Op-ed: Russian Gays Aren't the Only LGBTs Suffering

By Neal Broverman

Originally published on Advocate.com July 31 2013 10:50 PM ET

Have you seen those pictures of LGBT Russians getting punched, kicked, and spat on? If so, did you notice how many of them were good-looking? Many of those poor kids, with blood running down tattoos and sleeveless tops, look like they stepped off the platform at the Bedford subway stop in Williamsburg.

These camera-ready young folk have no doubt helped many gays here turn their attention to Russia, currently in the grips of an antigay zealotry that has the government passing laws criminalizing “homosexual propaganda” and threatening the detainment of LGBT visitors. Everyone from Dan Savage to Harvey Fierstein to Cleve Jones are rightfully calling for Americans to help our Russian brothers and sisters, with some advocating boycotts of vodka and the 2014 Sochi Olympics. But while gay Russians unquestionably need our help now, there are other LGBT people around the world — where cell phone cameras aren’t as common and faces don’t look as familiar — facing conditions just as frightening as those in Russia.

Take for instance, the gays of Zimbabwe. Just as bars in New York and Los Angeles were pouring their Stolichnaya down the drain, Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe called for the decapitation of gay people. Yes, the leader of a nation proudly declared in public that his own citizens should have their heads forcibly removed. This tyrant called us "worse than pigs, goats and birds" and made the following statement:

“If you take men and lock them in a house for five years and tell them to come up with two children and they fail to do that, then we will chop off their heads. This thing (homosexuality) seeks to destroy our lineage by saying John and John should wed, Maria and Maria should wed... Obama says if you want aid, you should accept the homosexuality practice... We will never do that.”

Few Americans realize that Mugabe was pushing his homophobic agenda — which includes stiffer prison sentences for sodomizers — partly because he was facing reelection. That election was held Wednesday, though the American media was too focused on a "Real" housewife getting indicted and the continuing saga of Weinergate (guilty). While Zimbabwe doesn’t export booze favored by Patsy Stone, or really anything that Westerners consume, a boycott is mostly out of the question (not to mention, potentially cruel for a nation suffering with unemployment estimated at 94% in 2009). But it wouldn’t hurt to email your senator and urge a harsh stance on Zimbabwe's homophobia; no rights, no money. Or how about staging a protest? The Zimbabwe embassy in D.C. is on New Hampshire Avenue, a nine-minute walk from Rhode Island Ave., and the headquarters of the Human Rights Campaign.

Up in Africa's central-eastern vicinity is Cameroon, the home of gay rights activist Eric Ohena Lembembe (shown at left) before he was tortured and killed two weeks ago. Lembembe was burned with an iron and had his feet broken before he was put out of his misery. Lembembe's death has further horrified other gay activists in the nation, where homosexuality is already criminalized. "We have all decided to stop our work in the field because our security is at risk," Yves Yomb, executive director of Alternatives-Cameroun, told The Guardian. "We have no protection from the police and we feel that our lives are at risk."

Cameroon is the nation that sentenced a man to jail for sending a text to another man, back in 2011. It's also the country that convicted two men of having sexual relations in a court ruling that came down a week ago. Cameroon's embassy is on International Drive, three miles north of the HRC.

Cameroon's neighbor Nigeria is also up to no good, passing a bill that would imprison people up to 14 years for entering into a same-sex union, even though gay marriage, and sex, is illegal there. Hoping to eradicate local LGBT advocacy, the bill would send those involved in gay clubs or organizations to jail for a decade. The legislation is sitting on the desk of Nigeria's president, Goodluck Jonathan. Nigeria's embassy is near Cameroon's, and a stone's throw from a Gold's Gym and a Starbucks. Maybe someone can air their dissent after a workout or frapp?

It's true the recent horrors of Zimbabwe, Cameroon, and Nigeria, like similar ones in Uganda and Iran, are less visible than those in Russia; mostly because those poorer nations have fewer people with internet access or contacts at Buzzfeed or CNN. But are we less interested in the horrors of Africa and the Middle East because those places seem so foreign? Are we especially shocked by the injustices of Russia because it's happening in a place that kind of looks like America, perpetrated against people who could be extras in Girls (e.g., young and white)?

Gay Africans like Davis Mac-Iyalla, granted refugee status to the U.K. because his life was in danger in his native Nigeria, are begging Westerners to help his people. Appearing on the BBC, Mac-Iyalla asked United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay what the U.N. was doing to ensure Nigeria stay true to a nondiscrimination treaty. Pillay, while sympathetic, gave Nigerian viewers a British phone number to call if they had complaints about human rights violations. The U.N. can do more for our African brothers and sisters than this and we must demand they do. You can start here.

NEAL BROVERMAN is a columnist for The Advocate and the editor-in-chief of Out Traveler. Follow him on Twitter @nbroverman.