Landmark Congressional Briefing Addresses Sexual Orientation & Human Rightscompiled by Kathleen Sideli
In a precedent-setting meeting, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus and the office of Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA) hosted a briefing on sexual orientation and international human rights on Thursday, August 6, in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC.
Representatives of Amnesty International (AI) and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), as well as other organizations, testified. The briefing also heard testimony from persons who have survived human rights violations i nflicted because of their sexual orientation.
Before the hearing Congressman Tom Lantos said that, “This briefing represents the first time that the US Congress will address violations grounded in sexual identity. It is imperative that the US government and human rights activists recognize that t hese violations fall squarely within the purview of international human rights law.” Among members of the US House of Representatives who supported the briefing were Barney Frank (D-MA), William Delahunt (D-MA), and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
Documentation from around the world, assembled by both Amnesty International and IGLHRC, provides evidence that lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people face abuses including arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, rape, torture, extortion and even execution. In many countries, their rights to free expression, free association and assembly are restricted or denied by law.
Cynthia Rothschild, Co-Chair of Amnesty International Members for Lesbian and Gay Concerns stated that “social cleansing through death squad killing, stoning and forced pregnancy are only a few of the myriad violations lesbians, gay men and transgende r people face.”
“While women and men are often targeted in different ways because of their different abilities to resist familial and societal discrimination and because of unequal access to public space, human rights violations are frequently directed toward all tho se who defy societal gender and sexuality ‘norms’,” Rothschild continued. “Governments must be made aware of and held accountable for these abuses taking place within their borders. All of these practices are unacceptable, in violation of international la w and must be stopped.”
Rothschild stated that some of the more flagrant human rights violations, gay, bisexual and transgender people face include abuses in the following three general, and sometimes overlapping, categories: 1) rights to physical and mental integrity, 2) fr eedom of association and expression, 3) discriminatory laws and discriminatory application of laws. She cited a series of horrific examples of these abuses in a number of countries including Afghanistan, Peru, US, Uganda, China and Romania.
Scott Long, Advocacy Coordinator of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), said, “Local gay, lesbian, and transgender communities have faced, fought, and in some cases conquered state repression and government indifference in country after country around the world. Our organization has been there with them. Over the last decade, the international human-rights community has begun to mobilize in response to these abuses. We are gratified that the US Congress has also taken n otice.”
“In this fiftieth year after the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said Long, “it’s time the US recognized persecution based on sexual orientation as an assault on basic liberties.”
In closing Scott Long asked the chairman and members of the Caucus to join him and...
We ask you to speak out, because silence is deadly. I would like to close by quoting the lines of a Hungarian poet, who was gay--and who suffered from that imposed silence, silence about the self, that I have spoken about here. Mr. Lantos will not min d if I cite him first in Hungarian:
Akik a termeszettol felnek, termeszetellenesnek neveznek bennunket. De eygedul a hallgastas termeszettellenes.
‘Those who despise nature call us unnatural. But silence is the only unnatural act.’
NOTE: The 11 pages of testimony are available through Thomas Legislative Information on the Internet at http://thomas.loc.gov/. From the main page select ‘Congressional Record Text: 105th (1997-98)’, search on “Lantos and Sexual Orientation” and then click on (Intl Human Rights Violations Based on Sexual Orientation, August 7, 1998”)
Contacts: Scott Long, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, ph (212)216-1814; Cynthia Rothschild, Amnesty International Members for Lesbian and Gay Concerns, ph (212)924-5232; Daniel Soto, Amnesty International Members for Lesbian and Gay Concerns ph (812)334-7809.
This article appeared in the Fall 1998 edition of Lesbigay SIGnals
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