On the dark night of 6-7 October 1988, Matthew Shepherd, a student of the University of Wyoming, then 21, was lured to a remote area and brutally assaulted. He was left to die on a split rail fence for 18 hours, before being found by a cyclist, who initially thought he saw a scarecrow.
Such unimaginable acts of hatred. What kind of a personal vendetta would induce the murderer, or murderers, to commit such an insane, inhuman assault on another fellow man? The answer laid in the sexual orientation of the deceased victim: Matthew Shepherd is gay, and yes, he was American, and he died on American soil. You'd think that America is the home of the brave, and land of the free, that every man is entitled to live as a free man within the boundaries of law. Well, think again, folks. When religion rules the roost, bigotry, intolerance and the occasional murder are standard weapons brandished in the name of God.
Religious Tyranny:Respect as a One-Way Street
More often than not, religious people often demand that people respect their belief systems: They want prayers in schools, halal food in government canteens, their right to practice their cultures irregardless of the laws of the land.
While these religious folks do not admit it explicitly, the ends do justify the means: Draw a few offensive cartoons about the Muhammad, and you see hordes of Muslims up in arms, brandishing their AK-47s and Molotov cocktails, unleashing verbal threats of deaths against the accused perpetrators of these perceived acts of abuse and wanton disrespect for their religions.
As the civilized, rational folks would have you know, respect is a two way street: You respect my right to free speech, and I respect your right to belief. Unfortunately, these religious, barbaric hordes with mentalities of a bygone, feudal era do not see things our way. While we are denied the right to criticize their beloved religions, these morons expect every right to condemn people who are different from them in terms of creeds, beliefs and philosophies. And this, I am afraid, includes the right to outright bigotry and hate.
Persecution and Discrimination Against the Gay & Lesbian Community
1. Legal Violence under Religious Laws
In ultra-orthodox Muslim countries which adhere to Syariah, or Islam law, homosexuality is classified as a serious crime: A good lashing and some jail time might be in stall for gays unlucky enough to be caught in an "anti-vice" raid supervised and executed by religious officers hell-bent on upholding bigotry. In one particularly infamous raid, dozens of men were caught in what was deemed as a "gay wedding" by a Saudi newspaper; dozens of men were sentenced to a good whipping up to a grand total of 14,200 lashes (ranging from 200 to 2000: Ouch, that must hurt!), plus jail time from 6 months to 2 yrs (Link here).
2. Homophobia in Secular Nations
Religious nations aside, gays in supposedly secular countries are also vulnerable to physical and verbal threats from religious folks who feel vindicated by their respective archaic religious texts to spill their vitriol and sow their seeds of hatred. In certain cases, these may lead to verbal, social and even physical abuse against the homosexual community.
Abuses aside, the wanton discrimination against gays and lesbians means that they are automatically disadvantaged both at work and at school, which contradicts the "equality for all" mantra that is supposed to be the basis of all democracies.
The statistics tell a grim and depressing story:
1. Students who describe themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered are five times more likely to miss school because of feeling unsafe. 28% are forced to drop out.
-National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, "Anti-Gay/Lesbian Victimization", New York, 1984
2. Due to sexual orientation discrimination, lesbians earn up to 14% less than their heterosexual female peers with similar jobs, education, age and residence, according to a study by the University of Maryland.
-Badgett, M.V. Lee, "The Wage Effects of Sexual Orientation Discrimination," -Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 1995
3. The vast majority of victims of anti-lesbian/gay violence - possibly more than 80% - never report the incident, often due to fear of being "outed."
-New York Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project Annual Report, 1996
4. More than 70 nations in the world outlaw have anti-homosexual laws in their law books (This includes Singapore), with several of them (namely, the Islamic nations) advocating the death penalty for what is deemed to be a criminal act.
The United Nations Respond; No Support from the Supposed Bastion of Democracy, the United States of America
In light of this continuation of human rights abuse, the United Nations have come together to condemn such acts of cruelty against people who do not share the same sexual orientation as the majority.
In a show of solidarity amongst the more liberal, enlightened nations, 66 nations, including all EU countries (There you go, Europe is a liberal haven), Australia (Another favorite country of mine), Japan, Mexico, and so on.
The countries which object? Well, the usual suspects crop up, as usual: Arab/Muslim countries, the Vatican (Fuck, one would be hard-pressed to even classify them as a "country", but yes, the Vatican is recognized as a sovereign state), and most depressingly, the United States of America.
Considering that America has its fair share of shame in its treatment of the ethnic minorities, such as the clobbering and near total annihilation of the Red Indians and the enslaving of African-Americans and the subsequent apartheid laws, you'd think that the Americans might want to set the record straight on the rare occasion an opportunity opens up. But hell no. Oh well, the Bush Administration is still up there, and one would really need an overdose of optimism to expect morons of the conservative kind to grant gays and lesbians any leeway.
America: A Bastion of Human Rights, or A Sickening Den for Homophobia?
As far as human rights is concerned, America is an empty vessel of sorts: It calls itself a bastion of human rights, and Uncle Sam has no qualms when it comes to criticizing China's communist regime as an abuser of human rights.
Yet, America has not projected itself as a guardian angel either: The shame of Guantanamo still hangs ominously overhead, and the reluctance to even join the rest of the secular free world to denounce anti-gay movements is a good indicator with regards to where America stands with regards to human rights issues. By not voting to condemn anti-gay bigotry, America is tacitly agreeing and abetting bigotry against a minority who are being trampled upon by the largely religious majority.
As America slowly loses touch with reality and with it, its status of being the sole superpower (if one can still consider America a superpower) on this lonely planet, the last thing it needs is to alienate itself from the rest of the free, secular world.
"For two people in a marriage to live together day after day is unquestionably the one miracle the Vatican has overlooked."
-Bill Cosby, American comedian, actor, author, television producer and activist.