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U.N. Forum Praises LGBT Rights Advances in Developing Nations

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 29 2015 (IPS) - Speakers at a briefing on the treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in Nazi Germany praised the advances made by developing nations in protecting gay rights.

Marking 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz and the end of World War II, the United Nations reflected on some of the “lesser known victims” of the Nazi regime – the LGBT community – and how gay rights may be further advanced into the future.

Charles Radcliffe, Chief of Global Issues with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said global progress toward better protections for the LGBT community has been steady, and was encouraged by recent advances made in developing nations.

“In the last two decades, 40 countries have decriminalised homosexuality, 60 have robust anti-discrimination laws, some 20 countries have gay marriage, and 20 more have civil unions. It’s not just Western countries,” Radcliffe said.

“Latin America has some of the best laws for gender rights and gender identity, and in Asia, trans activists have won some important victories. Today, the world is a safer and fairer place than before.”

The briefing, hosted by the U.N’s Department of Public Information, also outlined how LGBT people were treated in Nazi Germany.

“There were 100,000 men arrested on suspicion of homosexuality, and half were convicted in criminal courts,” said Erik Jensen, associate professor of history at Miami University, Ohio. “Men were put into workhouses, prison, or concentration camps.”

“Hard labor was used as punishment and therapy. Nazis surmised hard labor might cure men of homosexuality.”

Jensen said Germany actually had a thriving and open LGBT community prior to the Nazi rise to power, with many organisations and at least 20 gay magazines in Berlin in the 1920s. There were only a handful of gay magazines in the whole rest of Europe at the time, according to Jensen.

When the Nazi Party’s rule began, however, laws around homosexuality were strengthened and horrific punishments – including “dangerous and painful medical experiments” such as insertion of artificial sex glands and castration, according to Jensen – began.

Most of those persecuted were German citizens. Lesbian women were said to have been spared the brunt of the anti-LGBT wave, with the most severe punishment given to gay men. “Persecution ramped up. It was one of the most shocking changes,” Jensen said.

Radcliffe said it was important to continue strengthening protections for LGBT people, citing recent “worrying trends” including criminalization of gay relationships or the silencing of LGBT activists in some nations.

“We need to change attitudes, challenge stereotypes, and get people talking about these issues especially in communities and cultures where it is still taboo,” he said. “It’s not enough to change laws and institutions. We have to change people’s minds.”

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