Scroll To Top

Global Pride

Global Pride


In the spirit of widespread change, meet four international gay rights activists from Nepal, Russia, Nigeria, and Chile.

Sunil Pant president of the Blue Diamond Society When Nepal's supreme court ruled last year that the government had no right to legally discriminate against gays and lesbians, Sunil Pant, president of the Blue Diamond Society, was there. In fact, Blue Diamond, a Nepalese LGBT rights organization, was one of the groups that filed the lawsuit that led to the court's landmark decision. Pant said at the time that the ruling "liberated" his country's sexual minorities and hoped it would set a precedent for conservative nations around the world.

While Americans are knee-deep in the battle for full marriage rights, we sometimes forget that in many countries, simply living as an out gay person can lead to imprisonment, physical punishment, and even death. Progress in those places requires people like Pant--not just lobbyists and activists, but courageous warriors fighting on the front lines on behalf of their communities.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission recognized the work of Pant and his compatriots by awarding the BDS its 2007 Felipa de Souza Award, named after the 16th-century Brazilian lesbian who was accused of sodomy and persecuted during the Inquisition.

To foster profound change, even in the face of peril, is precisely why IGLHRC supports the work of activists and visionaries around the globe. "We change the world one city, one country, one region at a time," says Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC's executive director, adding that each time homophobia is fought in places like Chile, Nepal, or Nigeria, it benefits the global community of LGBT people. "It is imperative that all of us in the United States connect with and support our partners and colleagues around the world," she says. "That's how we participate in changing the world."

During his acceptance speech, Pant pointed to the many successes his organization has achieved. "BDS has mobilized sexual minorities over the past six years by creating service centers in seven cities and network associations in 15 others," he said. "We have had direct contact with more than 60,000 individuals from the communities we serve."

Yet obstacles still remain. "Metis -- those traditionally recognized as third genders -- and other LGBTIs are excluded and believed to have no capacity to contribute to society," says Pant, speaking recently from his office in Nepal. Which is why it's critical to keep pushing to end discrimination and stigma. "Small injustices must not be overlooked," he adds. "Small, incremental progress adds up over time." -- Fred Kuhr

Nikolai Alekseev Founder of Moscow Pride and Project Gay Russia Nikolai Alekseev never intended to become Russia's leading LGBT rights activist. But suffering antigay discrimination as a university student -- including being prohibited from writing his thesis on the rights of gays around the world -- set him on this unintended path. (His case against Lomonosov Moscow State University is still before the European Court of Human Rights.)

Alekseev, now 30, is a lawyer and public administrator by trade, though he works full-time as an activist. He first gained global attention two years ago when he became the principal organizer behind the inaugural Moscow Pride. But what was intended to be a celebration like any other Pride became a battle when Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov banned the event. Alekseev and his colleagues went forward with their plans and were confronted by violent opposition and police arrests that made headlines around the world. The same fate befell the second Moscow Pride last year.

Alekseev was arrested both years. In 2006 he was acquitted; in 2007 he spent 24 hours in police custody and was fined.

"I was going to the Tomb of the Unknown Solider to lay flowers when I was arrested by the police and confronted by extremists," recalls Alekseev. "My grandfather died in the Second World War, and I could not understand why I was being denied the right to pay my respects to people who fought fascism. After so many years, fascism is gaining strength in the country that defeated it."

Moscow Pride has filed a complaint against the mayor and Moscow police in the European Court of Human Rights. And while Alekseev and his compatriots wait for a final decision, they have moved ahead with plans for this year's May 31 celebration, timed to coincide with the 15-year anniversary of Russia's decision to decriminalize homosexuality. If the European Court doesn't help convince the Moscow mayor to lift his ban on Pride, perhaps international political pressure will do the trick. Alekseev has sent formal invitations to the mayors of Berlin, London, and Paris to speak at the Pride press conference.

"We really thought having these European mayors here could change things this year," said Alekseev. "Since Mayor Luzhkov knows the other mayors well and meets with them regularly, they are probably the main channel we have to put pressure on Mr. Luzhkov."

Unfortunately for Alekseev, all three have declined to attend. He's particularly critical of Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe and Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit, both of whom are gay, for not wanting to put their support into action. But the disappointment doesn't end there. Alekseev has learned that Mayor Luzhkov put pressure on the hotel that was to host Moscow Pride's associated human rights conference. "We've had our conference at Swissotel the past two years," he explains. "This year, Swissotel denied the place to us even though everything was already arranged a year ago. We are now considering further legal actions against the hotel."

Alekseev is a fighter, but he says he's not alone. "We have a saying in Russia meaning, 'There is more than one warrior in the field.' There are many other people around me who are not very visible, but who are making a significant difference in the fight for gay rights in Russia," he says. "I don't think I would be able to change things here alone." -- Fred Kuhr

Sewedo Joseph Akoro Director of The Independent Project, Nigeria Sewedo Joseph Akoro was in the courtroom last year for the arraignment of 18 men who had been arrested in Nigeria's Bauchi state for allegedly taking part in a same-sex wedding ceremony and wearing women's clothing. Almost everyone expected that the men would be charged with sodomy, which would bring a punishment of death by stoning. Instead, when the charges were read, they included only loitering, vagrancy, indecency, conspiracy, and membership in an unlawful organization -- all less serious than sodomy.

"It was a shocker for the conservative Muslims who were in the courtroom as well as the 500 or so who were waiting outside," Akoro recalls. "I suppose the disappointment got to them, so they decided they would execute the men themselves. They started throwing stones at everyone coming out of the courtroom. In response, the police shot into the air and sprayed tear gas. Luckily, I, along with other activists and lawyers, escaped in a car, which we later saw had been hit by a bullet."

That experience would be harrowing for a seasoned activist. But at the tender age of 20, Akoro has earned his warrior stripes quickly and under fire.

In 2005, Akoro and other young human rights activists in Lagos, Nigeria's largest city, decided that they needed to work to fight human rights violations across the country, with a particular emphasis on sexual minorities. So they founded The Independent Project--known locally as TIP.

"An openly gay man in Nigeria is doomed, as all of his fundamental human rights are stripped away," says Akoro. "Many LGBT individuals who had their sexual orientation disclosed through blackmail or other means have lost their jobs and have been ejected from their homes by landlords or parents."

In response, TIP provides safe social space for young LGBTs. Last year TIP launched its "Dare to be Different" campaign, which offers meetings, workshops, parties, and other social events to introduce the organization to others as well as provide HIV education and awareness. The reality of HIV and AIDS, says Akoro, is affecting the fight for LGBT equality in Nigeria. He cited a recent study that showed at least 13% of gay and bisexual Nigerian men are HIV-positive. "This has led for the need for an inclusive HIV program, which will hopefully help bring about equality to the gay community and other minority groups in Nigeria," he says.

Akoro, who has a penchant for statistics about the LGBT community, is a prospective student of history and international studies at a Nigerian university. Despite his impressive accomplishments, Akoro is at first unsure if he would consider himself a warrior in the fight for LGBT equality. "I guess I could be considered a warrior because of my courageous move to address every human rights violation on the grounds of sexual orientation in a conservative country like Nigeria," he says. Then, as if he's just convinced himself of the identity, he adds, "Yes, I am a warrior because I am doing what many young people would not have the guts to do in Nigeria."

Andres Ignacio Rivera Duarte president and founder of the Organization of Transsexuals for Dignity and Diversity Five years ago Maria Georgina Rivera Duarte had a double mastectomy. Two years later she underwent a hysterectomy and began taking hormones. But it wasn't until last year that Maria officially won the legal right from the Chilean courts to become Andres Ignacio Rivera Duarte.

"Masculine transsexuality was absolutely invisible," Duarte says of the environment in Chile when he began transitioning. "Society wasn't prepared -- well, it never is for something different, but without a doubt it was not prepared for a 38-year-old woman to announce that she was in reality a man. I was an extraterrestrial--too strange for the rational understanding of society."

Duarte, one of two 2008 recipients of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Campaign's Felipa de Souza Award, has confronted intolerance repeatedly in his quest to be recognized as a man. He suffered humiliation "at the hands of those who claimed they were my friends." Coworkers and family members turned against him. In 2006 he was fired from teaching childhood education at the University of Rancagua, a decision he sued the university over and ultimately won. "We succeeded in showing that they had discriminated against me exclusively for being a transgender person," he explains.

In the early days of his transition, frustration and anger over the discrimination he faced took its toll. "I went to the bottom," says Duarte. "I had problems with alcohol abuse and attempted suicide." But Duarte isn't one to give up -- "It's in my blood to fight against injustice and discrimination"--so in 2005 he transformed his despair into strength, founding the Organization of Transsexuals for Dignity and Diversity. Located in Rancagua about 50 miles outside Santiago, the organization is made up of trans men and allies, lawyers, social workers, psychologists, and one anthropologist. They work with government officials to try to establish transgender policy, and with local health care providers to aid in the evaluation, treatment, and surgery of trans people. On a grassroots level, they provide outreach to young trans sex workers to prevent drug use, HIV/AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases, and also aim to foster self-esteem and personal growth within the entire Chilean LGBT community.

While Duarte's battle to legally change his name and sex is a personal triumph, he's proudest of the visibility his organization has given to transsexuals in Chile. "Now that we 'exist,' we are invited to universities to participate in seminars, which helps make future professionals aware. People find us in the street and ask us about transsexuality but with a lot of respect," says Duarte. "There's a lot left to do, but we have made advances."

As for the future, Duarte hopes, among other things, to establish a department of nondiscrimination and diversity in the Chilean government, integrate training about trans people in the armed forces and police force, and create a national health network covering transsexuals in public hospitals. He knows the goals are ambitious and the road ahead will be difficult, but he says, "We also have the profound conviction that we are fighting for our rights, for a more dignified life with equilibrium for body and soul, which permits us to develop as people and dignified human beings, integrating ourselves into society and reaching that gift intrinsic to birth -- respect." -- Rachel Dowd; translation by Carolyn McCarthy

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories Editors