Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! As Pride Month comes to a close, we’re sharing articles on LGBTQI rights. This week’s Rights Reading includes articles about intersectional identities, the LOVE Act, gay oppression in Tanzania, and photos from Pride celebrations across the world.

Something Radical Happened When Eid and Pride Fell on the Same Day, Hawa Arsala, Fader, June 26, 2017

The “something radical” was that Arsala took the chance to celebrate two important parts of her identity. Here, Arsala shares a conversation that she had with the LGBTQ workshop moderator at an Afghan-American conference, Bilal Askarar, who realized that they were related. As the Pride celebration in Washington, D.C. and Eid – a Muslim celebration marking the end of Ramadan – occurred on the same day, Arsala and Askarar took the opportunity to have an open dialogue about what the coinciding celebrations means to them, as well as what it’s like to be queer Muslims in the United States in this moment.

Askarar said, “the past couple years I thought of it as like a separate thing, there’s Ramadan and Pride, and I can’t celebrate Pride because it’s Ramadan. I have to be good. It brings up all the juxtapositions and contrasts and dichotomies within myself. What’s the definition of a good Muslim? Can you be a messy Muslim and do you still get to celebrate Eid too?” It’s refreshing to read about people having honest conversations like these, where they can discuss and inhabit the intersectionality of their identities, the privileges they have living in America, and their continuing struggles as members of these communities.

Senator Tackles Cold War-Era ‘Lavender Scare’ with LOVE Act, Medardo Perez, NBC Out, June 26, 2017

During the “Lavender Scare” of the 1950s and 1960s, thousands of federal employees suspected of being gay were fired, based on a belief that they were more susceptible blackmail and could pose a security risk. In the last few years, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) has led the push to bring justice for these ex-employees. Last year he successfully called on then-Secretary of State John Kerry to officially apologize for the Lavender Scare on behalf of the State Department, and this year, he introduced The Lavender Offense Victim Exoneration Act of 2017 – the “LOVE Act,” for short.

Perez writes, “In addition to rectifying past discrimination against LGBTQ State Department employees, the LOVE Act would also establish a permanent exhibit on the ‘Lavender Scare’ in the State Department’s National Museum of American Diplomacy and provide guidance for the State Department on issues of assuring visas for same-sex spouses of personnel posted overseas.” The passage of the LOVE Act would be a step towards retribution for the gay employees who lost their jobs over half a century ago and would bring more awareness to this overlooked moment of the Cold War era. UUSC applauds these and other efforts to rectify the mistakes of the past and, along with many others, joins in solidarity with those still feeling the effects of anti-LGBTQI stigma and discrimination.

Gay in Africa: ‘Even Cows’ Disapprove of Homosexuality, Says Tanzania President Amid Crackdown, Conor Gaffey, Newsweek, June 27, 2017

LGBTQI equality still has a long way to go in the United States, but it’s important not to forget that the fight for equality is a global one.

In Tanzania, homosexuality is a crime punishable by fines and up to 30 years in prison. Oppression against the LGBTQI community is nothing new for the country, but President John Magufuli has recently “signaled a crackdown.” His administration has disappointingly ramped up efforts to suppress gay rights activists, called on the medical community to expose people suspected of homosexual sex, and even banned sexual lubricants from the country. All of these efforts are based on pseudoscience and false perceptions of the LGBTQI community. These misconceptions result in the continued persecution of LGBTQI communities in Tanzania and many African countries, and are often the result of funding and propaganda campaigns from the U.S. religious right that promote and reinforce homophobia on the continent.

However, there is hope—UUSC Program Leader for Economic Justice Philip Hamilton recently attended Changing Faces, Changing Spaces, a conference that drew LGBTQI activists from across to share their work, stories, and strategies for how they are supporting their respective communities and working to advance LGBTQI rights throughout the continent. Read, “Celebrating Pride: Reflecting on SOGI Rights in Southern Africa” to get the full details.

 

People celebrated Pride across the globe. Please check out these beautiful and inspiring photo essays from this month’s celebrations and don’t forget to show your support by posting your own on social media!

 

Celebrating Pride: Reflecting on SOGI Rights in Southern Africa

Every June we celebrate Pride, taking a moment to recognize, and recommit ourselves to, the ongoing struggles of LGBTQI communities around the world. In the spirit of Pride, I was fortunate to attend UHAI-EASHRI’s “Changing Faces, Changing Spaces” (CFCS) conference in Kenya, and to reflect on the importance of the work of our Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) program partners in Southern Africa.

CFCS provides a unique space in which activists from across Africa can come together to share their work, stories, and strategies about how they are supporting their respective communities. With donors in the room, the activists are empowered to share their perspectives and priorities and to drive a spirited conversation about how to advance the rights of LGBTQI communities across the continent.

Pride Flag waving in the sunlight

Resisting the Marginalization of LGBTQI Identities

One of the discussions that surfaced time and time again was how to resist policies and practices that are designed to erase or marginalize the identities and histories of LGBTQI communities, in response to efforts to frame homosexuality as “un-African” or “un-religious.” For many participants, there was no tension in being LGBTQI and African or LGBTQI and religious. In fact, as several pointed out, many African languages do not address gender as a binary and cultures across the continent have historically been accepting of LGBTQI communities. With this in mind, it is worth asking, how homosexuality became framed as “un-African” or “un-religious”?

As many participants noted, citing research by Kapya Kaoma, a Zambian researcher and Anglican Priest, the U.S. religious right has provided significant funding on the continent to promote homophobia. They have worked to frame homosexuality as a Western concept that has been imposed on Africa, that is “un-Christian” and “un-African.” This agenda has been reinforced through relationships with conservative religious leaders across the continent.

Asserting and Reclaiming Identity

Given the promotion of homophobia across Africa by the U.S. religious right and the ways in which religion is being used to marginalize and erase the contributions and histories of LGBTQI communities, much attention was given to the role of faith communities in asserting and affirming LGBTQI identities and narratives. UUSC’s SOGI rights partners have been engaging in such efforts in Southern Africa, working with allies in faith spaces to promote a narrative and create safe spaces that promote the rights of LGBTQI communities.

While the strategy is one of winning hearts and minds is a long-term change, it is necessary to challenge the dominant and incorrect narrative that homosexuality is “un-African” or “un-religious.” Just as no one lives single issue lives, CFCS participants made it clear that no one person has only one single identity. Rather, everyone possesses a wide array of identities that comprise who they are, such as being LGBTQI and African, or LGBTQI and religious.

In this regard, UUSC’s partners Inclusive and Affirming Ministries, Al-Fitrah Foundation (formerly The Inner Circle), and TULINAM have been doing critical work to collaborate with progressive faith allies to promote respect for the rights of LGBTQI communities in Southern Africa. Through collaboration with progressive faith allies, UUSC’s partners are actively challenging the rhetoric of U.S.-based religious conservatives and creating a space for LGBTQI individuals to assert and reclaim their identities. After spending several days with the activists carrying working on the ground to support the rights of LGBTQI communities, I cannot help but feel that the work of UUSC’s partners is as relevant and important today as it ever has been.

Continuing the Struggle

In the true spirit of CFCS, activists working to promote LGBTQI rights have come together to connect and to reclaim their space. By centering their voices, struggles, and priorities at this conference, it was possible to deeply reflect on the way forward. As June comes to a close, it is important to continue this act of deep self-reflection on the contributions of LGBTQI communities in Africa and around the world–not just for one month, but all year long. This way, we are better equipped to support their struggle as allies and partners, moving forward together.

Post-Detention Support for the LGBTQI Immigrant Community

In honor Pride Month, we celebrate our partnership with the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project (QDEP), one of UUSC’s newest partners. With the launch of Love Resists, our joint campaign with the UUA, UUSC sought out partnerships with groups who are particularly vulnerable under the new administration, namely the LGBTQI community, immigrants, and people of color. The New York-based QDEP is representative of these three populations. They work to oppose the criminalization of the LGBTQI immigrant community and provide post-detention support.

QDEP’s message is clear: Immigrant detention is unsafe for all people, especially LGBTQI individuals, many of whom are also people of color. They are working with over 100 organizations that specialize in human and civil rights throughout the country and share the goals of closing down detention centers and holding Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) accountable for the death and violence that occurs in their facilities. QDEP works to secure the freedom of detainees by raising funds to pay their legal bonds, advocating on their behalf, providing direct legal services, and organizing a number of support services within detention centers, including a Pen Pal Program, visitation, and bond support. Once people have secured their freedom, QDEP provides case management to assist reintegration.

Through our partnership with QDEP and the work of Love Resists, UUSC is continuing to advocate for expanded sanctuary as a means of combating criminalization.  In line with UUSC’s values and eye-to-eye partnership model, QDEP is led by and for the communities it serves. Members of their staff and volunteer networks have experienced detention themselves. Once released, many return to join their communities in the struggle for freedom.

The poem, "First they came" by Martin Niemoller

When I think of times I have hesitated to stand by my values and put words into actions, I remember the famous poem by the German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller. Beneath the rumination on the selfishness of the human condition lies a message of interconnectedness.

QDEP works directly at the intersection of multiple sources of oppression; however, the struggle for greater recognition and expansion of human rights does not just affect those who are experiencing the direct effects of persecution. The United States is not so different from Germany, the country Niemöller lived in less than 80 years ago.

Niemöller’s words are an important reminder of our shared humanity and the need to speak up for those who don’t have a voice. As we celebrate Pride, we are proud to partner with QDEP, an organization at the front lines fighting to stop the detention of immigrant LGBTQI people of color.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! This week’s wrap-up includes select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss: Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the troubling relationship between immigration and private prisons, and Pride 2017.

Bucking Trump, These Cities, States and Companies Commit to Paris Accord, Hiroko Tabuchi & Henry Fountain, The New York Times, June 1, 2017

Thursday was a big blow to the global environmental movement and U.S. foreign relations. By officially declaring his intent to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, Trump has turned his back on the 195 countries – nearly the entire world—who agreed to the work together to mitigate the effects of climate change. This decision, as well as his dangerous “America First” rhetoric, highlight a short-sightedness when it comes to our shared future. UUSC condemned Trump’s decision within hours of the White House announcement.

While Trump’s decision was disappointing, it wasn’t unexpected, and already environmental advocates are mobilizing. As Todd Stern wrote in the Atlantic before the decision, “The Trump administration is about to throw down the gauntlet. If it does, we’ll need to take up the challenge.”

We are heartened to see just that. The New York Times reports that already, a group of representatives from over 200 cities, states, and companies is working on a proposal to pledge their commitment to the Paris Agreement.

In the first few months of Trump’s presidency, local and state governments and grassroots organizations have stepped up to protect human rights where the federal government refuses. It appears that environmental policy will be no different. UUSC will continue to find partnerships and ally with groups and individuals that work for environmental justice.

The Immigrant Crackdown Is a Cash Cow for Private Prisons, Samuel Gilbert, VICE, May 31, 2017

Under Trump’s immigration policy, new and expanded detention centers mean more money in the pockets of private prison owners. Gilbert’s article puts the spotlight on “the close relationship between the federal agency tasked with detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants and the private prison industry that helps house those detained immigrants.”

This “relationship” is yet another way that government policy is muddled with corporate interests. Privately-owned facilities hold the majority immigrant detainees. Many of these companies will be signing new contracts this year. Larger private prison companies will often hire Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to forge connections in the federal government and gain future contract opportunities. Bethany Carson from UUSC partner Grassroots Leadership, explains the situation, “They take the expertise they have working for the ICE and use that to lobby for even greater increases in their share of this system of mass detention.’”

Although the companies claim they do not lobby to change immigration policy and only use current rules to their benefit, they are nevertheless in the business of criminalization. Furthermore, studies show that poor treatment of detainees and corruption occur at much higher rates in private facilities. In 2015, UUSC issued a research report which found that half of the parents and children surveyed in detention centers reported clinically significant levels of symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress, and were not receiving any treatment or therapy.  Possibly more troubling, Mother Jones reported today that three immigrants have died at a private detention center in California.

In United States and abroad, a worrisome time for LGBT activists, David Crary, The Associated Press, June 1, 2017.

June 1 marked the beginning of LGBTQI Pride Month. This year, many organizers are foregoing the celebratory parades and rallies that have become typical in recent years and instead, organizing protests and solidarity marches. This has already drawn some criticism – even from more conservative LGBTQI advocates in the United States, who argue that the Trump administration has not done anything to infringe on current LGBTQ laws, for example, marriage equality. However, in a break from presidential tradition, Trump has yet to acknowledge Pride Month.

The fight for LGBTQ rights is by no means over. Same-sex marriage is only legal in 22 countries, and over 70 countries enforce laws that criminalize the LGBTQ community. As Crary points out, “most U.S. states still lack statewide laws banning discrimination against LGBT people, and majority Republicans in Congress show no interest in passing a Democratic-backed bill that would provide nationwide non-discrimination protections.” Further, the Trump administration recently revoked federal guidelines advising public school districts to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice. And multiple Trump appointees, as well as Vice President Pence are viewed as extreme opponents to LGTBQI equality.

UUSC is, as always, dedicated to protecting the rights of LGBTQI people across the world. We will be honoring Pride Month this year by highlighting events, stories, and news from the LGBTQI community on our blog and socials. Join in the conversation with #Pride2017!