LGBT people still have plenty of struggles in the United States, including even here in New York. But many of our challenges pale by comparison with the atrocious -- and often worsening -- circumstances facing LGBT people in many other countries.
In nearly 80 countries, individuals face criminal sanctions for private consensual relations with another adult of the same sex. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression are even more widespread. Almost every week it seems that some new country is seeking to return its LGBT citizens to a darker era.
At least twice before, New Yorkers have led the world in LGBT activism: at Stonewall in 1969 and in the founding of ACT UP in 1987. Today, there are many ways that we New Yorkers can continue to help lead the fight for the safety, security, and dignity of LGBT people around the world. Below are a few of the reasons that we can and should do so.
• New York City is home to the United Nations, the single most important forum for global human rights. Without ever leaving town, New Yorkers can participate in international seminars, meetings, protests, and demonstrations at the U.N., at the consulates that most countries maintain in our city, and at many other internationally-oriented events around the city.
• We are a major world media hub: things that happen in New York tend to reverberate globally (which was a big reason why Stonewall and ACT UP got so much traction). For instance, just consider how much media coverage was generated when the homophobic Sultan of Brunei recently expressed interest in acquiring the iconic Plaza Hotel on Central Park South.
• New York City is the base for two of the world's most important human rights organizations focusing on LGBT rights. Human Rights Watch, a huge global NGO, is a preeminent defender of human rights with a major LGBT portfolio. The smaller, but highly effective, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC.org) works closely with grassroots activists around the globe and provides regular updates on global LGBT issues. Supporting these groups is a great way to support LGBT people globally.
• The NYC community includes people from every corner of the world. Engaging with LGBT rights internationally helps not only people living abroad, but also the many thousands of our LGBT neighbors with friends, family, and roots in other countries.
• Extreme anti-LGBT attitudes and laws in countries such as Nigeria, Uganda, and Russia represent, at least in part, backlashes against the progress that LGBT people have achieved in places like New York. Anti-LGBT persecution in other countries, thus, is not something that just "happens over there," but is closely bound up with our own experiences in New York. As IGLHRC's motto notes, it's really all about "human rights for everyone, everywhere."
None of this is to argue that New York is, or should be, the only important hub for global LGBT activism. For instance, Geneva is the headquarters of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), a remarkable worldwide federation of LGBT organizations. Johannesburg is home to the Constitutional Court of South Africa, which has set an inspiring standard for LGBT and other human rights throughout Africa. Activists and allies in Buenos Aires continue to lead the way for pro-LGBT advances in Argentina and throughout Latin America.
Nor should New Yorkers try to act unilaterally. Indeed, the greatest and most long-lasting results can be achieved through active partnerships with local human rights organizations, which best understand the issues and the political terrain in their own countries.
But we New Yorkers are in a strong position to have an exceptional impact on LGBT issues around the world - let's expand our efforts and commitment to doing so.