The International Fight for Gay Rights

On May 17 the world--largely without the United States--commemorates the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Support of IDAHO comes from activists eager to have gay rights recognized and respected, but also from high-profile personalities. A 2006 petition that the IDAHO committee launched for universal decriminalization of homosexuality was signed by Nobel Prize winners Bishop Desmond Tutu, Dario Fo, José Saramago, Amartya Sen and Elfriede Jelinek; entertainers like Meryl Streep, Elton John, David Bowie and Victoria Abril; and many intellectuals, including Judith Butler, George Chauncey, Bernard-Henri Lévy and Taslima Nasreen.

“We were fortunate enough,” adds Tin, “to find support in the French government, though it is rather conservative. Rama Yade, former French secretary of state for human rights, supported our campaign and brought the text to the U.N. General Assembly in December 2008, which became a statement on sexual orientation and gender identity.” Sixty-six out of 192 U.N. member countries ultimately signed the declaration, a landmark in LGBT history.

Despite progress in combating homophobia, there is still plenty of work to be done. Decriminalizing homosexuality is a crucial step but not enough in itself. Indeed, activists maintain that the weakest link may be the lack of education about sexual rights, as well as religious bias.

“That’s why we are asking religious leaders not to approve of homosexuality but to disapprove of homophobia,” says Tin, referring to the campaign’s current theme: “Religions, Homophobia, Transphobia.” “We don’t want to discuss theology, which is not our concern, but we are asking theologians to discuss human rights, which is a concern for all.”

There is little chance that the Vatican will hear the message. In response to the pedophilia scandal within the Catholic Church, top cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said in April, “Many psychologists and psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relation between celibacy and pedophilia. But many others have demonstrated, I have been told recently, that there is a relation between homosexuality and pedophilia. That is true. … That is the problem.”

If Tin expresses no surprise at the statement, referring to it as “an ordinary device of homophobic rhetoric,” he sees reasons for hope. “In the whole world, people said how shocked they were. The French ministry of foreign affairs clearly criticized the Vatican for this declaration. A few years ago, who would have been shocked, apart from a few militants? Now such a declaration creates an international scandal. For homophobic people, this is bad news!”

Habibou Bangré is a writer living in France.

Become a fan of The Root on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.