Dialing the Needle Forward on Global LGBTIQ Human Rights

As a member of the Honorary Host Committee, Maulik Pancholy invites you to attend A Celebration of Courage, the annual human rights award ceremony and benefit for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

I first learned of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) when asked to emcee their Celebration of Courage Awards Gala 2012. As an actor, invitations like these come from time to time, but when I looked at the work IGLHRC does, I knew right away that this was an organization I wanted to support.

IGLHRC works to advance the human rights of LGBTIQ people internationally, so I was first inclined to look at what they have done in India -- the country from which my parents emigrated in the sixties. On their website, I came across a picture from Delhi's first pride parade in 2008. It was of a grandmother with a radiant smile holding a poster proclaiming, "I am proud to say my Grandson is Gay."

I was overcome with emotion. The photo reminded me of how my culture has impacted my journey to self-acceptance and how much gratitude I have for the people who work to dial the needle forward so that grandmothers everywhere can express their love for their grandchildren. Yet, at that same pride parade, many individuals marching wore face masks out of very real fear. The fight for the safety and equality for LGBTIQ people is far from over.

In December of 2013, my now husband, Ryan Corvaia, and I were planning to travel to India to get engaged. Gay marriage was legal in New York, and we couldn't wait to tie the knot. He'd never been to India, and I was excited to show him where my family was from.

Just weeks before our trip, the Indian Supreme Court reinstated Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalizes sexual activities "against the order of nature." This is broad and vague terminology. In practice, it is used to criminalize homosexuality and has led to the police harassing, blackmailing and extorting LGBTIQ people.

Let's just say we did not change our travel plans. We proposed to each other at the Taj Mahal just four weeks after Section 377 was reinstated and tweeted a picture of our engagement. The international press picked it up and, to our delight, our engagement photo became one symbol of hope in the face of this antiquated law. Our story was one small contribution to the strong and diverse movement in India protesting the Supreme Court ruling.

Outside of what was unfolding in India, this made me think about what it means to be a global citizen, I thought of the rally IGLHRC had co-organized in Union Square with other groups in response to a call from Indian activists opposed to Section 377.

I thought of the work IGLHRC does to document atrocities and advocate for change. I thought of how small our world has become and how standing up for our brothers and sisters internationally is also standing up for ourselves.

Ryan and I were lucky. While traveling across India, we experienced few obstacles. Even when checking into hotel rooms with one king bed, we were met with welcoming smiles. I thought, Perhaps this warmth reflects that India's government is out of touch with its own population.

Elsewhere, we repeatedly see devastating examples of government persecution and militia violence. Recently Jessica Stern, Executive Director of IGLHRC, spoke at the first-ever United Nations Security Council meeting focused on LGBTIQ people in a conflict zone. She displayed gruesome imagery of thirty (30) executions - by stoning, firing squads, and throwing men from rooftops - for which ISIS has claimed responsibility as punishment for "sodomy." It is gut-wrenching to imagine.

IGLHRC offered recommendations to the international community: LGBTIQ tailored programming for UN agencies in Iraq and Syria, relocation assistance, funding for safe houses, and psychological support. This is why I am drawn to IGLHRC. It is an organization creating solutions. Their mission, in its simplest form, is Human Rights for everyone, everywhere.

On September 28th, IGLHRC will celebrate its 25th anniversary, hosting its "Celebration of Courage Awards Gala" on a sunset cruise around New York City. They will present the Felipe de Suisa Award to Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe also marking their 25th year. I am humbled to be on the Honorary Host Committee supporting Laramie Project playwright and Emcee Moises Kaufman.

The day before IGLHRC's Gala, Ryan and I will celebrate our one-year wedding anniversary. It seems fitting that these anniversaries coincide. It is because of the tenacious work of IGLHRC that people the world over are moving closer to living with respect and dignity. I invite you to attend this anniversary event and to support LGBTIQ human rights globally.

Or call Ashton Geise at 212-430-6057