Finding inspiration for gay rights

By Julie Dorf

Originally published on Advocate.com May 19 2005 12:00 AM ET

There isn’t a country in the world that is more inspiring to me than South Africa. In the 15 years since the end of apartheid, South African activists have fought for and won more legal and social gains for every minority group than any other country in the world. And for one minority in particular, South Africa became the first country in the world to sanction the protection of its status in its post-apartheid constitution: that minority being gay men and lesbians.While South African LGBT and HIV activists still have serious battles to fight, the fact of their unprecedented constitutional protections serve as an object lesson for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocates here in the United States. As US citizens and as LGBT people, we should not think of ourselves as an isolated movement, nor can we afford to. The struggles and triumphs of LGBT people worldwide are our struggles and triumphs. We strengthen our own movement when we look beyond our own borders.This is why, in 1990, I founded the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission-an organization that fights against human rights abuses on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV status. Today, as US activists celebrate 15 years of working in the international human rights movement, it is time to take a moment to reflect on what we have accomplished, and what we have learned; and remember how far we still need to go to achieve equality and safety for ourselves and for others around the world.The LGBT movement in the United States has benefited tremendously from the successes of other countries. Case in point: the Supreme Court's 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, which decriminalized sodomy, drew from extensive citations of laws on the books in other countries as diverse as Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, and the Congo.On the issue of same-sex marriage, we can also draw hope and lessons from abroad. In the past few months alone, Britain formally legalized civil unions for same-sex couples; Spain took a major step by approving a same-sex marriage bill in its lower house of parliament While the courts in South Africa have laid the ground work for this long overdue recognition.. And Israel recently granted same-sex couples many of the same rights as heterosexual spouses.The increasing power of the religious right in the United States makes it even more imperative that we fight homophobia in solidarity with other LGBT people beyond U.S. borders. The religious right does not limit its anti-gay agenda to American shores but deliberately promotes an international strategy to marginalize gay men and lesbians. Look at the recent statements by all three major religions in response to the upcoming World Pride celebrations in Jerusalem. The Holy City has never seen such unity of position among Jews, Christians, and Muslims. How sad - and ironic- that it is homophobia and the desire to oppress LGBT people that brings them together.In response to this, the LGBT movement must seize the international stage as the platform and battleground for promoting our own deeply held values of human equality and civil rights -- or risk ceding global public opinion to those who would relegate us to second-class citizenship.Moreover, as global tensions between the United States and other countries have risen after 9/11 and the War on Iraq, LGBT Americans have an even greater responsibility to reach across the world and work to bridge political and cultural divides through the bond we sometimes find with other LGBT people and sexual minorities in other nations.Toward that end, IGLHRC continues to campaign for LGBT political prisoners around the world and others persecuted by police and government forces because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status. IGLHRC helps local grassroots groups overturn anti-gay laws across many continents because we believe their struggles for freedom and dignity are the struggles of LGBT people everywhere.Coretta Scott King speaking four days before the 30th anniversary of her husband's assassination said, “Freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation is surely a fundamental human right in any great democracy.” She went on to say, “I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”Today, we continue to fight for a seat at the table. But our chances of getting there will vastly improve when we stand together with the international LGBT movement from whom we have so much to learn.Julie Dorf is the founder of IGLHRC and resides in San Francisco. She will receive the “Founder Award” at IGLHRC's Celebration of Courage event being held in San Francisco on May 16 at the Brave Theater. For more information go to www.iglhrc.org.