LGBT activists in Europe will not be silenced
29 Oct 20120 comments
ARTICLE 19 legal officer Andrew Smith has just returned from ILGA Europe’s Annual Conference in Dublin - Europe’s largest meeting on the human rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex people. Here are his reflections.
“One week before we met in Dublin, a gay-friendly bar in Moscow was ransacked by homophobic thugs and its patrons violently attacked as they gathered to celebrate National Coming Out Day. Whilst wielding what looked like guns, the attackers screamed, “You wanted a pogrom? You wanted a fight? You got it.” People were kicked and punched and had chairs and bottles thrown at them for no other reason than their decision to drink in a bar known for its open-mindedness and tolerance.
This act of intimidation clearly aimed to silence the voice of LGBTI people in Moscow, to remove them from social and political discourse and ultimately marginalise them to the point of invisibility.
The 235 activists convened in Dublin for ILGA Europe’s annual conference are united by the clear conviction that they will not be silenced. Nevertheless, they are also clear that this act of violence was not an isolated incident, but part of a resurgence in homophobia and transphobia across Europe that urgently requires addressing. One key element fuelling this resurgence is the adoption of “anti-propaganda” laws in Russia and Moldova, and the proposals to replicate such laws in Lithuania and Ukraine. The brave individuals campaigning against those laws were in Dublin to share their experiences.
Anti-propaganda laws prohibit the “promotion” of lesbianism, homosexualism, and transgenderism in public, with the purported objective of protecting “traditional values”. In effect, anti-propaganda laws exclude LGBTI people from participating in their democracies by depriving them of their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. The impact of these laws is certainly being felt.
Anti-propaganda laws prevent LGBT people from organising and participating in pride parades and other political actions. Following the adoption of St Petersburg’s anti-propaganda law earlier this year, 17 activists were detained at a civil rights march for unfurling rainbow flags and refusing to remove them.
Anti-propaganda laws also restrict the dissemination of information related to sexual orientation and gender identity - information that is crucial for enabling individuals to exercise other key rights. The sharing of information on healthcare, counselling and support for LGBT people, and other essential services may now attract criminal and administrative sanctions.
That these laws claim to defend “traditional values” both fuels and legitimises violence and discrimination against LGBT people. It emboldens violent extremists in their belief that their attacks further the national interest and are publicly condoned. The authorities too are emboldened to ignore crimes against LGBTI people rather than investigate them and hold their perpetrators to account. The climate of fear that is generated serves to further silence and marginalise LGBT people.
Alarmingly, in September 2012 Russia succeeded in getting the UN Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution affirming the positive role of “traditional values” in furthering our understanding of human rights. This vague concept, abused as it is in Russia to deny LGBT people their fundamental rights, flatly contradicts and undermines the foundational basis of international human rights law. States must send Russia and its near neighbours a clear and resounding message that international endorsement will not be given to the vile persecution of LGBT people, especially not within the forum established to further protections for human rights.
The challenges that anti-propaganda law pose to equality advocates are significant and may at times seem insurmountable. However, the choice of Ireland and Dublin as the host nation and city for ILGA Europe’s Annual Conference was apt for demonstrating that change in laws, attitudes and behaviour, albeit slow, does happen.
Participants at the ILGA Europe’s Annual Conference were clear that they are in this for the long haul, and that their calls for equality will not only be heard but will be realised. They’re not going away.