but of torture, life in prison, and being sentenced to death. This is the case for much of Africa and the Middle East, and even in our own Asia Pacific region.
How can Australia deal diplomatically with (let alone propose to send asylum seekers to) Malaysia, where being gay is punishable by up to 20 years in prison?
Countries in our region that persecute our people include Singapore, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, Brunei, the Solomon Islands, the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvulu. The global list amounts to 63 countries where you will be locked up just for being gay.
How can people fly Middle Eastern-based airlines where their state owners and countries persecute our people?
It’s a topic that not enough people are talking about. And not enough Australians are taking action.
That includes Australian gay and lesbian community groups. As a board member of JOY, the world’s only full-time, community LGTBIQ radio station, and one of Australia’s largest LGTBIQ community organisations, I feel particularly conscious (and responsible) for the role we can play in alleviating the global persecution of our people. This is partly why JOY is pushing its online presence, and exploring ways to expand its global presence, but it’s not enough.
Did you know, for instance, that the international definition of genocide does not include protection for gay people? Belonging to a church group, yes … being gay, no.
Earlier this year the Refugee Review Tribunal ruled that the Australian Government was rejecting claims by gay people, even when there was a genuine fear of persecution if they were deported.
There have been Australian asylum seeker cases where a gay couple were to be deported and were simply directed to act “discreetly”. Another man was advised to ignore the physical and sexual abuse he received because he was gay.
Even the Tribunal itself has been denounced by the Federal Court over its treatment of gay asylum-seekers.
There are people in our Australian communities who have fought long and hard for equality in this country. We have reached the point where there are many community groups openly celebrating our unique gay culture. We have gay rights lobbies across the nation.
At this point in our history, perhaps it’s time to start shifting our thinking. As we approach one of the last legal hurdles of equality, gay marriage, and as we continue to educate our Australian peers to alleviate ignorance, fear and isolation, perhaps we should also be thinking about doing this for our global peers.
Perhaps the first place to start is through educating ourselves and taking the time to start shifting our conversations and focus. To take action you can start by talking about it with your friends, writing to your local politician, or withholding your tourist dollar from countries (or their companies) where going with your partner would be illegal. You can also support organisations that campaign in this area, such as the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
However, I think the first action is simply to be aware. As Australia becomes one of the first countries since human history began where our people can live so freely, let’s not forget those who still live in fear of persecution.
INFO: Jed Gilbert is on the board of directors for Melbourne LGBTI radio station JOY94.9.