This article was published on June 17th, 2015
On June 6 in Vancouver B.C., over 100 volunteers, activists, community leaders, advocates, and LGBT participants took part in the inaugural STRUT event. Participants raised $45,000 and walked a mile in high heels to symbolizing that it’s easier to walk a mile in high heels than to spend a lifetime in the closet. It also represented the difficult journey that many LGBT refugees face on their journey to reach a safe home. The money raised through the event was for the Foundation of Hope, which supports LGBT refugees.
So why is this important and why hasn’t it been done before?
Canada is a leader on the world stage. Canada has a long history of LGBT rights and equality. Canada has also been welcoming new immigrants and refugees for decades.
More importantly, the Foundation of Hope wants the the LGBT community to look outward and begin to direct its resources to those beyond our shores. It’s not that there are no longer challenges in the Canada, but the progress over the past few decades have been astounding. Police protect the community, rather than attack it. In most places, we are free to marry the person we love. More and more of our youth are growing up proud of who they are. While there are still battles to be fought in our own backyard, it’s time to think more broadly and do what we can to help our struggling brothers and sisters abroad.
Circumstances have changed dramatically in some parts of the world. We are used to thinking of LGBT rights as progress, something societies are moving towards. It’s a way that we are taught to think but it’s a faulty assumption. The world is not a linear progression to some new Jerusalem, as much as many people would like to think. It is a constant battle to build and maintain a decent world in which we can all live. And in large parts of the world, the lives of LGBT peoples are deteriorating at a rapid pace.
Before the Stonewall riots, if you were a gay man or a transgendered woman, and you could pick anywhere in the world to live, you likely would’ve chosen the Middle East and North Africa. Surprised? The truth is that there was a general live and let live attitude towards male sexuality. For the most part, it was done in private, but in some cases it was out in the open. This all started to change in the last few decades, ironically around the same time as the beginning of the gay liberation movement in the North America. Now several thesis could be written to explain these changes. One reason was dictatorships. Most of these countries were run by dictators installed and supported by either the West or the Soviets and these dictators squashed any opposition and tried to control the hierarchy of religious institutions. As a result, people sought an outlet in one of the only ways possible – radical Islam – and this has led to increased intolerance. At the same time, the Saudi government used its oil wealth to push its extreme version of Islam. As well, decades of economic stagnation have resulted in an angry population – and it’s in those situations that minorities are vulnerable. And finally, the fall of secular dictatorships, starting with the American invasion of Iraq, or perhaps also going back to the fall of the Shah in Iran, has allowed for increased religious influence on government and LGBT peoples have become open game. Where in some places a gay man could have lived peacefully, he is now hunted down by militas.
Other places haven’t necessarily gone backwards but they haven’t progressed to meet the aspirations of their LGBT citizens. In parts of Eastern Europe such as Russia or the former Yugoslav nations, access to Western European and North American culture have shown gay men and others a lifestyle and openness that they want for themselves. However, in recent years, there has been a strong backlash against the standard bearers of the cause in those countries. In Russia, there has been a general rejection of Western culture and all that it is seen to represent, including secularism and LGBT rights. Activists are under threat from vigilantes and the police are not there to help them.
Finally, the growth of extremist Christianity in Africa,funded by Churches in North America, at the expense of mainstream denominations, along with dictatorships trying to justify power, has led to increasing persecution of LGBTQ+ persons – to the degree that they are not just attacked if they are open but are now actively hunted down.
So why should anyone in North America care to help those fleeing certain death? Well for one, we’ve caused some of it. Our lavish lifestyles, built upon decades of propping up dictators (just so you’re aware, our society is rich not because we work hard but because of centuries of exploitation that continues today), has led to the backlash and persecutions we are seeing today. Furthermore, we should do it because we can. At no point in world history have LGBTQ+ peoples had so much political and economic power. It’s time we use that to help our brothers and sisters overseas. And finally, it’s about community. Catholics here support Catholics in need overseas. Armenians here help Armenians back in their homeland. Isn’t it time that LGBTQ+ peoples see their community as more than just the local gay village but a global community seeking justice?
Do what you can in your local communities to support LGBT refugees. Raise money, lobby politicians to help them get to our shores, and support our brothers and sisters, economically and with love, once they arrive.