It seems Eamon Gilmore is right: Gay rights are the civil rights issue of this generation.
Legislation enacted this year in Russia forbids gay couples from adopting Russian children, and also forbids adoption of Russian children by any couple or single parent in any country that has legalised marriage equality.
It comes on top of another law that allows Russian police to arrest any foreigner they suspect of being gay, or “pro-gay”, and to hold them in custody for fourteen days.
A precursor to this measure forbids homosexual “propaganda”. This is so deliberately vague that it could cover anything from telling your children there’s nothing wrong with being gay, to owning a book by Oscar Wilde or an Elton John CD.
Gay pride parades in Russia have ended in bloodshed, attracting young Neo-Nazi thugs and older people with violent intent. Pictures from the parades show scrawny, defenceless, defiantly colourful teenagers wrapped in bloodied rainbow flags after being attacked mid-march.
This violent homophobia is part of a damaging patriarchal masculinity that dictates only one way to be a man; strong, violent, and straight. Just like the Mussolini-esque image Vladimir Putin puts across in his hunting, shooting, fishing photo shoots.
Calls for a boycott of the Sochi Winter Olympics from celebrities including Stephen Fry do not seem to be gaining any traction among an international community preoccupied with the Middle East. The boycott approach is not universally favoured even among activists, with one gay Russian blogger suggesting it would not be the best way to show solidarity with the community there.
Keith Pascoe of the Cork-based RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet will not attend the upcoming Russian-Irish festival in Moscow, in protest at the situation. Cork TD Jerry Buttimer – head of the LGBT group in Fine Gael – has called on the Government to take a stand internationally, but so far there has been no official response.
Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin, or Vlad the Persecutor (as he might yet become known) recently enjoyed a stay in Northern Ireland, during a G8 meeting in which the great eight discussed many things but not, it can be assumed, human rights.
I recently finished a book called All That I Am, a novel based on a true story that describes the situation of Jews and Communists in Germany just before and during Hitler’s reign. A sense of disbelief pervades the book; nobody can quite believe this is happening, because surely, if it was, somebody would stop it.
And while Irish society has its problems, the terror of knowing you could be taken away just for existing – and this is actively encouraged by the state – is not something any of us can relate to.
Not while we stay safely in the EU, at any rate, and forget about travelling to an expanding group of countries that sees gay people, and often women, as something less than human.
According to the international Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), which runs the project ‘76 Crimes’, being gay is illegal in more than 76 countries. Most of them are in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Some of them – Ethiopia, Lesotho, Mozambique, Palestine, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe – are countries in which Eamon Gilmore’s Department of Foreign Affairs spends our taxes, in the form of foreign aid.
Uganda, an Irish Aid partner country, came to widespread international attention last year for a bill that introduced the death penalty for homosexuality. It became known in the media there as the Kill the Gays bill.
In 2012, Irish Aid spent approximately 16.5 million euro in Uganda. In previous years the figure was twice that, but was halved after the Ugandan Comptroller and Auditor General uncovered misappropriation of funds. One presumes Irish Aid doesn’t send gay staff to Uganda; the Bill is still on the agenda for 2013, after being delayed a number of times.
While Eamon Gilmore attracted much comment – much of it cynical – about his assertion that marriage equality is the civil rights issue of this generation, it’s time he examined the work of his own department where this is concerned.
As Minister for Foreign Affairs, he should be starting with where his budget is spent, and whether it’s upholding regimes that threaten not only the civil rights, but the lives, of gay people. Plenty of countries being supported by Irish taxpayers – gay and straight – don’t offer the same concern for their LGBT citizens.
Ireland isn’t exactly holding the purse strings where Russia is concerned, but ‘our reputation in Europe’ – bolstered by our recent EU Presidency, or so we’re told – must be worth something when it comes to influencing the EU’s foreign policy. Time for the Tánaiste to put his money where his mouth is.
Sunday Business Post, 1 September 2013.