It is a violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave. It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay, or allow those who harm gay people to go unpunished.
–U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, United Nations International Human Rights Day, 6 December 2011, Geneva, Switzerland.
There are moments in history when conditions come together to create the impetus for great social change. Many historians and activists place the beginning of the modern movement for LGBTQ equality at the Stonewall Inn, a small bar frequented by trans people, lesbians, bisexuals, gay men, students, and others of all races in New York City’s Greenwich Village.
At approximately 1:20 a.m. on June 28, 1969, New York City Police officers conducted a routine raid on the bar on the charge that the owners had been selling alcohol without a license. Feeling they had been harassed far too long, people challenged police officers with varying intensity over the next five nights by flinging bottles, rocks, bricks, trash cans, and parking meters used at battering rams.
Even before these historic events, an action preceded Stonewall by nearly three years, and should more likely be considered as the founding event for the modern LGBTQ movement. In August 1966, at Gene Compton’s Cafeteria, in the Tenderloin District in San Francisco, trans people and gay sex workers joined in fighting police harassment and oppression.
Police, conducting one of their numerous raids, entered Compton’s and began physically harassing the clientele. This time, however, people fought back by hurling coffee at the officers and heaving cups, dishes, and trays around the cafeteria. Police retreated outside as customers smashed windows. Over the course of the next night, people gathered to picket the cafeteria, which refused to allow trans people back inside.
Out of the ashes of Compton’s Cafeteria and the Stonewall Inn, people, primarily young, formed a number of militant groups. One of the first was the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). GLF was not a formalized organization per se, but rather a series of small groups across the U.S. and other countries. GLF meetings took place in people’s living rooms, basements in houses of worship, and storefronts. Members insisted on the freedom to explore new ways of living as part of a radical project of social transformation.
Today throughout the world, in large cities and small towns alike, we set aside the month of June to commemorate the historic rebellion at the Stonewall Inn, with demonstrations of pride, joy, and solidarity. Revelers march down boulevards in brightly-colored outfits of all stripes and shades announcing their entry, their solidarity, their feisty outrage, and yes, their pride.
As amazing and inspiring as our march toward equality has come over the years relative to where we began, this march still has miles and miles to go and it has not extended universally.
In real estate, three major priorities for people with the means and freedoms of choice are 1) location, 2) location, and 3) location. In terms of social identities and forms of oppression, geographic location and the “location” (intersection) of our identities and forms of oppression largely impact our lives individually and collectively.
Customs, values, mores, laws, policies, court decisions, and other factors vary by country and even by region within the same country. In some countries, people have fought long and difficult battles to win the right to marry, to have employment security, to live where they choose and can afford, to inherit property, to visit a partner in the hospital, to serve openly in the military, to conceive, adopt, and raise children, to walk down the street in safety, to have support on anti-bullying efforts in schools and in the workplace, and other benefits that many heterosexual and cisgender people routinely take for granted.
A nativist, nationalist, xenophobic, right-wing political tide has grown throughout Europe and the United States founded on the principle to “protect” borders in keeping out the “other” by separating from former alliances and by building walls, both figuratively and literally. In addition, repressive regimes around the world currently and throughout history have scapegoated, oppressed, and murdered the “other,” including LGBTQ people.
In Eastern Europe, elected officials in the Russian Federation, as well as in several areas of the Ukraine, Lithuania, Moldova, and Hungary have either passed or have attempted to shepherd through the legislative pipelines several bills (so-called “Anti-Gay Propaganda” laws) that further restrict human rights of LGBTQ people and ban informational efforts to educate and raise LGBTQ visibility and awareness.
While the Russian Federation decriminalized same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults in private in 1993, same-sex couples and households are not accorded the rights and benefits given to heterosexual couples, and no anti-discrimination laws currently protect individuals based on sexual identity and gender identity and expression.
Reports have surfaced of detention camps in the Republic of Chechnya holding men accused of being gay where they are beaten and tortured with electric shocks. Some of the men died of the injuries inflicted upon them.
Homosexuality is still punishable by death in at least 12 countries. Since the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979, for example, which replaced the Shah with an orthodox Shiite theocracy, many segments of the population have experienced repression under Iranian Sharia law — of the many segments, in particular, include Iran’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans (LGBT) inhabitants. The Iranian regime has executed an estimated 4000 to 6000 primarily men accused of engaging in same-sex sexuality.
Nigerian federal law mandates imprisonment for men convicted of the “felony” of homosexuality, and some Nigerian states have imposed the death penalty by stoning. The government also declared it illegal for homosexuals to hold meetings or form clubs or organizations.
Trans people have exposed the truth regarding this fabrication we call “gender roles” and the rigidity of gender identity as social constructions, which societies ascribe to individuals as it assigns us a sex at birth. With the label “female” assigned at birth, most societies force us to follow its “feminine script,” and with “male” assigned at birth, we are handed our “masculine” script to act out.
Members of trans communities often suffer the same consequences other truth-tellers face. Nearly every two days, a person is killed somewhere in the world for expressing gender nonconformity. The clear majority of murders are of trans women of color.
Murderers of trans people react in extreme and fanatical ways at the direction of the larger coercive societal battalions bent on destroying all signs of gender transgression in young and old alike in the maintenance of these gender scripts.
We must not and cannot dismiss the murders of trans people as only the actions of a few disturbed and sadistic individuals, for oppression exists on multiple levels in multiple forms. The killers live in societies that subtly and not-so-subtly promote intolerance, spreads stereotypes, imposes stigmata, and perpetuates violence and the threat of violence. These incidents of murder must be understood as symptoms of larger systemic national norms.
During her speech at the United Nation, Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton committed herself to and spoke for people of good will everywhere when she said: “To LGBT men and women worldwide: Wherever you live and whatever your circumstances…please know that you are not alone.”
It is up to all of us to make her promise a reality by taking to heart what the truism advises, “Think globally, and act locally.” I would add that we must act globally as well.