Two Voices: Have gay rights gone backwards?

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Two Voices: Have gay rights gone backwards?

Two Voices
Two Voices

Q: In the week following Pride, is Elton John right to suggest that gay rights have gone backwards?

Surat Shaan Rathberger Knan
Surat Shaan Rathgeber Knan
  • Surat Shaan Rathgeber Knan says:

The simple answer is yes and no. Reports around the 12th International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in May highlighted the fact that homosexuality is still criminalised in 82 countries. While global attention has been focused on Africa and Russia, severe violations against LGBT human rights in Asian countries came to light.

Activists discovered that government and religion are on the whole the largest perpetrators of anti-gay perceptions, but in some Asian countries family members were the primary perpetrators of high levels of violence. Such results show clearly there is still work to be done, worldwide.

On the other hand, we need to acknowledge the remarkable progress made especially in the past two years in Israel, Britain and other western countries.

While there are many more causes for celebration, many British LGBT Jews even today still struggle for acceptance within Jewish communities and in themselves. This is especially true outside the more progressive community life, where LGBT people from more traditional backgrounds have struggled for acceptance.

Indeed, as Russell Vandyk, one of our early Jewish gay-rights pioneers, stated in his oral history interview with Rainbow Jews: “We need to be on guard, because at any time the wheel could turn.”

• Surat Shaan Rathgeber Knan is Rainbow Jews project manager

  • Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah
Rabbi Ellie Tikvah Sarah
Rabbi Ellie Tikvah Sarah

Over the past 50 years, the lives of LGBT people have changed beyond recognition, in particular in Britain, northern Europe, the United States and Israel, where struggles for liberation are achieving equality before the law and the transformation of social attitudes.

The rash of anti-gay legislation and persecution in Russia and African, Arab and Asian nations in the past 18 months is appalling. But it would be misleading to conclude LGBT rights have gone backwards globally and these regimes are more homophobic and transphobic than before.

There is no doubt we are witnessing a reaction against the rising tide of LGBT rights elsewhere. States rooted in the oppression of women and the repression of sexual and gender minorities are fearful their own LGBT people, emboldened by these liberating developments, will start making demands in their own backyard.

Repressive measures, coupled with whipping up homophobia and transphobia in the general population, are meant to terrorise and silence LGBT people.

But persecution won’t succeed. Access to global media means LGBT people no longer believe they are sinful or sick. They have the support of a global LGBT community. The persecutors are on the wrong side of history.

• Elli Tikvah Sarah is rabbi of Brighton & Hove Progressive Synagogue and author of Trouble-Making Judaism

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