Development & Aid, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Population

HUMAN RIGHTS: Gays and Lesbians Face Bans Around the World

NEW YORK, Oct 19 1995 (IPS) - In India, it’s called Section 377; in Romania, Article 200; and in Zimbabwe, more specifically, the Sexual Offences Act.

But in each country, the purpose of the law is the same: to outlaw intimacy between people of the same sex. And in each country, gays and lesbians face police harassment, detention and other forms of abuse from these bans.

This week, gay and lesbian activists around the world came to New York to provide evidence before an International Tribunal on Human Rights Violations against Sexual Minorities of the effects of such laws. The tale they tell is uniformly one where there is no protection from official homophobia.

“Policemen arbitrarily harass men in public parks at night who presume to be gay, without referring to any particular law,” said Anuja Gupta, who has worked with an Indian AIDS prevention group called ABVA.

The law those police are enforcing is Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, part of India’s penal laws since the British first introduced laws against sodomy in its colonies in the 1830s. Now, Gupta noted, the law remains on India’s books, long after the former British colonial rulers have repealed it in their own nation.

She added that, although Section 377 was only an anti-sodomy law, not one forbidding all homosexual acts, it has come to be seen as a ban on all same-sex relations.

“Gay men do not have to be engaged in sexual activity in order to be vulnerable to police harassment under this law,” Gupta said. She told the tribunal that police have often targetted areas where they think gay men may be “cruising” for dates and arresting them.

In one sweep in July 1992, she claimed, plainclothes police roamed New Delhi’s central park for a week, arresting 18 men who sometimes simply accepted offers for a walk or a cup of coffee.

“Gay people are quite scared” by the possibility of being raided, Gupta told IPS. “But they keep going back (to public places) because there’s no other options they have.” The lack of private places in India, she said, consigns homosexuals to the parks even though they frequently may be harassed, sexually abused or blackmailed for money by the police.

“Raids become a part of their lives,” Gupta said. “It’s not that every gay person who goes cruising has an experience (with the police). But most gay people I know have had some encounter with the police, regardless of class.”

Ciprian Cucu, a 20-year-old gay man living in the Romanian town of Timosoara, knows such harassment firsthand. Cucu and his lover, Milorad Marian Mutascu, were arrested in 1993 when police broke into their home and charged them with violating Article 200. That law, also, forbids same-sex relations.

During his time in jail, Cucu said, he was raped by other inmates, and then beaten afterward by wardens for reporting those rapes in his court case. Although both men received suspended sentences when their case came to trial, Mutascu committed suicide last May, Cucu added.

A similar police raid on two homosexuals prompted one of the biggest recent legal blows against homosexuality in the United States in 1986. Gary Bowers, a gay man living in Georgia, challenged that state’s anti-sodomy laws when police harassed him and his lover at their home following complaints from neighbours.

Although U.S. authorities generally do not enforce the sodomy bans, Bowers’s efforts to overturn the 19th Century laws were rejected by the Supreme Court. The Court, in the 1986 ‘Bowers vs. Hardwick’ decision, upheld existing anti-sodomy laws, with Justice Byron White declaring gay sexuality to be outside the norm.

In Zimbabwe, couples have been arrested and fined for sodomy under the Sexual Offences Act, said Herbert Mondhlani, a member of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ). Mondhlani noted his own organisation has been declared illegal, and argued, “The existence of GALZ is now under threat from the government.”

A police raid on GALZ’s Harare office last year resulted in the seizure of several documents and videos by the police, Mondhlani said. Zimbabwe has declared pornography illegal, but none of the material seized was pornographic, nor were there any charges filed, he argued.

Official discrimination against Zimbabwe’s gay community peaked this summer, when President Robert Mugabe bitterly attacked homosexuality as an “abhorrent Western import.”

“Speaking at a state function to honour our heroes who died in the war of independence, President Mugabe called for the arrest of gay people, and he encouraged the people in the townships to report any gay people to the police,” Mondhlani said, adding that Mugabe’s remarks “encourage precisely the source of rights violations to which gays are subjected around the world.”

Some countries may begin to look at the homosexuality bans and other morality codes anew following challenges to the sometimes pre-colonial laws.

When South Africa inaugurated its first multi-racial government under President Nelson Mandela last year, it became the first country to explicitly include language in its constitution forbidding discrimination against homosexuals.

South African officials, including Mandela and Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo, have repeatedly asked other nations to follow suit by including similarly broad-based constitutional protections.

Other groups are being inspired to seek changes. ABVA has challenged Section 377 at the New Delhi High Court, arguing that the law has prevented them from providing condoms at New Delhi’s Tihar Jail, which Gupta said holds some 9,000 prisoners.

Indian officials argue they cannot allow condom distribution in the prisons, since that would be abetting acts that violate the penal codes. But ABVA has warned that as AIDS rises in India, a lack of condoms in the jails increases the prisoners’ health risks.

Gupta doubted that either the Delhi court or the Indian Supreme Court would overturn Section 377. But she added, “We are more hopeful about the prison issue, because the judges seem to be concerned about the health of the prisoners.”

Generally, as AIDS becomes more of an issue, she added, gay and lesbian issues have come out of the closet to be discussed seriously in India.

“It’s only for the last two years that gay sexuality has become an issue at all,” Gupta said. But she warned, “The more the gay issue is emerging, the more there is a backlash against gays and lesbians.”

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Development & Aid, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Population

HUMAN RIGHTS: Gays and Lesbians Face Bans Around the World

NEW YORK, Oct 19 1995 (IPS) - In India, it’s called Section 377; in Romania, Article 200; and in Zimbabwe, more specifically, the Sexual Offences Act.

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags