Last edited: February 14, 2005

UN Starts to Address Abuse of Gays

Detroit News, June 18, 2001
615 W. Lafayette, Detroit, MI 48226
Fax: 313-222-6417

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 humanity’s 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 Hitler’s 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 1997.

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 who’re 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.

IGLHRC’s Scott Long calls the UN’s 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. IGLHRC’s Web site details how to report such horrors.

"This is a big opening," says IGLHRC’s 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 homosexuals.

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 Price’s column is published on Monday. She be contacted at (202) 662-7370 or

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