Archive for January, 2009
An Open Letter to President Barack Obama on the occasion of his inauguration, 20 January 2009, from Peter Tatchell, LGBTI human rights campaigner
Dear President Barack Obama,
Congratulations on the occasion of your inauguration.
On this special day, the hopes of billions of people across our precious planet are vested in your presidency. They look to you to show practical and moral leadership in resolving the great challenges that face humanity.
You have a historic opportunity to give new expression to the United State’s founding ideals of liberty, justice and equality, by defending human rights – including the human rights of LGBTI people, in the US and worldwide.
There are many new policies you can initiate, at relatively little cost, which will greatly extend the realm of justice and freedom and rebuild the moral stature of the US across the globe:
Propose a new UN International Human Rights Convention, enforceable worldwide and including protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation, transgender identity and HIV status.
Instruct the State Department to compile a Global Index of LGBTI Rights and raise abuses of these rights in the UN and with offending states, such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Uganda, Iran, Nigeria, Yemen, Jamaica, Cameroon, Lithuania, Afghanistan, Belarus and Iraq.
Make US aid to homophobic countries conditional on serious progress towards their repeal of anti-gay and anti-transgender laws.
Show the way by eliminating such discriminatory laws in the US, including repealing the ban on same-sex marriage and the military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, as well as enacting laws to protect LGBTI people against discrimination in employment, housing, education, advertising and the provision of goods and services.
Use the network and resources of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to train LGBTI human rights defenders and support LGBTI organisations, especially in poorer developing countries.
Press for the worldwide decriminalisation of same-sex acts.
Seek the universal abolition of capital punishment, including the execution of LGBTI people. Give a lead by ending the death penalty in the US.
Withdraw diplomatic, economic and military support from tyrannical regimes like Saudi Arabia that persistently deny freedom to their own people and oppress their own citizens, on grounds such as gender, sexual orientation, transgender identity, race, nationality, religion or belief, language and so on.
Recognise and support the International Criminal Court, to bring to justice the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including homophobic tyrants.
End the US use of detention without trial, torture and extraordinary rendition, and close down Guantanamo Bay.
Withdraw from Iraq and renounce the US policy of selective and unilateral military intervention to overthrow foreign dictatorships, like the Saddam Hussein regime, in favour of a policy supporting democratic and humanitarian civil society organisations within those countries, in order to empower the victims of oppression to liberate themselves.
Cease propping up corrupt, pro-western, and often homophobic, human rights abusers, such as the Ugandan and Nigerian regimes.
Devise a new, more just international economic framework, where the common good, environmental protection and global equity take priority over private privilege, corporate greed and national self-interest. A fairer, sustainable, regulated and accountable international economic system is our best hope to safeguard jobs, homes, savings, public services, welfare provision, the environment and to bridge the chasm of inequality between the global north and south.
Take action to save the lives of the 1.5 billion people on our planet who are malnourished and without safe, clean drinking water (of which about 150 million are LGBTI). What is the point of securing LGBTI equality if LGBTI people are left to die of starvation and disease?
Lobby for a UN Convention Against War and Poverty, whereby the nations of the world, including the US, agree to cut their annual military expenditure by 10% and to divert the $100,000 million saved into a ‘Marshall Plan 2’ for the total eradication of hunger, malnutrition, dirty drinking water, poor sanitation and preventable illnesses by the year 2025.
Act now to halt the single greatest threat to the future of humanity: climate chaos. It is more of a danger than terrorism and war, and threatens the survival of all species and all races, nationalities, faiths and sexualities. LGBTI freedom means nothing if we don’t have a planet where we can enjoy it. Preserving our fragile biosphere is the precondition for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – for every human being, regardless of sexual orientation.
Destiny awaits you, Mr President. The hopes of humanity are in your hands. May you rise to greatness as a progressive and unifying leader who shapes a freer and fairer future – not just for the American people but for the people of the whole world.
Iraq’s underground queer railroad
Safe houses and escape routes save LGBT lives
By Peter Tatchell
Guide (USA) – January 2009
In the bad old days of slavery in the United States, there was the “Underground Railroad” – a clandestine network of secret routes and safe houses – which spirited thousands of southern slaves to freedom in the north.
Today, 200 years later in Iraq, a modern version of the underground railroad is saving the lives of LGBT people who are fleeing Islamist death squads. It is providing safe houses in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, and is smuggling LGBT people to neighbouring countries, where it helps them apply for United Nations humanitarian protection.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, homophobia and the terrorisation of LGBT people has got much worse. Militia’s linked to Shia political parties in the US-backed “democratic” government of Iraq are shooting dead queers in their homes, streets and workplaces.
This programme of targeted assassinations has one aim: the total eradication of all “sodomites” from Iraq. It is sanctioned by Iraq’s leading Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has issued a fatwa urging the killing of LGBT people in the “worst, most severe way possible.” Sistani is praised by President Bush as a “leading moderate”.
“Since establishing the safe houses project in 2006 we have provided refuge for dozens of gay people who were being hunted by death squads,” reports Ali Hili, coordinator of Iraqi LGBT.
“We have also assisted people to escape from Iraq to neighbouring countries, where we have established resettlement projects. Our efforts have got gay refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and we’ve already moved some of them a third safer country, in Europe or North America. These lucky ones are now beginning to rebuild their lives,” said Mr Hili.
K is a 33 year old architect who escaped to Amman in Jordan. He now helps run the Iraqi LGBT support group there; aiding other LGBT refugees from Iraq. Seven out of 23 Iraqi LGBT refugees who have been smuggled to Jordan have had their applications for asylum approved by the UNHCR and been able to move to countries like the United States, Sweden and Germany.
This heroic work is not without its risks and sacrifices. Two lesbians who ran the safe house in the city of Najaf were assassinated, together with a young boy they had rescued from the sex industry. Last summer, the coordinator of the Baghdad safe house, Bashar, was machine-gunned to death in his local barber’s shop by an Islamist hit squad.
The lack of funds is a perpetual problem. Two of the four safe houses in Baghdad had to close earlier this year because of a lack of donations to keep them running. Right now, Iraqi LGBT will soon run of cash. Money is needed to pay rent, electricity and food bills for the 10-12 refugees who are crammed into each house.
Don’t let our queer martyrs die in vain. Please make a credit card donation via PayPal to Iraqi LGBT. Help them continue their brave, inspiring, life-saving work: http://iraqilgbtuk.blogspot.com
The British Humanist Association has dismissed claims from a fundamentalist Christian preacher that a new ad campaign breaks industry codes of practice.
It is the UK’s first ever atheist advertising campaign.
Stephen Green, leader of Christian Voice, is a high-profile opponent of gay rights and has protested at Pride events.
The new adverts appear on 800 buses across Britain.
“There is probably no God,” they read. “Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”
The £140,000 campaign, which will also use ad space on the London Underground and two large LCD screens on Oxford Street, will run for four weeks and has been funded by leading humanists such as scientist Richard Dawkins.
Mr Green has complained to the Advertising Standards Authority, claiming that the rules state any ad must be factually correct.
“According to one national newspaper, some atheist supporters of the campaign were disappointed that the wording of the adverts did not declare categorically that God does not exist, although there were fears that this could break advertising guidelines,” he said.
“I believe the ad breaks the Advertising Code anyway, unless the advertisers hold evidence that God probably does not exist.
“The advertisers cannot hide behind the ASA’s ‘matters of opinion’ exclusion, because no person or body is named as the author of the statement. It is given as a statement of fact and that means it must be capable of substantiation if it is not to break the rules.
“There is plenty of evidence for God, from peoples’ personal experience, to the complexity, interdependence, beauty and design of the natural world.
“But there is scant evidence on the other side, so I think the advertisers are really going to struggle to show their claim is not an exaggeration or inaccurate, as the ASA code puts it.”
Mr Green claimed that the Bible would be immune from any questions of substantiation.
“The Bible says ‘the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord'” is entirely factual.
“The Bible does say that.
“The statement “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life – no-one comes to the Father but by me,'” to take another example, is a Biblical quote, from the same Bible which is part of our Christian Constitution and upon which witnesses promise to tell the truth in court.”
British Humanist Association chief executive Hanne Stinson said:
“I’ve sought advice from some of our key people here, but I’m afraid all I’ve got out of them so far is peals of laughter.
“I am sure that Stephen Green really does think there is a great deal of evidence for a God (though presumably only the one that he believes in) but I pity the ASA if they are going to be expected to rule on the probability of God’s existence.
“However, if they do investigate we will be very happy to respond.”
The ASA said they are considering whether to take any action.
The campaign is a response to a series of evangelical Christian adverts running on buses in June 2008, which featured the URL of a website saying all non-Christians were going to hell.
Comedy writer Ariane Sherine suggested the rational, positive slogan to reassure people who may have been scared by the evangelical adverts.
Christian Voice is itself under investigation by the ASA for an advertorial in the New Statesman that contained a prediction about teenage infertility that could not be substantiated.
Mr Green is one of Britain’s most outspoken homophobes.
In November bookseller Waterstones chose to cancel an event at a Cardiff store featuring a gay Welsh poet when Christian Voice threatened a protest.
Patrick Jones was due to read from his new collection of poems, Darkness is Where the Stars Are, and sign copies.
Some of the poems explore issues of faith, though Christianity is not singled out.
Christian Voice claim the poems are blasphemous.
When it emerged that Mr Green was to protest, the shop decided to cancel the event.
In 2006 he was cleared of public order charges after handing out anti-gay leaflets at Cardiff Mardi Gras.
In 2007 he protested at both London and Brighton Pride.
Mr Green questioned the presence of racist group the National Front at Pride events, on the basis that “homosexuals are not black or Asian as a rule.”
The controversial preacher made his observation as part of his report on the group’s website about his Brighton protest, where he had to be given police protection as he and a handful of his followers displayed homophobic posters at the entrance to Preston Park.
The Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs has summoned the Papal Nuncio to the Netherlands to the ministry and expressed objections to the approach the Holy See took at the UN over a statement on the human rights of gays.
Maxime Verhagen, who is a Christian Democrat, told Monsignor François Bacqué that the Pope’s recent claim that homosexuality is as great a threat to humanity as the destruction of the rainforest was not constructive.
The minister also said he was surprised at the negative approach the Holy See took at the UN initiative, which the Netherlands backed.
66 nations supported the statement on LGBT rights at a session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York last month.
It was read out by Argentina’s Ambassador the UN.
It does not create new rights and is not legally binding but instead builds on similar past initiatives.
It affirms the principle of universality: that all human beings, irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity, are entitled to equal dignity and respect.
The Roman Catholic Church’s representative at the United Nations, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, said the Vatican opposed the use of the phrases “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” in the statement as they have no definition in international law and are cultural concepts.
“The Holy See appreciates the attempts made to condemn all forms of violence against homosexual persons as well as urge states to take necessary measures to put an end to all criminal penalties against them,” he said.
The Chuch claims that the statement: “goes beyond this goal and instead gives rise to uncertainty in the law and challenges existing human rights norms.”
Despite the fact the statement is not legally binding, the Vatican claims it “would create serious uncertainty in the law as well as undermine the ability of states to enter into and enforce new and existing human-rights conventions and standards.”
I was asked by the Dutch Foundation of Friends of the Gay Krant (SVGK) to distribute their appeal for an international campaign against the Pope. See their statement below – Peter Tatchell
Gay’s furious at Pope
BEST, NL – JANUARY 4th – The Foundation of Friends of the Gay Krant (SVGK) starts a global action against the gay discriminatory statements of Pope Benedict XVI. 90% of the readers of the Gay Krant wants the Dutch government to protest officially and call for the nuncius in The Hague.
Never before in such a short time there were so many angry phone calls, emails and letters on the desks of the editorial staff of Gay Krant. “On this first working day of the year we really were overwhelmed with responses, reports editor Henk Krol, worldwide initiator of opening up civil marriage.
Henk Krol: “The results of a survey under readers the last few days have been unlikely clear. 90% believe that the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Maxime Verhagen should protest against the pope.
Together with France, the Netherlands launched a declaration at the United Nations against criminalization of homosexuality. The statement was signed by 66 countries.
In recent weeks the Vatican pushed a anti-gay ruling at the UN. The reason is obvious: the opening of the civil marriage as advocated by the SVGK. The Dutch initiative gets worldwide more and more following. Even on the website of the Roman Catholic church can be read: “The Pope fears that marriage between persons of the same sex can become a human right. That would mean that the church does not oppose the impunity of an open civil marriage. We have the freedom not to sin”, reports the website.
Especially the statement of the Netherlands and France to ban homosexuality as an criminal act, is way to far for the Vatican. That would not acknowledge any sexual orientation “and that would be ‘legal uncertainty’ cause, said the Pope’s UN envoy, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, last weekend against Radio Vaticana.
The church will never recognize ‘gay marriage’ warns Martino in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. Because the natural marriage between man and woman “is very different from the union of two persons of the same gender.
“From God we have received the precious gift of freedom. The freedom to choose whether or not to sin “, the President of the Papal Council Justitia et Pax said.
The UN declaration last month was called for by Minister Maxime Verhagen. He and his French colleague were supported by 66 of the 192 UN member states. 58 countries voted for a counter-declaration which was submitted by Egypt and Syria. They want the freedom to see homosexuality as a criminal act. The French-Dutch proposal was ready for vote in the General Assembly of the UN.
The Vatican is pleased that there is no majority for the statement.
The Holy See has said in many Member States have given support for its position.
A group of MEPs in the Euro parliament was already asked the pope to express in a more modest way.
The Dutch human rights activists Boris Dittrich of SVGK, who also works for Human Rights Watch in New York, and Henk Krol, the motor behind same sex marriage, are starting a worldwide campaign to increase the political role of the Vatican. They have seen with their own eyes how the Vatican lobbied for a UN declaration against gay rights. The text was dictated to Egypt by representatives of the pope. “Recognition of rights of homosexuals would inevitably lead to the legalization of pedophilia, incest and bestiality.”
The Foundation Friends of the Gay Krant, as initiators of opening up civil marriage, has contacted several gay organizations around the world.
Together they will discuss their further steps. They asl for a stop of the right of speech for the Vatican during the sessions of the UN. The Roman Catholic church is now the only religion with the right to speak in de UN-meeting. Neither the other Christian movements, nor Judaism, Islam or Buddhism, for example, have a right to speak. Only the pope has his direct influence in this forum in world politics.
Both Krol as Dittrich believe that statements such as: “Homosexuality is a serious threat to the survival of the human race, just as climate change” are not compatible.
According to SVGK now is the time that the world wakes up and diminish the role of the Vatican at the United Nations forum. “Stop the right to speak for representatives of the pope. Instead, an international inquiry into the complicity of the Vatican to discrimination against gay, women with complicated pregnancies and AIDS patients should be in place.”
All the best,