“First world problems.” It’s our modern day punch-line for when people complain about ‘problems’ less privileged populations might consider a joy to have.
Last week, the World Affairs Council held a conversation for the people who aren’t looking for a quick quips to end the discussion. They focused on the LGBTQ perspective in human rights. Jessica Stern, Program Director of the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and Dr. Kapya Kaoma, Project Director at Political Research Associates. Charlene Strong, who serves as a Washington State Human Rights Commissioner (and is Co-Editor of The Seattle Lesbian) was a moderator.
Gay Rights are Human Rights recognized some recent achievements (and pointed out that some countries are ahead of us in policy measures), but then moved to the cold reality that in many countries, LGBTQ populations –in addition to not having many of our basic privileges of food, security, and education– are unhappily married, beaten, raped or, in some horrible, but real cases- all of that- then killed, because of their sexuality.
Further, these transgressions are minimized because other needs may seem to have a bigger priority. They may not even be counted as an LGBTQ abuse. If you don’t see the problem, you can’t solve it.
So what can you do?
1. Recognize that LGBTQ rights are human rights. Dr. Kaoma put it: “Some say you should solve poverty, or war first but I say: As long as you are oppressed, you want your rights NOW. You don’t want to wait for those things to be fixed first… We should be thinking of our [LGBTQ] brothers and sisters outside of our country. They may not have a voice; so we have to be a voice for them.”
2. Consider your global position and power. It’s easy to forget how much power and ability we hold (and I can say ‘we’ because if you’re reading this you are both literate and have an internet connection – fantastic tools!) Before you can engage in a meaningful discussion about what is possible for other groups, consider the position and privilege you have in the world.
3. Tell your Representatives to Hold the U.S. Federal Government Accountable in Foreign Policy. In December, Obama released a memo on incorporating LGBT Rights in foreign policy. Although, we have the most supportive administration in history, we need to do more to hold our government accountable. For example, Malawi criminalized Lesbian Relationships and the US still gave the country foreign aid. If this LGBTQ issue were recognized as a human rights issue, conditions could be made on the aid. Dr. Kaoma said a line that should become a mantra in every diplomatic meeting: ”We need to say what is good for America is good for the world; and what is good for the world is good for America.“
4. Tell your Representatives to Hold the Federal Government Accountable in Domestic Policies: In the domestic arena, this conversation should not be left to state rights. If it is a human right issue- you should fight for it to become a federal issue. In other words, for all of us who are putting energy into Washington United for Marriage: after November, the fight isn’t over.
5. “Share Your values. Think about Africa.” This was one of the more provocative thoughts of the evening for me. Dr. Kapya Kaoma pierced right through my usual excuses on this matter: “You say: I don’t want to go to Africa and have people think I am a colonialist or an imperialist. But while you ignore Africa, conservatives are not. They are spreading lies that later you will have to fight against in the UN later. The conservatives have relationships with Africa – progressives don’t. Nearly every country in Africa has a conservative school/university. There are not progressive schools. They make 24-hour TV stations. The lies are all the time.“
6. Build and strengthen the connections in the LGBTQ community. “Gay people have opinions on lesbians. Lesbians have opinions on gay men. Everyone has opinions on bisexuals. And Transgendered people are just pushed to the side.” Charlene Strong said, and received an applause of recognition. When we create a hierarchy in the LGBTQ community we are justifying a mindset that there can be a hierarchy in the broader community. It’s a cliché, but if we want to create a culture with equality, we should start practicing with those closest to us.
7. Work on your connections with other organizations. “One of the most important things to be mindful of: all human rights activists at the local level are the best experts of their communities. Consult with them. Work in solidarity with them. If I am not working with the people on the frontlines, then I am not getting the best information.” Jessica Stern. Many human rights issues overlap, and have complicated origins and solutions. We are strengthened when we recognize connections and work with others.
8. Make the effort to reach outside of your normal borders – whether it is in our city, state, region or country. Make this the year you connect with someone across a border.
9. Continue the conversation. The World Affairs Council intends to continue the series. Out for Sustainability will also be hosting conversations as part of our Sustainability and Society Series (SaSS). If you are interested in joining us please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
10. If you have additional ideas (or questions), share them in the comments below.