The events of the past week have brought a jarring reminder that even as the LGBT civil rights movement continues marching forward in the U.S. and Western Europe, our LGBT siblings in other countries face marginalization, persecution, and violence.
In India, the Supreme Court recriminalized gay sex. Australia's High Court stripped marriage rights from same-sex couples in that country's Capital Territory. In Russia, Vladimir Putin put a vile homophobe in charge of the state-owned news agency, and an angry mob tore down the roof of Moscow's largest gay club.
As a sobering Newsweek exposé notes, another country where LGBT people are at risk every day just because of who they are is the eastern African nation of Ethiopia.
According to Katie J.M. Baker, an astonishing 97% of Ethiopians believe homosexuality should be outlawed. She writes, "In many countries, it's getting better for the LGBT community. In Ethiopia, it's getting worse."
"[There] are no health centers, charities, publications or even nightclubs that expressly serve Ethiopia's underground LGBT community - the few reputable organizations that once existed have been shuttered or forced to remove any mentions of human rights from their mandates. Given that a volunteer who, say, dares to hand out lubricant to gay men could face imprisonment and jeopardize his or her groups' larger-scale work, organizations have decided it's not worth the risk...
"Leaders of Ethiopian Muslims, heads of the Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic churches, government officials, members of the Ethiopian Parliament, leaders of political parties, and youth organizations routinely put their differences aside to attend conferences on the "gay problem" - one last year, entitled 'Homosexuality and Its Associated Social Disastrous Consequences,' was held in the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa. 'Ethiopians do not need their identity to be dictated for them from outside no matter how wealthy or powerful the forces applying the pressure,' Abune Paulos, the former head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, told conference goers last year.
"But, while Ethiopia prohibits foreign LGBT-related activism, it welcomes international religious groups that preach homophobia. Thus, 'religion is used as proxy for discrimination'" explains Ty Cobb, director of Global Engagement at the Human Rights Campaign, by groups who 'couch hateful rhetoric in faith-based terms.'
"Last year's anti-gay conference and others like it are organized and funded by United for Life, a Western Evangelical Christian organization that receives funding from the U.K. and U.S. In May 2013, United for Life hosted a workshop during which police told government officials, religious leaders and health professionals that 'homosexual family members and neighbors' were likely to sexually abuse children. A representative from the Ethiopian Inter-Religious Council Against Homosexuality announced that the council was making 'promising' progress in convincing the government to introduce the death penalty to punish 'homosexual acts.' United for Life's president, Seyoum Antonius, has made it clear that he won't quit anti-gay advocacy until Ethiopia adopts the death penalty. One of his rallying cries is, 'Africa will become a graveyard for homosexuality!'"
Baker's report is worth reading in full; click here to check it out at Newsweek.
As we prepare for the holidays and look back on this landmark year for LGBT rights in the U.S., we would do well to remember that the fight for equality must continue until all LGBT people across the planet are afforded the rights, protections, and freedoms that their humanity entitles them to.