LGBT Issues in Many CulturesBy Joe Murnan, Hariri Foundation
During the 2001 Region VII conference in Pittsburgh, three Lesbigay SIG members joined a GLBT former international student in presenting a panel discussion entitled, “LGBT Issues in Many Cultures: Insights for International Student Advisers.” The presenters: Bo Keppel, East Stroudsburg University; Scott King, Old Dominion University; a Hariri Foundation alumnus; and myself, Joe Murnan, Hariri Foundation, focused on cultural norms affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered students in their home countries. We also took the opportunity to show during the session what impact these norms might have on students’ expectations, behaviors and cultural adjustment while studying in the U.S.
Bo began the session with a review of the Official Attitudes Toward Sexual Relationships Between Adult Men from “The Third Pink Book” edited by A. Hendriks, R. Tielman and E. Van der Veen. The document lists by country if homosexuality is legal, legal and tolerated, legal and repressed, illegal, illegal and repressed, illegal but tolerated, and finally not specified. The survey lists treatment of gay men in 194 countries.
Scott King then discussed female students from India studying in the United States. He noted that several of the female students had developed lesbian relationships. He explained that when these females students completed their studies and returned to India they then were married to men selected by their families. These women followed their cultural and family duties to marry and have families. There were no opportunities for them to continue their lesbian relationships.
I first discussed the climate for GLBT students in Korea where I had lived and worked for 4 years. Before the Korean War, any mention of sex was taboo in Korean society. Public discourse on sexuality has really only started in the last ten to fifteen years, but there is still very little hard information about sexuality in Korea. In this environment, discussions about homosexuality have hardly flourished. But for all of this, being gay or lesbian in Korea is in some ways easier than in the West. In part, because the possibility of homosexuality is denied by most people, there is an enormous tolerance for intimacy between same-sex friends. The situation in the law is similar to the situation in the society in general. Homosexuals have no established tradition of overtly discriminatory laws to struggle against. There are no sodomy laws proscribing oral or anal intercourse, largely because these acts have traditionally been considered utterly unmentionable in any public forum or documents. This may soon change. The number of homosexuals coming out of the closet is growing every day. Korea witnessed its first lesbian commitment ceremony on November 27, 1995.
I then went on to discuss GLBT issues for students from Moslem societies in the Arab World - Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Visitors to this part of the world will note that in general men are more intimate with each other than in the West. It is not uncommon to see male friends holding hands in public. It is also not uncommon to see men kiss each other on the cheeks during their greetings.
I noted that Jeffrey Weeks wrote in his introduction to the book, “Sexuality and Eroticism Among Males in Moslem Societies” that, “Men may have sex with other males, without social damage, as long as they are the penetrators, and their partners are boys, or in some cases effeminate men (that is, just like the Western pattern, men who are not “real” men). There is, however no concept of ‘the homosexual’, except where it has been imported from the West, no notion of exclusive homosexuality, and no gay way of life.”
I also mentioned that punishment for same gender sexual encounters in these countries run the gamut of imprisonment not exceeding one year to public flogging and even death. In one country recently 9 young men were sentenced to up to 2,600 lashes and four to six years in prison for “deviant sexual behavior.”
The audience then heard from a gay former international student who was sponsored for his undergraduate and graduate studies in the U.S. by the Hariri Foundation. The student received asylum from the INS based on sexual orientation. He noted that upon his arrival in the United States in 1985 he was struggling with his sexual identity and looked to the International Student Office (ISO) as his only resource for social and emotional support. He also looked to the ISO as a source of information about what could help him adapt and adjust not only as an international student, but also as a gay man in a foreign country. He found none of the above.
He noted that he found ISO lacking in information or resources that help GLBT international students understand the following:
The audience was referred to the Lesbian Gay Immigration Rights Task Force link on the Lesbigay SIG Web site. The site has a section where visitors are given information on ordering a free booklet prepared by the LGIRTF which outlines the procedures for applying for asylum based on sexual orientation. The booklet is entitled “Sexual Orientation-Based Asylum Claims”.
This panel discussion will be presented by an expanded group of panelists at the NAFSA conference in San Antonio, Thursday, May 30th, at 3:00 p.m.
This article appeared in the Spring 2002 edition of Lesbigay SIGnals
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Comments: NAFSA: Rainbow SIG