When summer comes around, we are fortunate to have a wide variety of LGBT Pride events to choose from. It’s always fun, and especially so in 2015, when the past year has brought so much good news on the political front. But that is not the case everywhere. Consider these examples:
In June, there was a major disturbance when police used pepper spray, water cannons and rubber bullets to disperse a crowd that had gathered for the annual Pride march in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city. That is a very troubling development, because it represents a step backward for a country that has been relatively tolerant on LGBT issues. Although Turkey is almost entirely Muslim, the government has been constitutionally secular since it was founded in 1923. Gay sex has always been legal, and while the law does not prohibit discrimination based upon sexual orientation, the country had been making genuine progress. Istanbul’s Pride event had been celebrated each year since 2003, and this year was the first time violence arose.
So, why the turnaround? Most observers believe the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is resorting to bully tactics (and allying himself with Islamist factions) in order to keep his own party in power. In addition to cracking down on minorities, he has been putting journalists in jail, which is never a good sign.
We know Jamaica for its beautiful white sand beaches and fizzy rum drinks, and many of us have had wonderful vacations there. But get outside the manicured resorts and it is a different story. The economy has been stagnant for years. The Afrocentric culture that inspired Bob Marley’s music includes a virulent strain of homophobia. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have consistently ranked Jamaica near the top in the incidence of anti-LGBT violence. One horrific example: in 2013, Dwayne Jones, a 16-year-old transgender female, was chased down a street and beaten to death after partying at a club in Montego Bay.
But even so, there are signs of hope. In the first week of August, the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG) will sponsor the country’s first organized Pride event, including parties, a symposium, trade show and sporting events. They will not host a parade; organizers do not think the country is ready for that yet.
In Ghana, like in most of West Africa, LGBT issues do not take center stage. The economy is the major issue; it tends to move up and down with the commodities markets (gold and petroleum, for example), and so the political leadership spends most of its energy focusing on jobs. There is little political will to take a stand on expanding LGBT rights. In 2011, the late president, John Atta Mills, put it simply: “Ghanaian societies frown on homosexuality.” Leaders rarely call attention to LGBT issues, and when they do, it is usually as a distraction or a political wedge.
On a personal level, the country is becoming more accepting. Clubs in the larger cities are seeing more and more LGBT people socializing openly. But it is not happening on any type of organized level, and Pride celebrations are not expected anytime soon. The risk of a social backlash is always there. As Nat Amartefio, a former mayor of the capital city of Accra put it, “Gay bashing has never been a feature of the Ghanaian social landscape until, I would say, the last 10 to 15 years. And it came with the evangelical Christians.”
Same-sex marriage is now a constitutional right for all Americans, correct? Maybe not. The United States has a little-known territory located in the middle of the South Pacific: American Samoa. It has a population of 55,000 people who are U.S. nationals, not U.S. citizens. Therefore, not all of the constitutional rights extended to U.S. citizens apply in American Samoa. The attorney general of American Samoa, Talauega Eleagalo Ale, is now “reviewing” the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision to determine whether or not it has effect.
In Samoa, LGBT issues may not seem like a pressing concern. The population is devoutly Christian, hierarchical and traditional. There has never been much of an LGBT constituency, and there are no Pride events. And yet, the economy is heavily subsidized with federal government money and more than one-third of the population is employed by the government. If our tax money goes there, it just seems like the same constitutional principles should go there as well. : :
— Charles Oldham is an attorney practicing in Charlotte and is the Treasurer of The Charlotte Business Guild. He enjoys traveling and watching the world go by at street level.