Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Reality of GLBT Genocide


This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.

I don’t know about the rest of the world, but in the UK the 27th of January was National Holocaust Memorial Day. A day to remember, think about and discuss that terrible atrocity, the victims and other genocides since then. In particular it’s a day to acknowledge what has happened without hiding and a day to realise that persecution and hatred are ongoing problems (problems? I feel there needs to be a word beyond problems. Problems seems so inadequate when dealing with such enormity)

And these issues are certainly issues, thoughts and conversations that concern GBLT people

I’m surprised to this day at the number of people even today who do not realise that GBLT people were victims of the Nazi holocaust. I’ve actually had angry people chide me for demeaning the severity of this genocide by mentioning GBLT victims, or even that GBLT people were appropriating this horrific atrocity. They didn’t know their history, they didn’t know where the pink triangle came from, they didn’t know the story of GBLT people in the concentration camps.

Of course, it shouldn’t be surprising I guess. When the camps were liberated, in a moment of what I want to call irony (though the word seems far too mild), several gay prisoners were re-arrested –because, of course, all of the liberating powers considered it a crime to be gay. Naturally, the pensions and reparations available to holocaust victims were not available to GBLT victims. Being gay remained in a crime in Germany until 1969. Some, many, holocaust memorials and museums do not include the gay victims.

It wasn’t until 2002 that Germany acknowledged that GBLT people had been victims of the holocaust. It was 2005 before the European Parliament acknowledged that, yes, gay people had been holocaust victims.

That’s an awfully long gap.

But the point of National Holocaust Memorial day isn’t just to recognise past genocides, but also to recognise the seeds we are sewing today, seeds of hatred, of persecution –  and, yes, future genocide. And that is something we definitely need to think about – and definitely something with vital GBLT issues.

We need to talk about genocide.

Now, normally when I mention genocide when talking of the persecution of GBLT people I usually get a bunch of cis, straight people jumping in to chide me on my over-dramatic or disrespectful language. My hyperbole. My ridiculously emotive and inaccurate word choice. Tut-tut, genocide, really, I'm going to go there? I'm going to use the big bad g word? How could I?

Well, y'know what, I want to ask why the rest of the world ISN'T using this word?

Think about it. If we said a country was enacting a law where if you belonged to a certain religion/ethnicity/culture/people/nation/etc then you would be hanged – what would you call that? If they could prove your existence they killed you and the only way to avoid death is to hide the fact you belong to said group? Where people who sheltered you, or hid you or failed to report your presence would face death or imprisonment?

Because that sounds AWFULLY like genocide to me. I don't think we'd hesitate to call it that, not for one damn second. It's almost text book genocide, in fact. But yet again, here we are, denying GBLT genocide, hiding GBLT genocide, downplaying GBLT genocide. Will it be another 57 years before we acknowledge what is happening now?

Let's be completely clear here. There are countries that currently OFFICIALLY and legally (and I'm going to return to this) kill people for being gay.

Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, Mauritania, Yemen, UAE parts of Nigeria and parts of Somalia all have the death penalty for homosexuality.

In these nations this genocide is happening, legally sanctioned, officially supported. 

But let's not limit ourselves to a definition of genocide that is way more restricted than is internationally recognised. After all, if you said “no I'm not going to kill all of X religion/ethnicity/culture/nation/etc etc I'm just going to put them in prison for the rest of their lives” then that? That is also genocide.

In fact, let's lay out right now what is the universal definition of genocide here – the UN legal definition of this most heinous of crimes – is doing any of the following with the aim to destroy the group in question:

  • Killing members of the group;   
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;  
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;  
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
So, long prison sentences, repeated prison sentences (after all, imprisoning someone for 3 years, letting them out and then re-arresting them because *gasp* THEY'RE STILL GBLT is not exactly different from throwing them in prison for 25 years or more. And even if change were an option, I'm sure if we said we were locking up all of X religion until they converted? Yeah, we'd also call that genocide). 

This is all covered under b) and c) up there. To imprison a group for existing, to imprison that group until they “convert” (especially when such conversion is impossible), to imprison that group over and over because they won't/can't change is a method of destroying them. It is, again, genocide. By both legal definition and freaking common sense (seriously, if someone said to you “it's not genocide, because we're not killing every member of that group, just locking them up for life,” what would you say to them?)

So now we look at nations that make it illegal to BE GBLT people? Well, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association – that would be 79 Out of 242 countries in the world, 79 of them have laws on the books making my existence a crime, the vast majority of which punish being GBLT with imprisonment – or worse.

Or, in other words, that's 79 nations committing genocide against GBLT people.

But I'm not going to stop there either. Because you see there’s also a whole lot of the world that DOESN'T make being GBLT a crime on the books. Officially. However, if you are raped, tortured, murdered for being GBLT, if a gang will mob you if your GBLT-ness is ever discovered and the authorities will not only not give a damn, but are also highly likely to be involved? Guess what? That's genocide too!

Yes, allowing a group within your borders to be persecuted to the point of destruction, in any of the methods mentioned above, and you do sod all to stop it – or worse, tacitly or overtly support said persecution – then yes, that is GENOCIDE. And again, this isn't just legally the case, common sense says this is the case (and I say this, as a lawyer, knowing that law and common sense aren't always on speaking terms). We KNOW that if we say “sure it's fine to be of X religion/ethnicity/culture/people/nation” but then lets raving mobs grab these people, kill them in the street and does absolutely nothing about it – or encourages it – we KNOW that's genocide. Common sense would laugh – if it weren't crying – if we claimed otherwise.

And how many nations and regions do this? Have no official laws against GBLT people but actually being openly GBLT is a thing of supreme courage due to the extreme risk and the complete lack of any kind of support or protection? I can't even begin to list the places. I think it’d actually be quicker and easier to list places that don’t’ do this. And yes, it's genocide.

So why isn't it legally listed as such? Well let me quote the bit that goes before that list above:

...any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

Oh look, human rights rules with a great big GBLT shaped hole in them. Like we haven't seen THAT before. Basically it comes down to a whole lot of privileged cis, straight people not giving a damn whether we live or die and none of them caring enough to try and change it. In a similar way to post-Nazi Germany still having sodomy laws on the books even after the camps were clear and thus refusing to acknowledge that GBLT people were victims. We’re working with flawed, empty, prejudiced laws and definitions.

And, frankly, I'm not going to let that great big heterosexist, cisexist, privileged cluelessness deny that slaughtering us en mass is somehow NOT genocide. Because I value my life and I value GBLT people higher than that. To refuse to call this genocide when we would call it genocide if the victims were different is to devalue GBLT lives, to dismiss homophobic and transphobic persecution and generally earn a whole lot of side-eye. This is genocide. Genocide. Killing GBLT people, persecuting GBLT people to the point where their lives are unliveable, and generally trying to destroy GBLT people? That is genocide, and the fact that a load of straight, cis people are so dissmissive of GBLT people’s existence that we're excluded from one of the designated groups doesn't change that.

So, you know what? Screw this “hyperbole” crap. I am calling a spade a bloody shovel. When people are trying to outright destroy GBLT people, whether by literally killing us, forcing conditions on us that make our existence nigh impossible (and that includes imprisonment) or openly or tacitly supporting our destruction – THEN THAT IS GENOCIDE.

And I'm sick of tip-toeing around it. I'm sick of excusing it. I'm sick of enabling it. This is genocide – and while there is a big honking great hole in our human rights policies (written by lots of clueless, ignorant and prejudiced cis, straight people) – that doesn't change this. This is genocide. Call it what it is and stop excusing people who have blood on their hands up to the freaking elbow.