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A Very Gay May

Posted: 05/20/2012 7:27 pm

A string of independent and remarkable events have transpired over the past month. Each on its own is deserving of praise; however, when taken together, the sum of their significance and the message that sends is truly extraordinary.

The month of May began with the announcement that the 2011 U.S. State Department Human Rights Defender Award was, for the first time, honouring a group defending the rights of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) individuals -- Uganda's Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law (CSCHRCL). This was followed by the momentous week in which U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and then President Barack Obama affirmed their support for same-sex marriage. If that wasn't enough, Toronto's mayor Rob Ford, who snubbed Toronto Pride 2011 and ignored overtures from Toronto's LGBT community -- leading to speculation he might be homophobic -- unexpectedly showed up at a flag raising for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia after announcing he would not attend.

But that's not all. Last week also saw Malawi's President Joyce Banda pledge to repeal her country's laws criminalizing homosexual activity. And over the weekend, the NAACP came out in support of gay marriage, notwithstanding the opposition among some African-American communities to the issue.

Like I said, each one of those developments on its own is worthy of praise.

I will be the first to admit that I had prepared a scathing critique of Mayor Rob Ford's refusal to engage with Toronto's LGBT community that was to be posted after his non-attendance at the flag raising. I was shocked when I heard he showed up, but even more, I was proud.

The mayor still says he won't attend the Pride parade, and when asked if he'll attend other events during the 10-day festival he said he'd be taking things "event by event."

Nonetheless, the mayor's attendance last week is to be commended. Instead of dismissing it as out of step, it would be much more productive to see this as the potential for a new beginning between Rob Ford and his LGBT constituents, reaffirming Toronto's commitment to diversity and equality. The positive commendations to his presence underneath the rainbow flag should serve to dispel any unfounded suggestions that Rob Ford is not welcome in Toronto's LGBT community.

Moving south, the developments in the U.S. cannot be understated. Though some would suggest he ducked a legal bullet by stating that marriage was a state issue, President Obama's support of gay marriage turns a new page in a debate that has too often been mired in bigotry and cruel, rejectionist intolerance. Marriage has been rightly reframed as about, in the President's words, "how much love they have in their hearts".

In the legal sphere, the NAACP passed a resolution, affirming that marriage was a "civil right" and that it could not condone a measure such as banning same-sex marriage that seeks to "codify discrimination or hatred into the law."

These historic proclamations, and the bold leadership behind them, will not usher in true equality for American LGBT citizens overnight. However, the force behind the drive for that equality has been immeasurably strengthened.

Last, and equally historic, are the developments in Africa, which when it comes to LGBT rights is deserving of its common misnomer, '"The Dark Continent." The shamefulness, from a moral and legal perspective, of laws criminalizing homosexual activity are a blot on the continent's conscience (not all African states criminalize homosexual activity, just most). The normalcy of persecuting LGBT Africans is horrific.

It is against this backdrop that President Banda's proclamation must be viewed. Her vocal and public commitment to equality, dignity and, above all, the rule of law, is a model and stands in stark contrast to the shameful positions and easy bigotry that too many of her fellow African heads of state hide behind.

The recognition bestowed on Uganda's CSCHRCL is the icing on this sweet cake. It is a reminder to courageous activists that in their struggle to overcome injustice they are not alone. The world recognizes that injustice and supports their struggle that merely demands the same rights as everyone else.

President Obama had said his views on same-sex marriage were "evolving." The events of the past month have demonstrated the power of evolution. They demonstrate what is possible when people finally realize that at the core of human existence there is no hierarchy of being, only an equality of one.

Sure, it can be dismissed that some people have made political calculations. But Mayor Ford's tenure as mayor, President Obama's re-election campaign, and President Banda's presidency didn't hinge on their respective decisions. Similarly, the NAACP and U.S. State Department weren't without a choice. No one had to do what they've done, but they did.

The world is rife with too many instances of persecution and marginalization of LGBT individuals, and it is necessary that we continue to shine a light on this injustice. Equally important though, is that we celebrate the victories along the way, however small.

Each one strengthens the message of love and equality that motivates this campaign. And each person or group willing to stand up and be bold issues a necessary and important challenge to those clinging to prejudiced beliefs of an era coming to pass: We've evolved, so why won't you?

 
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