Gus Kenworthy
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Op-ed: LGBT Americans Celebrate, But Atrocities Abroad Escalate

Op-ed: LGBT Americans Celebrate, But Atrocities Abroad Escalate

Although LGBT Americans are celebrating tremendous marriage victories throughout the U.S., we are also faced with the troubling picture of a strong and growing international anti-LGBT movement, threatening the equality and freedom of our global community. LGBT Americans and our allies have fought hard to reach this moment in America. It’s a moment where there is tremendous momentum in favor of equality. But looking beyond our borders shows that this momentum is moving in the opposite direction for people in many parts of the world.                            

One needn't look far to find countless examples of oppression and discrimination. While the last few weeks have been filled with images of smiling couples lining up across America to finally get married, eight Egyptian men are awaiting trial for being part of a video depicting a same-sex wedding that went viral online. These men could face up to three years in prison.

This is only the tip of the iceberg in Egypt, as local advocates have recently accused Egyptian authorities of using social networking applications to track down gay men for imprisonment under laws that have been used to criminalize the activity of gay men as “debauchery” or “insulting public morals.” This year alone, dozens have been arrested.

South of Egypt, the picture is grim. The National Assembly of Chad recently approved a bill that would punish an LGBT individual with up to 20 years in prison. If signed, Chad will become the 78th country to criminalize same-sex relationships. To the west of Chad, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, who notoriously referred to LGBT people as “vermin” who should be killed, has a piece of legislation sitting on his desk that could punish those convicted of “aggravated homosexuality” with a life sentence. If the term “aggravated homosexuality” sounds familiar, it’s because the Gambian legislation looks like a photocopy of the Anti-Homosexuality Act enacted (then overturned on a technicality) in Uganda earlier this year.

This momentum backwards is in no way isolated to nations in Africa. Following the example of Russia’s abhorrent anti-propaganda law, Kyrgyzstan is positioned to pass similar legislation that restricts LGBT advocacy. The legislation in Kyrgyzstan takes things one step further by making LGBT advocacy punishable with imprisonment. The Russian law, which continues to face international condemnation, has created havoc for LGBT Russians despite only relying on fines as punishment.

Russia is not the only troubling trend-setter. The people of Croatia approved a constitutional amendment excluding same-sex couples from marriage in 2013. At this moment, Macedonian elected officials are considering enacting a same-sex marriage ban, while Slovakia passed a similar constitutional amendment this summer. Disturbingly, Macedonian elected officials and anti-LGBT advocates in Slovakia are pushing to go even further by proposing to ban not only same-sex marriage but any sort of same-sex union. Not to mention, a little to the North, Latvian advocates are currently battling legislation that would prevent LGBT youth from receiving accurate health information, in addition to the possibility of a referendum to exclude same-sex couples from marriage in Latvia.

This backsliding is enhanced by a network of Americans who travel the world to promote damaging policies and hateful rhetoric against LGBT people. HRC’s report, “Exposed: The Export of Hate,” details how American anti-LGBT advocates, like Scott Lively, Brian Brown, Robert Oscar Lopez, and Sharon Slater, spread their venomous hatred throughout the world. 

Take Slater, for example, the founder and president of Family Watch International, who advocates for policies that respond to her claim that LGBT people are “more likely to engage in pedophilia.” Disturbingly, Slater and Family Watch International have consultative status at the United Nations. American exporters of hate like her must be exposed for their lies and hateful work.

As we celebrate the victories of the last two weeks, and look towards a brighter future in the U.S., we must also strengthen our domestic commitment to global equality, and use every tool at our disposal to achieve that goal.

TY COBB is the director of HRC Global. Join HRC and other global human rights organizations on October 18 to #StandWithEgyptLGBT.

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