Obama honors International Day Against Homophobia in the wake of anti-LGBT threats and violence
On the eve of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, President Obama observed the now decade-old commemoration with statements of support for the LGBT community at home and abroad.
Vowing to “keep fighting…until we are able to live free and equal in dignity and rights,” Obama’s comments come on the heels of controversial words from Gambia’s President, Yahya Jammeh who threatened to ‘slit the throats’ of anyone who committed homosexual acts of any sort in the small West African nation.
However, this was not the first time Gambian President mentioned killing citizens based on sexual orientation. “Homosexuality will not be tolerated in this country,” said Jammeh at a political rally in 2008. He continued by promising stricter laws, saying he would “cut off the head,” of any gay person found in Gambia.
The threats of harsher governmental oversight turned to reality in August of 2014, when Gambia passed a bill sentencing life imprisonment for homosexual acts. The continued threats to members of the LGBT community made by Jammeh come somewhat unsurprisingly as they come from the same man that said, “we will fight these vermin called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitos, if not more aggressively.”
Jammeh’s anti-gay comments were met by outcries from officials across the globe, including US National Security Advisor, Susan Rice.
“We condemn his comments, and note these threats come amid an alarming deterioration of the broader human rights situation in Gambia,” said Rice in a statement sent out over the weekend. She explained further action beyond that of ending trade preferences with Gambia, which was taken last year, is now being reviewed in order to “respond to the worsening situation.”
However, Rice concluded by urging the Gambian government, and encouraging all governments, to “promote respect for the universal rights and fundamental freedoms of all people.”
While Obama did not specifically address the intensifying situation in Africa, he echoed Rice in “underscore(ing) that all people deserve to live free from fear, violence, and discrimination, regardless of who they are or whom they love.”
The founders of the annual landmark chose May 17th as the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia because it memorializes the day the World Health Organization declassified homosexuality as a mental illness in 1990.
Prior to this change, members of the LGBT community were widely socially unaccepted and often times subjected to intensive “treatments” for their disorder such as conversation therapy.
The international attitude towards homosexuality did not immediately turn with the changing of its medical definition. Homophobia is still an ever-present issue recognized globally.
This discriminatory attitude of many citizens and leaders alike is made palpable by the increasing number of hate crimes still committed against members of the LGBT community each year. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) released a letter in March of this year referring to the growing acts of violence against LGBTQ members, specifically against transgender women of color, as an “epidemic of violence,” and a “moment of crisis,” within the community.
Just two months after the turn of the New Year, 15 LGBTQ homicides had already been committed. Furthermore, NCAVP’s Hate Violence Report showed almost 90% of the homicide victims to be people of color, and almost 75% were transgender women.
However, many steps have been taken to combat this issue.
During the course of the Obama administration alone, two global funding partnerships – the Global Equality Fund and the LGBT Global Development Partnership – have provided millions of dollars in assistance for LGBT activists and organizations, according to a fact sheet released from the White House by the Office of the Press Secretary.
The list went on to mention many achievements made for the LGBTQ community in the past seven years, marking June 2014 as the time in which the White House hosted the first-ever Global LGBT Human Rights Forum, “which brought together the faith community, private sector, philanthropy, HIV and other health advocates, LGBT activists from around the world, and the broader human rights community to discuss how to work together with the U.S. government and others to promote respect for the human rights of LGBT individuals around the world.”
Obama concluded his statement Saturday saying, “there is much more to do, and this fight for equality will not be won in a day,” emphasizing that this issue transcends the day nationally appointed to recognize it.
“Staying silent for these acts and maintaining the status quo is not an option,” said the President of The Human Rights Campaign, Chad Griffin, on the issue of violent crimes based on sexual orientation.
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