UN Starts to Address Abuse of Gays
June 18, 2001
615 W. Lafayette, Detroit, MI 48226
By Deb Price, The Detroit News
Long ignored in the international human rights drive to avoid repeats of
Nazi-style atrocities, gay men and lesbians recently advanced a tiny bit
closer to being fully embraced as part of humanitys family.
In the first of two unrelated developments, the United Nations
human-rights arm announced it will start collecting reports on torture and
other anti-gay activity that can be used to try to persuade countries to
improve the lives of their gay citizens. Separately, because of a Clinton
administration decision, more than a half million dollars from an
international fund is being given to gay survivors of Nazi concentration camps
and to fund efforts to inform the world about cruelties committed against
homosexuals in Hitlers Germany.
Together, the two moves are heart-warming proof that decades of tireless
work by international gay-rights advocates are paying off. Slowly, the UN
community is starting to understand why protections against discrimination
based on sexual orientation need to be read into the human-rights declarations
signed after World War II.
Shame is the stick the UN most often wields to bring about change. The
first big gay breakthrough at the UN happened in 1994, when a judicial panel
declared that anti-sodomy laws violate human-rights principles and chastised
Australia for allowing Tasmania to keep the anti-gay statute. Australia,
embarrassed that a Tasmanian gay man had appealed to the UN for help,
successfully pressured its backward state to abolish its anti-sodomy law in
Also in the 1990s, the largest international human-rights groups -- Amnesty
International and Human Rights Watch -- expanded their missions to include
protesting abuses against those of us whore gay. That followed prodding by
the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), a group
founded in 1990 that is the David facing Goliath in the effort to get the
international community to treat abuses based on sexual orientation similarly
to those based on gender, race or religion.
Human Rights Watch has just put out a powerful report documenting abuse of
gay American students. Amnesty International will release a report on anti-gay
torture June 22.
IGLHRCs Scott Long calls the UNs decision to document anti-gay abuses
"groundbreaking." Investigators with the UN Commission of Human
Rights have broad powers to approach governments accused of human-rights
violations. The investigators want to be informed of instances in which gay
people are the victims of anti-gay torture, execution, false imprisonment,
censorship or violence. IGLHRCs Web site details how to report such
"This is a big opening," says IGLHRCs Sydney Levy.
"Imagine that for the first time you are being allowed to present your
complaints. They are now saying, Come and tell us what is going on."
Meanwhile, Julie Dorf, a founder of the Pink Triangle Coalition, said the
group has received more than $600,000 from the United States portion of the
International Nazi Persecutee Relief Fund. The fund, created in 1997 to
distribute money from gold Nazis stole from occupied nations, gave $72,000
last year to help gay camp survivors and $531,000 recently for films, museum
exhibits, books and other educational materials about the Nazi persecution of
Dorf said seven gay camp survivors, whom Nazis forced to wear pink
triangles, have been located. The search for more continues. A 78-year-old
survivor with heart problems who now lives in Poland called the several
thousand dollars he received "a gift from heaven." A 93-year-old
survivor living in Australia said the money was a "generous testimony of
sympathy" that gives him "fresh courage to know that there are
friends and institutions who remember me."
Atrocities continue against people targeted simply for being gay. But the
civilized world is moving to acknowledge and end them.
- Deb Prices column is published on Monday. She be contacted at (202)
662-7370 or firstname.lastname@example.org