photo (3)On February 27th, 2014 the NGO Committee on Human Rights and Unitarian Univeralist United Nations Office held a panel discussion on Homophobia around the world.The panel centered on actions taken by the Russian, Ugandan, Nigerian, and Indian governments against the LGBTQIA community.  In India, a high court ruling made in 2009 that decriminalized same sex marriage was reversed by the nation’s Supreme Court.  In Uganda, Nigeria, and Russia any actions that are perceived as “gay” or the discussion of LGBTQIA issues are reason enough for imprisonment.

During the discussion the violence that accompanies these laws was reiterated by many of our esteemed panelists.  Ms. Roberta Sklar of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission noted that violence is green-lighted when pieces of legislation such as these are enacted.  Anti-LGBTQIA individuals feel justified in harming people that are or even suspected of being homosexual.  Many times, transgender individuals are enveloped in these acts as well.  Police officers tend to be unwilling to help in cases of violence, and in many instances the victims are too scared of what actions will be taken if the police believe that they are homosexual. Bruce Knotts of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office and co-Chair of the NGO Committee on Human Rights discussed the parallels of these current events and instances seen in history.  Governments often test how much oppression the public is willing to tolerate.  The homosexuals, he mentions, in Nazi Germany were the first to be imprisoned.  Allowing oppression of the LGBTQIA community in these nations can allow the oppression of other groups as well. lgbtqiThe use of the LGBTQIA community as a scapegoat was also a major topic.  It is easy for these governments to use the community as a distraction from legitimate problems, such as corruption and domestic instability.  The funding from right-wing conservative groups in the United States is of great concern to the panel as well.  Money is poured into churches in Uganda in order to spread the idea that homosexuals are sinful.  As politicians vie to stay in power in a nation that is expecting a windfall from oil, they are eager to maintain favorable standing with these conservative groups. The panel discussed potential solutions to the LGBTQIA situation abroad.  Hossein Alizadeh from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission finds strength in broadening the discussion of sexuality in these nations and other homophobic areas.  Opening discourse on these subjects would evolve the dialogue into one of gender and LGBTQIA equality.  Mr. Alizadeh issues the point that people shy away from human rights because it is too political, from speaking of sex because it is improper, but most want and support equality and fairness. Mounting international pressure for LGBTQIA rights stigmatizes the mentioned nations.  Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird of Canada made the following statement on February 24, 2014: in reaction to president of Uganda Yoweri Museveni’s signing of the anti-homosexuality act: “Canada is extremely disappointed that President Museveni has signed this piece of legislation, which will make homosexuality punishable with life imprisonment. We strongly urge the President to protect the human rights of all Ugandans regardless of their sexual orientation, in accordance with Uganda’s constitution.” “This act is a serious setback for human rights, dignity and fundamental freedoms and deserves to be widely condemned. Regrettably, this discriminatory law will serve as an impediment in our relationship with the Ugandan government.” “Canada has repeatedly raised our concerns with the Government of Uganda, and we have done so again. Our engagement on human rights issues will only become more persistent. We will continue to support efforts to decriminalize homosexuality and combat violence against people on the basis of their sexual orientation.”

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The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office has a very competitive internship program that takes on the best and the brightest students from schools around the New York City area. User posts come from office interns on relevant topics, events, and issues important to the work of the office.

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