I have a tendency to hurrah, regularly, about how vastly American attitudes toward lesbians and gay men have improved. (Attitudes toward transgendered folks are much further behind, as I will discuss here soon, as that column of the movement started later and includes fewer people.)
But whenever I write about how amazing it is that I never worry that someone will call me a f***ing dyke on the street, or that The New York Times not only uses "gay" instead of "homosexual" but actually profiles same-sex couples in the wedding section, I am reminded that it's not this way everywhere.
For instance, while adults can choose to live in parts of the country that are more or less welcoming, children have no choice in the microcultures we call "family" and "school." Some of those are welcoming; some, not so much. Belatedly, I came across this YouTube video, posted in August, by a boy who said he had been bullied since first grade ("fag! homo!"), had been cutting himself, was terrified to enter eighth grade, and occasionally thought of suicide. This video wrecked me until I checked around. Some LGBT groups have reached out to this boy and say he's doing well. And he had many amazing YouTube responses, which in another, slightly strange video, he says has meant a lot to him. Nevertheless, it's a reminder that there are surely LGBT teens who still feel isolated and hopeless. Thank God for Dan Savage's brilliant It Gets Better campaign.
However, things are much harsher for LGBT people in several parts of Africa. In South Africa, where women face a plague of rape, lesbians have an extra hurdle: "corrective rape," in which men who discover they are lesbians rape to "cure" them. Sometimes they are killed afterward. Last May, ESPN ran a moving story about the epidemic of "corrective rape" against South Africa's female soccer players. As one woman says about her rapists, "They wanted to show me who's the man. They wanted me to stop being a lesbian." Do watch the wrenching video, although not at work or with your family around. Most illuminating are the approving faces of the men that the reporter speaks with, who agree that lesbians are disgusting and that rape is a good way "showing her the correct direction." Digital Journal reports that a number of NGOs have investigated and reported on the problem. Many other media outlets have covered the phenomenon as well: Time, BBC, CNN, and just today, the Los Angeles Times, reporting on a Human Rights Watch NGO. I have not heard yet of any effective action, however.
South Africa is the only country in Africa whose constitution includes specific civil-rights protections based on sexual orientation and that offers marriages for same-sex couples. In 37 African countries, homosexuality is against the law. And not just if you're caught having sex. Last week, Nigeria's Senate passed an anti-gay bill that punishes anyone who has a same-sex wedding, and more; its House still needs to consider the bill. The AP reports:
Under the proposed law, couples who marry could face up to 14 years each in prison. Witnesses or anyone who helps couples marry could be sentenced to 10 years behind bars. That's an increase over the bill's initial penalties, which lawmakers proposed during a debate Tuesday televised live from the National Assembly in Nigeria's capital Abuja.
Other additions to the bill include making it illegal to register gay clubs or organizations, as well as criminalizing the "public show of same-sex amorous relationships directly or indirectly." Those who violate those laws would face 10-year imprisonment as well.
Cameroon recently jailed two men for homosexuality, with sentences of five years behind bars. Morocco has imprisoned gay men as well. Rachel Maddow and others have extensively covered Uganda's various attempts to pass pass a death sentence for homosexuality. In the midst of that "gay panic," Uganda gay activist David Kato was executed by an anti-gay vigilante, after a local newspaper encouraged Kato's murder.
Mr Kato was killed after a newspaper published the names and addresses of people they said were gay or lesbian under the headline "Hang them".
He was a school teacher and gay rights activist who had led a campaign against a controversial bill which included the introduction of the death penalty for some homosexual acts.
This month, Kato's confessed killer was convicted of murder and sentenced to 30 years in jail. But the "Die, Faggot!" bill may still be revived—which would, presumably, alleviate the need for extrajudicial "corrective" murders.
So it's not entirely safe to be gay everywhere in the world. I will do some research into which NGOs are working on this issue effectively, and will report back.