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Gay Rights: Are We Still Wrong?

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One of the best-known pieces of LGBT literature is Leslie Feinberg's Stone Butch Blues.

The novel follows lesbian Jess Goldberg and her difficulties growing up in a world where homosexuality was not tolerated. Set in the sixties, the book is a shocking account of the degradation and difficulties that transgender and homosexual people faced. But have we really come much further since then?

In September, Iran hit the headlines once again, when three men were executed for lavat (homosexual intercourse), an act forbidden by sharia law. It is not the first time that Iranian men have been executed for practising homosexuality, but the death penalty is normally only enforced when there is another charge of male rape or similar alongside it. In this case, nothing suggests that non-consensual sex took place.

Also in September, the Czech Republic was up in arms over a clampdown on a gay pride march. President Klaus (not a particularly scrupulous man, having been forced to step down as Prime Minister a decade ago) praised the repression, calling homosexuals "deviant fellow citizens". He announced that he felt no pride in a gay pride march and complained that foreign ambassadors were attempting to meddle in state affairs (many foreign ambassadors had written to express solidarity with the LGBT community in the Czech Republic).

In Russia, the "propaganda of homosexuality" to minors has just been outlawed - Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993 but many still fall victim to discrimination - and gay parades are often met with hostility from protestors from the dominant Orthodox Church.

In Uganda, the government tried to push through the appalling Anti-Homosexuality Bill - thankfully this has been shelved - for now. If enacted, the death penalty would be in place for homosexuals with previous convictions for homosexuality. This has been referred to in Uganda as "aggravated homosexuality". Homosexuality is already very much a criminal activity in Uganda at present, with prison sentences of up to fourteen years in place. Ugandan media has also been used to out suspected gay people, printing names and photographs in local newspapers and magazines. In January 2011, Uganda's most prominent gay activist David Kato was bludgeoned to death - the murder was covered up as robbery.

Shamefully, Uganda's criminalisation of homosexuality is a remnant of the British colonial era. Half of the eighty-two countries where homosexuality is illegal once belonged to the British Empire. They are members of the British Commonwealth. It's an embarrassing part of British history, and perhaps the most shameful legacy of rule. Many countries in history have tolerated, even embraced homosexuality. Samurai Japan, for example, portrayed homosexuality in a positive light. Attitudes towards sexuality are in a constant state of flux and often dictated by politics and religion. The only way we will reach a tolerant society is with a more liberal approach towards sexuality. Laws need to change as much as social ideas need to change. Laws can provide a certain amount of protection for an individual, but in order to reach a tolerant and accepting society, we need education too.

We face some bizarre legislation around the world. In Sierra Leone, women can openly practise homosexuality - it is entirely legal. For men, it is illegal. The same goes for Kenya, although in November 2010, Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga called for the arrest of lesbians, as well as gay men. And in Sierra Leone, there are regular disturbances. Gay rights activist Mary Conteh has had her home broken into repeatedly. In Barbados, homosexuality remains illegal, with a possible life sentence for those caught. In Mexico, homosexuality has been legal since 1872 - in the USA, it's only been legal nationwide since 2003. And homosexuality certainly has its detractors in the US. Recently, a teacher (a former "teacher of the year") was suspended from work after posting homophobic comments on Facebook. It is heartwarming however to know that action was taken against him, although Facebook groups have been set up defending his right to freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is a vital part of the US constitution, but these Facebook groups are clearly a guise to justify this man's homophobic rant. When he takes his views into the classroom, he becomes a proponent for closed-mindedness, an advocate of homophobia.

The abhorrent Daily Mail seems to do everything to propel homophobic attitudes, with articles such as this - a newsreader to marry is hardly news, but the word "marry" prompted a couple of hundred comments, with many stating that a civil partnership is something very different to marriage. The Frontline Church in Liverpool has recently published a guide on how to "cure" people of homosexuality.

These facts paint a very sad picture of our supposed liberal and modern world. However, there are positive actions too - in Iran, an online campaign has begun entitled "We Are Everywhere", a campaign to defend gay rights. A nice middle finger to Iran's president, who in 2007 infamously claimed that there were no homosexuals in his country. A new charity, The Kaleidoscope Diversity Trust has been set up to work internationally to help persecuted homosexuals. In Taiwan, the DPP preisdential candidate has been praised for her stance on gender equality and gay rights - could Taiwan lead Asia into a more tolerant world? Yes, there are some progressive tales alongside the negative ones. Yet, there is still a very long way away to go, before we reach equality and tolerance.