Export “Hope?” No, Thanks, America

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It is clear that the battle for sexual freedom is taking place in every political and philosophical sphere around the world. Those of you who think that Islam is the only religion opposed to homosexuality are hugely mistaken. In fact, the most vehement opposition against sexual rights in the United Nations is the Christian right. I had the chance to witness just how powerful this movement is at the 54th Commission on the Status of Women that took place earlier this month in New York. Marking 15 years since the Beijing Platform, the meeting failed to advance the discourse of women’s rights or to debate any new resolutions, except for a few on maternal health, economy, and women in Haiti. I was surprised to read that some feminists were actually happy that the outcome of the meeting “preserved” the status quo, arguing that if the debates and votes had been re-opened, women would lose much of the rights they had gained 15 years ago because conservatism and fundamentalism had risen significantly since. Others expressed extreme frustration with the UN process, calling it the worst year they had witnessed. In his speech on the occasion of International Women’s Day, Ban Ki Moon stated nothing but the obvious, calling for swift procedures around the launch of the new UN gender entity.

Photo of our protest during Ban Ki Moon's speech - Gear Up Now is the slogan of the campaign calling for a gender architectural reform in the United Nations. The "A" is me.

In short, one can summarize the meeting as one that avoided women’s rights all together. The war around sexuality was a literal war: two camps (progressives vs. opposition), strategies, battles throughout the two weeks, secret meetings, spies, attacks, confrontations… it was all there. I quickly joined forces with the progressive ranks (only to later discover, they weren’t radical enough for me) and I was screened carefully. They debriefed me with a folder that contained our arguments and strategies, as well as the names and photos of all the people in the opposition so that I could look out for them in the panels. As I moved from one panel to the next, I learned to identify them: blond, young, preppy, hair tied back neatly, young men in expensive suits, polite, and well-spoken. At first, I fell for their seemingly innocent questions: “Where in the international law does it say that abortion is a human right?” “It doesn’t,” I replied. “Then it isn’t a human right.” D’oh! I should have answered differently.

Anyway, my eye, as usual, was on the lesbians. And the lesbians were, as usual, sidelined from the discussions as if they were an appendix to women’s human rights and not one and the same. One official side event was titled LBT women specifically but touched very little on lesbian or trans issues in particular. Led by the Dutch, Belgian, and Portuguese governments, the panel merely presented what each of these governments had done to promote LGBT rights. They made little links between that and the CSW or lesbian issues and feminism. And two of the four presenters were men. I enjoyed it mostly because almost every lesbian who happened to be at the CSW was there, so I got to see some of my friends. But then my fellow activists from Namibia and Turkey asked the panelists what we, in our countries, can learn from the European experience. “You can’t learn anything from them,” I wanted to answer. “You can learn more from each other.” But I didn’t. I wanted to raise my hand and ask the Dutch, Belgian, and Portuguese gay-people-in-suits what they were doing about racism and Islamophobia in their LGBT communities and in their communities at large. I wanted to stand up and yell at everybody to take off the silly Obamanian “Export HOPE not homophobia” stickers off their shirts, stickers that IGLHRC had distributed to everyone. How about “Don’t export anything; fix your own hypocrisy” instead as a lobbying message to the American government?

But this time, I shut up. I think I am getting too old to waste my energy on queers who just don’t get it. No wonder we are losing ground. The United States cannot export nothing but homophobia because it is dominated by the imperialist right. One of the more intelligent things I heard at the CSW NGO panels was an analysis by Jodi Jacobson, editor of RH Reality Check, who gave the example of growing conservatism in her so-called liberal county in Maryland where now ex-gay flyers and anti-sex education campaigns are mushrooming in schools. She said the Republicans have been systematically infiltrating at local levels, where the most powerful battles are fought, as one lobbyist put it: “we would rather have 1000 school board members than one president.”

It angers me, this topic. It angers me so much that even two weeks later, I cannot write a coherent article about the CSW, although there are at least a dozen things I have to say about what it taught me. Wake up, queers. Wake up and rage. We need rage not assimilation. The colonizers will not liberate you.


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