Last edited: February 14, 2005

International Anti-Gay Violence on the Rise

Some Worry Hate Attacks Becoming an ‘Epidemic’

Washington Blade, July 30, 2004
1408 U Street, NW, 2nd Floor, Washington, DC 20009

By Bryan Anderton

While gay activists in the United States fight for the right to marry, one global gay rights group issued a reminder this week that in many countries, gay people are fighting just to be treated humanely.

There has been a recent rash of international anti-gay violence including incidents in Jamaica, India and Nepal, according to the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission. Officials from the group say the violence has increased as a result of more individuals and organizations lobbying for gay rights.

“Increasingly, gay people are unwilling to be the subject of abuse,” said IGLHRC Executive Director Paula Ettelbrick, adding that the violence in recent months is most likely a “backlash” resulting from gays becoming more vocal.

The organization cited a number of such incidents that have occurred in just the last two months.

In June, a 21-year-old male-to-female transsexual in India was arrested and reportedly tortured by police officers after reporting to police that she had been raped by several men. That same month, protesters broke windows and ripped down posters at several Indian movie theaters showing a lesbian-themed film.

Also in June, one of Jamaica’s most prominent gay rights activists, Brian Williamson, was found stabbed to death in his home. While the police declared that robbery was the official motive, many gay rights groups insist the killing was “hate-related” and are demanding that Prime Minister P.J. Patterson immediately repeal the island’s anti-gay laws.

Earlier this month, a number of gay men and cross dressers reported being harassed and beaten by police officers in the streets of Nepal. When a local gay rights organization staged a peaceful demonstration to protest the abuse, police officers reportedly began beating protesters to disperse the crowd.

Worldwide violence against gays is the subject of a new book, “Sex, Love & Homophobia,” released earlier this month by the human rights group Amnesty International.

“Lesbian and gay people who form or join organizations, be they political or social, are being violently persecuted in many parts of the world where before they might have been unnoticed,” Vanessa Baird, the book’s author, told Reuters earlier this month, calling the recent rise in anti-gay violence an “epidemic.”

Repeated calls to Amnesty International, as well as to Human Rights Watch, were not returned by press time.

Homosexuality punishable by death

More than 70 countries currently have laws that criminalize sex between members of the same gender, including some who are close allies of the United States, according to the IGLHRC.

In several countries—including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Mauritania, Sudan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and parts of Nigeria—homosexuality is punishable by death. In many others, sodomy can result in prison sentences.

But Ettelbrick said that an entire country cannot be labeled “homophobic” because it has anti-sodomy laws, which were still on the books in some U.S. states until the Supreme Court struck them down last year.

Ettelbrick also noted that some countries without specific anti-sodomy laws still target gay sex. In Egypt, a group of gay men who became known as the “Cairo 52” were arrested in 2001 during a police raid on a party boat in Cairo. They were not charged with sodomy, but instead were charged with “debauchery.”

“I think what drives the harassment isn’t just a specific law,” Ettelbrick said. “It’s that the law in general can be used and manipulated so easily to target gay and lesbian people.”

Despite the setbacks, the push for global gay rights is an important endeavor that is seeing slow but significant progress, Ettelbrick said.

“Right now, I think it’s a mixed bag,” Ettelbrick said. “The other side to all of this is that there’s actually a growing movement and a growing reality of successful policy results.

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