Homosexuality Exists Everywhere, So Too Should Equal Rights

Almost Everywhere is Touched by the Stonewall Riots Now

It is now 40 years since the start of a riot for freedom in a small
tavern in New York City - and the riot has never stopped. It is
spreading slowly across the world, to every continent, to Mumbai and
Shanghai and Dubai. Everywhere it goes, it wins, in time. Yet on 28
June 1969, it seemed only like another Sixties ruck in the muck against
corrupt cops. The Stonewall Tavern was a Greenwich Village bar where
gay people huddled together to find friends and lovers in a hostile
country on a hostile planet. It was a hangout for everyone from macho
bikers to drag queens making the pilgrimage from Ohio and Iowa and
Kansas. One of the regulars said that until he discovered the bar "I
felt like I was the only one... I only knew enough to hide". The
regulars were harming nobody, they were only enjoying themselves, but
the local police force was fond of busting the bar and beating and
imprisoning the clientele. They only allowed the bar to stay open at
all because they were being bribed by local gay gangsters.

But one day, gay people decided they had had enough of cowering and hiding and
being told they were sick. On the day of Judy Garland's funeral, the police
smashed their way into the Stonewall. The historian Martin Duberman distills
what happened next into a single image: "A leg, poured into nylons and
sporting a high heel, shot out of a paddy wagon into the chest of a cop,
throwing him backwards." The drag queen yelled: "Nobody's gonna
fuck with me no more!" And the global riot began.

It was the turning point in the fight for equality for gay people. Within four
decades, goals that would have seemed impossible to those fighters that
night were achieved: openly gay prime ministers, gay marriage in Europe and
parts of the US, legal bans on discrimination. The gay rights movement was a
cry for the right to love in the darkness. It is a model of democratic
pressure: a minority peacefully appealing to the decency of the majority,
and prevailing. It is the strongest antidote to cynicism that I know.

The conversation about gay people has been so soaked in theology for so long
that it is important to state some hard empirical facts. Homosexuality is a
naturally occurring phenomenon that happens in every human society.
Everywhere, about 2 to 5 per cent of human beings prefer to have sex with
their own gender. It occurs at the heart of nature: only last week,
Professors Nathan Bailey and Marlene Zuk, of the University of California,
concluded in a study: "The variety and ubiquity of same-sex sexual
behaviour in animals is impressive - many thousands of instances of same-sex
courtship, pair bonding and copulation have been observed in a wide range of
species, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, molluscs
and nematodes."

Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it. It doesn't mean anything.
It is a harmless genetic quirk. It has always happened and it always will.
The only question is: do you want to be spiteful to gay people, or let them
express their most natural urges peacefully? In the US and Europe, steadily
and remarkably quickly, the civilising voices are winning. There is still a
lot to do. Gay teenagers are six times more likely to commit suicide than
their straight siblings but the trajectory is ever-upwards. In much of the
developing world, gay equality is inching forward too. After extraordinarily
brave men and women fought back, India is poised to decriminalise
homosexuality this year and China has just seen its first ever Gay Pride
parade. But there are three great swathes of humanity still untouched by the
spirit of Stonewall - and terrified, terrorised gay people there are
screaming for help. In the Caribbean, majority-Muslim countries and most of
Africa, being gay is a death sentence, yet many people who should be showing
solidarity choose not to see it.

Jamaica is Taliban Afghanistan for gay people. If caught, gays and lesbians
face 10 years of hard labour, but they are more likely to be lynched. The
cases documented by Dr Robert Carr, of the University of the West Indies,
fill whole books. Here are two from a single week: a father found a picture
of a naked man in his 16-year-old son's rucksack, so he produced it in the
playground and called on the boy's classmates to beat him to death - which
they promptly did. No one was ever charged.

In Montego Bay, a man was caught checking out another man, so the crowd
lynched him. When police arrived, they joined in. Hospitals routinely refuse
to treat the victims of gay-bashings, leaving them to die, yet people who
would never have dreamed of holidaying in apartheid-era South Africa still
flock to Jamaica's beaches. A heroic Jamaican called Brian Williamson set up
an organisation called J-FLAG to campaign for the rights of gay Jamaicans.
His body was found stabbed and slashed 70 times. The police did nothing. The
most popular song in Jamaica in recent years - by Beenie Man - choruses: "I'm
dreaming of a new Jamaica, come to execute all the gays... Take dem by
surprise/ Get dem in the head."

Throughout Muslim countries, gay people are routinely jailed, tortured and
hanged. Mahmoud Ahmadinejadh denies there are any gay people in Iran, but is
happy to have them executed in public squares. In post-invasion Iraq, there
has been a homo-cidal pogrom of gay people being led by private Islamist "morality
squads". In the past two months, 25 gay men's corpses have been found
mutilated in one Baghdad slum, Sadr City, with notes saying "pervert"
pinned to their chests. Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's leading
religious cleric, says gays should be killed "in the worst way possible"
- and they are obeying. Men are now being killed by having their anuses
glued shut.

In Africa, one country has been a beacon for gay rights. Post-apartheid South
Africa even has gay equality written into its constitution. Yet even it is
now headed by a man, Jacob Zuma, who brags about beating up gay men in his

The gay people cowering in these countries are asking for our support - by
funding their underground organisations, by putting gay rights on the
diplomatic agenda, and by consistently granting asylum to the victims of
homophobic persecution. Today, some gay people seeking safety are given the
right to remain, while others are told to go back and hide their sexuality.
But too many people avert their gaze from the murderous, homophobic
persecution happening now and, even more shockingly, some condemn the people
who are trying to stop it. Peter Tatchell, one of the great figures of the
fight for gay equality, has for years been organising practical support for
gay Jamaicans, Muslims and Africans. They have been incredibly grateful, but
he has been pilloried by people who pretend to be left-wingers here as "racist"
and "imperialist".

How is it "racist" to side with black and Muslim people who are
being hunted down and murdered by other black and Muslim people? How is it "imperialist"
to peacefully support their struggle, as they are begging us to? Should we
say to the successors of Brian Williamson - sorry, but we can't help you
today, because the descendants of your torturers and murderers were subject
to British imperial rape a century ago?

That would be real racism: to cheer a Stonewall for white people on the
streets of New York City, but to ignore it on the streets of Kingston or
Cairo or Kinshasa, just because the homophobic cops there happen to be black
or Arab. Homosexuality happens everywhere, so gay people fight for the
freedom to be themselves everywhere. The Stonewall riot, and its high-heeled
kick, isn't over; in many places, it has only just begun.

You can support gay rights organisations in the most homophobic parts of
the world. To support gay Iraqis, donate
. To support gay Jamaicans, donate
. To support Peter Tatchell extraordinary campaigns against
homophobic discrimination everywhere, click

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