Ignoring Threats to the LGBT Community Around the World
I’m not normally one for getting high and mighty over things. I live the way I live and I don’t let what other people do impact my decisions. However, I’ve noticed a level of indifference lately about a particular issue that has really started to annoy me. It’s annoyed me because the indifference has radiated from people who really should know better, supposed experts who keep tabs on all things travel related. That’s why I’m forced to ask the question, why all the indifference towards protecting the safety and lives of the LGBT community?
I don’t want to whine, complain or be overly judgey. I’ve written about the very unique challenges the gay and lesbian community has when it comes to travel and I hope I’ve managed to educate a few people about the differences we face. I also understand and respect local laws and recognize that in many cases they are relics of a different era. Have I traveled in countries that criminalize being gay? Yup, sure have and I’m sure I will again. That’s because even though the local authorities recognize the laws are rubbish, there is significant difficulty in having them removed. Do I like it? No, would a straight person like it? But I deal and move on. No, this goes well beyond annoyances and antiquated laws, two recent world developments have moved into the realm of grotesquely ignorant and barbaric.
In 2009, following a revival led by radical American evangelists, a Member of the Ugandan Parliament introduced legislation to strengthen laws against homosexuality. It was already illegal in the country, but this moved the possible punishments from imprisonment to death for people who are considered serial offenders, are suspected of “aggravated homosexuality” or are HIV-positive. In essence, gay and lesbian Ugandans would be killed for living the way they were born. The bill didn’t stop there; it went on to introduce provisions that would allow the government to charge anyone with knowledge of gays and lesbians living in Uganda. The government, had this bill passed, would have authorized a regime of hate and terror.
Luckily, the international community noticed this attempt to introduce legalized genocide and denounced the measure and the President’s statement that he would sign the bill if it passed. Attempts were made to water down the language, but it still has not passed the parliament. The effects of this attempt though have been profound. The entire debate has inflamed anti-gay sentiments and hundreds have been ‘outed’ in national newspapers, prompting fears of safety and life. If you’re gay or lesbian in Uganda, it has not been a happy time. The government has made life for them not only frightening, but positively unbearable.
While I have seen outrage in popular culture, I’ve been generally shocked at the lack of concern in the travel industry. Even while the Ugandan government was trying to pass this bill I read of travelers ‘excited’ about visiting Uganda. I could not, and still can not, believe that there hasn’t been a generally accepted intolerance for this kind of behavior. People should be actively boycotting Uganda, not planning elaborate vacations there.
The critics will say that a boycott doesn’t harm the legislators, it harms the people. But that’s the point. By taking away tourist dollars and letting them know the reason for it, it won’t take long for tourism operators to start complaining to their elected representatives. The power of the purse is ultimately the final word in government, and once Uganda realizes that it could lose whatever meager entre into the world of tourism it has managed to secure, they will change their ways.
So where is the outrage? Where is the anger? Why do I feel like I’m screaming into a wind tunnel on this issue? I realize that part of it is because in general most people don’t care that much about the health and safety of the LGBT community. It sounds jaded to say that, but it’s true. The other part is ignorance, pure and simple. Most people do not perform due diligence before planning trips or writing about destinations from a sociopolitical point of view. They become consumed with the tourist aspect of the trip without realizing that travel is a form of political speech and it’s a big stick that should be wielded with prudence and sobriety.
St. Petersburg, Russia
The Uganda issue had died away, and so did my furor. So what reintroduced this nauseating feeling once again? It was reading some travel articles by popular authors about St. Petersburg, published after the city’s recent move to ban gay and lesbian ‘propaganda.’
The city passed a law that makes it illegal to disseminate LGBT information to minors, what many believe to be a purposefully vague law. Just what its application means, no one knows, but many in the St. Petersburg gay and lesbian community believe that it criminalizes being ‘out’ in public, for fear that a minor might see them. There have also been rumors that Russia may attempt to make this a national law, in which case we are likely to see widely disparate interpretations of the law, few of them good I fear.
And yet, the travel community is still in a land of rainbows and unicorns, sharing stories of the Hermitage and charming river cruises, without a thought or concern to the impending troubles gays and lesbians might have in the next few years.
Once again, I don’t think this is anything malicious, I just think it’s a massive level of ignorance and apathy that we just don’t see with any other minorities. Replace gay and lesbian with any other minority group in these laws and the worldwide backlash would be massive and immediate. But because it’s just us, those silly gays, who really cares, right? I mean, so we have to hide who we are, not a big deal, right?
Such is the world we live in I guess. Even though the LGBT community has seen massive strides in equality and justice in the past twenty years, it will take much, much longer to change people’s views and opinions about us as a people. Because that’s who we are, we’re people; just like you and the people you love.