|PHOTO‚ÄąBY‚ÄąJANE PHILOMEN CLELAND
By Brendan Behan, Executive Director
Pride‚Äôs theme this year, ‚ÄúGlobal Equality,‚ÄĚ carries a timely and important message about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and our basic human rights. This year‚Äôs theme is a reminder that equality is a basic human right that every human being should enjoy. The reality, however, is that LGBT people across the globe continue to face attacks on our freedoms and our access to health care and life-saving drugs.
The oppression that LGBT people confront on a day-to-day basis is neither singular nor monolithic ‚Äď it varies from country to country, community to community. Statistics do not always capture the nuance, but they still tell an important part of the story:
There have been 816 reported cases of transgender murder around the globe since 2008, according to a report by Trans Murder Monitoring Project.
Same-sex acts are punishable by death in Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen, as well as in parts of Somalia and Nigeria
(ILGA 2012). Consensual sex between same-sex adults is illegal in roughly 70 countries. Only 14 countries protect the rights of LGBT people to adopt. Same-sex marriage is legal in just 11 countries and a handful of jurisdictions.
Like I mentioned, these statistics are helpful, but there is another equally important part of the story that simple statistics do not capture, and sometimes a number simply cannot express the underlying reality. Discrimination can manifest in the form of a doctor or healthcare provider that does not take the time to understand the health needs of LGBT patients or when hospitals provide substandard care or outright refuse care to LGBT patients. In places where one‚Äôs sexuality, gender identity, or gender expression are suspect or criminalized, LGBT people face significant hurdles trying to take the reigns of their own healthcare destiny and sometimes may not seek medical attention that they need for fear of judgment, rejection, persecution, or violations of their patient confidentiality. We are thirty-one years into the HIV/AIDS epidemic and LGBT people around the globe continue to suffer and die because they cannot access healthcare that embraces their whole being, including their specific needs as LGBT people. LGBT elders and youth, in particular, face unique challenges in accessing healthcare.
There is also a danger in talking about global equality. When the discussion veers into talk about how ‚Äúlucky‚ÄĚ we have it here in the U.S. or that places like the Bay Area feel like a ‚Äúbubble,‚ÄĚ we risk forgetting that not all LGBT people enjoy rights or face discrimination in the same way. Just this past April, a transgender woman by the name of Brandy was gunned down in Oakland in an incident that many believe was motivated by hate. So we should ask: a bubble for whom? It is not that we should avoid acknowledging privilege ‚Äď indeed, we need to do a better job of understanding privilege where it exists. The point, though, is that it‚Äôs too easy to set up simple one-to-one comparisons that hide the fact that we as LGBT people do not enjoy all rights equally amongst ourselves and that quite unfortunately discrimination on the basis of gender, sex, race, class, and physical ability create and reinforce inequalities within the LGBT community ‚Äď and that is a reality that is not unique to the United States, bubble or no bubble. Moreover, the United States has a long way to go in recognizing the full equality and dignity of LGBT people. In 29 states it is still legal to fire someone for being lesbian, gay, or bisexual, and firing someone for being transgender is legal in some 34 states. In other words, in half the union, being LGBT means you have no right to keep a job no matter how robust your qualifications.
My wish for our community this Pride is to take this chance to see ourselves as part of the global movement for LGBT rights, to move beyond oversimplifications of the Global North and the Global South and to recommit ourselves to appreciating that our experience of equality is unequal within our local communities and with our larger global community. Our Global Grand Marshal Bishop Christopher Senyonjo‚Äôs own work is a poignant demonstration of this fact. Bishop Senyonjo has been engaged in some incredibly important work on behalf of equality in Uganda, including fighting the much talked about Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Even as I write this, I see reports emerging now on the Internet of Uganda‚Äôs Ethics Minister ordering the breakup of a gay rights meeting in Kampala. Let us not kid ourselves: When we say ‚ÄúGlobal Equality‚ÄĚ this Pride, let us recognize that there is an implied urgency that we would do well to keep in mind.
Pride means everybody, equally. We all deserve to be embraced by our communities, which is why I want to say to my community‚ÄĒhere in the Bay Area and to all those joining us in San Francisco for Pride from around California, the U.S., and the globe‚ÄĒthat our movement is global. So let us come together and celebrate our diversity, appreciate our interconnectedness, and remember that ‚ÄúGlobal Equality‚ÄĚ is more than a theme. It is a call to action that extends well beyond Pride Week.
Brendan Behan is the Executive Director of San Francisco Pride.