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Today’s court ruling in India upheld a colonial-era law that criminalizes gay sex, arguing that it’s the job of the Indian parliament to change the law.
We take a look at India, but also where it fits into the larger picture of gay rights around the world.
Marianne Mollmann, director of programs at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss gay rights from India to Uganda.
On gay rights in Africa and Argentina
“What we are seeing in Africa, I think, is again, the political use of homophobia, of transphobia, to cover up unpopular policies. … I’ve heard this in so many countries, and not just in Africa. So for example, in Argentina I heard politicians talk about homosexual conspiracy to legalize abortion. So I think that sort of points to a mixed bag, or anything that has to do with sex is something that can be used in a political way. And from our perspective, being lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans, really doesn’t have to do with sex, it has to do with who you love and how you live your life. And that’s a right that’s common to everybody.”
On Pope Francis saying the church focuses too much on gay marriage
“I think it does have an impact. I think it’s important to remember that Pope Francis is obviously Catholic and cannot go against the Catholic dogma. But he is saying that there are other things that we need to look at more closely, like poverty is more important, dealing with development and poverty — that has given an opening to politicians and others to mobilize.”
On how the U.S. is doing on an international scale
“What we are seeing in the U.S. is a lot of movement … on the marriage equality issue. And that’s positive because there are so many families, so many gay and lesbian families with children, without children, that need the protection of the law of their family. And the way we have decided to deal with families is — in our society and many other societies — is that we protect the two-person family. However, I do think that that covers over a lot of persistent homophobia and transphobia and discomfort with persons who don’t feel they want to live in a two-person family that’s supported by the state, etc.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
This is HERE AND NOW and we've been looking at today's court ruling in India, which essentially criminalizes gay sex. We want to look at India in the context of what's going on in other parts of the world when it comes to gay rights with Marianne Mollmann, who is the director of programs at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. And Marianne, let's start with Russia. The Olympics are coming up. Some are boycotting those games because of the new anti-homosexuality law there.
Where does Russia rank on your list of countries when it comes to unfriendliness towards gays and lesbians?
MARIANNE MOLLMANN: I think what's interesting about Russia is that Russia doesn't actually criminalize same sex relations like so many other countries do and, like, this is the center of what's happening in India right now. So, how we look at what's happening in Russia right now is it's part of the clamp down on civil society more generally, laws about civil society organization having to register as foreign agents if they take any money from the outside. Which a lot of not for profit organizations do because they receive funding from richer countries.
So, I think the way we have to look at this is as part of the vilifying the LGBTI movement in a hope to conquer and divide the civil society movement and as part as this sort of larger crackdown.
HOBSON: But even in Russia, the public statements from President Putin are nothing like the kinds of things that you hear in Africa. And I want to go there next. There are 38 countries that still ban homosexuality in Africa. In Zimbabwe, we heard earlier this year from President Robert Mugabe at his inauguration speech about gay marriage. Let's listen.
PRESIDENT ROBERT MUGABE: We hope you damn as much as we damn the doctrine, belief that man and man can marry, woman and woman can marry. That destroys nations apart from it being a filthy, filthy disease.
HOBSON: And Marianne, that's not an uncommon view in Africa.
MOLLMANN: No, and it's certainly not an uncommon view expressed from Robert Mugabe. He's known for calling gays and lesbians worse than cats and dogs. But what we are seeing in Africa I think is, again, the political views of homophobia of transphobia to cover up unpopular policies. You know, Robert Mugabe picks this kind of speech up in particular election years, running up to an election. Other politicians do the same. I've heard this in so many countries and not just in Africa.
So, for example, in Argentina, I heard politicians talk about a homosexual conspiracy to legalize abortion. So, I think that that's what it points to a mixed bag of anything that has to do with sex as something that can be used in a political way. And from our perspective, you know, being lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, really doesn't have to do with sex. It has to do with who you love and how you live your life. And that's a right that's common to everybody. So it's sort of unfortunate that this got lumped together with anything that has to do with sex.
HOBSON: Well, and I'm glad you brought up Argentina because I want to ask you about what's happening there. There have actually been some improvements for gays and lesbians. Tell us about what's happening in Argentina and in South America.
MOLLMANN: So in South America, what we're seeing is a number of countries legalizing marriage equality and Argentina is on the forefront of that. There's also a - relatively for world standards - a progressive gender identity law. There are some problems with it, but I do want to say that this is probably the most progressive gender identity law in the world. And so, that sort of progressive policy and law coexists with a very high level of violence against people who do not conform to gender norm, so don't look like women and men are quote/unquote "supposed to look."
HOBSON: Argentina is one of the countries in the world is very catholic, uh, at least comparatively and I wonder what you think of the comments recently by Pope Francis. He said that the Catholic Church is obsessed with gays and abortion and seeming to take a bit of a softer stance than his predecessor. Has that had any impact on some of these catholic countries?
MOLLMANN: I think it does have an impact. I think it's important to remember that Pope Francis obviously is catholic and cannot go against the catholic dogma. But he is saying, you know, there are other things that we need to look at more closely, like, poverty is more important, dealing with development and poverty. That has given an opening to politicians and to others to mobilize.
HOBSON: We're speaking with Marianne Mollmann of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and you're listening to HERE AND NOW. And Marianne, where do you think it is hardest right now to be gay in the world?
MOLLMANN: You know, I think that's a very hard question to answer because for the young gay man who is thrown out of his home in New York City for being gay and who's living on the streets and I think we have to remember that LGBTI youth are overrepresented amongst homeless youth in the United States. For that person, it doesn't really matter that generally maybe in the United States we have better laws or better policies or a generally better situation than elsewhere.
That said, I can say that our regional coordinator for Latin American Caribbean recently has spent a lot of time in the Caribbean, most recently in Guyana where a workshop that she was holding for youth at risk and non-gender conforming youth was at risk of being shut down. In fact, they were excluded from the hotel that they had booked because the hotel manager was worried about what the youth would be wearing when they came.
HOBSON: But we should say that it can be a life and death issue in countries like Iran.
MOLLMANN: That's right and Iran is actually interesting because the Iranian authorities are dealing with LGBTI issues in a sort of what we would call a gender binary way. As long as you're willing to live as either a man or a woman, it's sort of acceptable to be trans. And that to me is sort of an indication of this obsession with everybody being either a man or a woman and there are specific ways that men and women dress, behave, love, live their lives. And as long as we're willing to go along with that gender binary, we are OK.
HOBSON: You bring up the case of a young person in New York being kicked out of their house and point taken. Of course, it does come down to the individual, but how would you say the U.S. is doing on an international scale on this issue?
MOLLMANN: Well, I think what we are seeing in the U.S. is a lot of movement - obviously as you know, Jeremy - on the marriage equality issue. And that's positive because there are so many families, so many gay and lesbian families with children, without children that need the protection of the law of their family. And the way that we've decided to deal with families is, you know, in our society and many other societies, that we protect the two-person family.
However, I do think that the covers over a lot persistent homophobia and transphobia and discomfort with persons who don't feel that they want to live in a two-person family that's supported by the state, et cetera. And I'm not talking about polygamy, people going to, you know, homosexuality leads to polygamy and leads to bestiality. I'm just talking about people who are not conforming to the gender roles that are assigned by the majority of society.
So I think that there are advances, but I think that those advances, again, are sort of along the lines that as long as we're part of, you know, what everybody thinks of as a traditional society, that's sort of acceptable.
HOBSON: Marianne Mollmann is direct of programs at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and of course, Marianne, there are a lot of other places that we could talk about we'll have to continue this discussion online at hereandnow.org and on a later date. But thank you so much for your time today.
MOLLMANN: Thank you for having me, Jeremy.
HOBSON: And you may have heard Marianne say LGBTI, that's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.