By Andrew Douglas
In just over four decades the gay rights movement has become a global phenomenon. Initially, the gay rights movement as it is known today began at the end of the 1960s in countries such as Great Britain and the U.S. It grew out of a context of social protest where other minorities were organising to affirm their basic human rights.
This is a summary of contemporary gay rights movements throughout the world. As well as a brief history of how it has developed into a global movement. It covers the evolution of this movement over the past few decades and explains how it has developed more quickly and effectively in some nations and not others. More specifically, it looks at the disparity of gay rights between the developed and ‘developing’ nations. Basically, it explains why such rights have come to the fore in modern, western countries while comparatively little has been achieved in the poorer less industrialised nations of the world.
Apart from the modern, developed nations of Europe, the U.S. and Australia, it includes similar movements in Asian and African nations and cites the contemporary situation in nations as diverse as China and Cuba.
While providing an overview of these contemporary movements, the value of this brief study is to explain the significant differences between the movements of the ‘developed’ world and less developed countries. It is no accident that such movements are the strongest and most visible in the counties of North America, Europe and Australia.
Activists of modern western nations presume that these movements can evolve along the same patterns in all nations simply by political pressure on the international scale. However, this assumes that these nations already have the institutions that can lead to such mass movements.
Gay activists can organise and flourish only under certain conditions; these include an effective social security system, the rule of law where the judiciary is independent of direct government influence, a population that is enfranchised not only by the right to vote but also by things such as access to education, particularly tertiary education and secular society where church and state are separate.
Internationally, this is a reflection of the class system within our society, specifically how people from higher income groups are able through connections, education and professional qualifications to access better opportunities than those from low-income groups. Inevitably, the more affluent have better life choices, and at least more economic freedom.
It follows from a global perspective that those nations where the majority enjoys a comparatively higher living standard than those of poorer nations will have access to greater resources.
The authors, Dennis Altman and Jonathan Symons, point out that societies where most individuals are dependent on the kinship networks of the extended family, it is difficult for mass gay movements to flourish. These cultures tend to support traditional gender roles and conventional family structures. Therefore, it is naive to presume that any potential movement will develop along the same lines as in countries such as the US or Australia.
Consequently, such movements will tend to develop according the social structures of a particular country. The role the international community can play is to foster the development of structures within these nations and cultures.
The last chapter examines what can be done to counter the frequent violations of human rights based on sexual orientation.
Too often activists from more affluent nations presume that effective action against homophobic regimes is to apply ‘political’ pressure or displays of indignant outrage. The authors show that this is rather simplistic and even counter productive. For example, dictators and weak governments will scapegoat gays for their own political purposes – often to distract their public from the more unsavoury aspects of their regimes. Specifically, the authors cite how the issue of marriage equality was used as a trigger for anti-gay legislation in countries such as Uganda and Nigeria.
It highlights that activists in wealthy nations should not just ‘jump on the bad wagon’ when protesting gay rights violations. Automatic condemnation is simply not enough to assist those in sexually repressive regimes. For any significant positive change to occur, there needs to be effective dialogue between the leaders of gay rights groups across nations.
This is a valuable work in that it tries to clarify the international situation regarding gay rights and to look at potential ways of building coalitions internationally to support gay activists in less developed countries.
This is a concise study of the state of gay rights internationally and likely future trends.