Gay Rights a Catalyst for Politicians, Democracy
Service, August 20, 2003
275 9th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
By Pueng Vongs, Pacific News Service
Editor’s Note: Gov. Gray Davis’ promise to approve legal rights for
same-sex couples in California is part of a worldwide movement by politicians
and governments hoping to gain political and economic ground via a push for
California Gov. Gray Davis, in a surprise move, recently promised to
approve greater legal rights for same-sex couples. While it is too soon to
tell how this bold action will affect Davis’ chances in the recall election,
governments and politicians around the world are finding it to their advantage
to champion lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.
Leaders of formerly totalitarian central and Eastern European regimes are
striking down discriminatory laws against minorities and gays. In most cases,
these countries must get rid of anti-sodomy and other persecutory laws in
order to qualify for and enjoy the economic and political benefits of
membership in the European Union.
Croatia and Slovenia are taking matters a step further and creating laws
that guarantee rights for same-sex couples. On July 25 the Croatian government
became the latest country to offer legal and economic rights for homosexual
couples on a national level.
In Romania, however, politicians still have a hard time going public with
their support for gay rights. With its application into the European Union
pending, Romania repealed an anti-sodomy law it enforced until a year ago, but
that’s as far as it’s willing to go.
“Every time an election came around, the issue of repealing the sodomy
law was postponed,” says Sara Moore, program associate for Eastern
Europe/Central Asia at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights
Commission in San Francisco. “In the West, LGBT rights can be debated
openly. In many other countries, a liberal candidate will be more discreet in
their handling of their openness to LGBT issues and is more likely to sneak it
In Brazil, on the other hand, defending gay rights has become part of a
larger movement to strengthen democracy and expand the rights of people of
color and of mixed-race citizens. The government has long confronted
prejudices in the multiracial and predominantly Catholic society, calling on
constituencies like women and homosexuals to project strong voices on
controversial issues such as AIDS. The Brazilian government is leading the
charge in an extensive HIV-prevention campaign that uses openly gay
spokespersons. Brazilians have elected transgender governors, mayors and
In Mexico, Patria Jimenez, the first openly homosexual member of Mexico’s
legislature, campaigned on a platform of greater HIV prevention and LGBT and
human rights when she won office in 1997. Her victory marked a turning point
for Mexico—it weakened the stronghold of the ruling conservative National
Action Party and firmly placed the left-leaning Party of the Democratic
Revolution,s agenda on the map. She and her party have pushed for AIDS
prevention legislation previously stymied by the pervasive Catholic Church
influence in government.
Indeed, in Mexico, LGBT rights quickly became integral to a much larger
movement against authoritarian rule. Today, a handful of openly gay members
serve in the Mexican congress or are mayors or governors of Mexican states.
Little is made of their sexual orientation, and they are seen mostly as
liberal symbols of democracy.
Last April, Mexico also became just the second Latin American country in
addition to Ecuador to pass a national anti-discrimination law protecting
sexual orientation. Today, single men are allowed to adopt children. The law
is not portrayed as a way to further the rights of gay men, but rather as a
way for children to have the fundamental right to a family.
Traditionally conservative Singapore, too, is making a complete about-face.
In June, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong gave the nod for gays to serve in
government positions. Not too long ago, LGBTs were regularly rounded up in gay
bar raids and their names and faces were published in the local newspaper to
incur public humiliation. Today, the country’s growing gay-friendly tourist
industry is reaping substantial returns and the government hopes to attract
more gay foreign business people as well as those who left for freedoms of the
West to boost the country’s lagging economy.
It is still unclear how Singapore will reconcile its newfound acceptance of
LGBTs with decades of censorship and discriminatory practices. Gay rights
activists are also quick to point out that there is still an anti-sodomy law
on the books that could be enforced at any time, especially if gays were to
become overtly political.
Still, in their effort to obtain greater economic and political gains,
politicians in many countries are finding that pushing for gay rights can be a
valuable, albeit self-serving, tool.
- PNS contributor Pueng Vongs (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is the editor of ncmonline.com, an
association of over 600 ethnic media organizations founded in 1996 by
Pacific News Services and members of ethnic media.