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Beyond Iran: Gays, Human Rights & the State Dept.

Michael Petrelis | 04.08.2005 15:43

Documenting Antigay Human Rights Abuses

Dear Friends:

On a daily basis, antigay human rights abuses occur around the globe, and I believe the first way to combat the abuses is to have them documented by the U.S. State Department and included in its annual report on countries adhering to human rights treaties.

In April 1991, after I had learned that the most recent State human rights report included only a single gay-specific citation, I arranged a meeting at State with the analyst responsible for the actual writing of the report. He promised, on behalf of State, to include antigay violations, provided he received verifiable documentation from non-government agencies, U.S. embassies and human rights activists. (See Rex Wockner's story below.)

Fourteen years later, the 2004 yearly report positively bulges with references to homophobic violence and legislative prejudices in at least twenty countries. From Albania to Zimbabwe, we were bashed, brutalized and denied basic civil rights, according to the U.S. government, something that should receive more concern from U.S. gays. (Source: )

When the latest report was issued back in February, as it is every year at that time, not one gay rights organization called attention to what was in the report. Here we had _our_ State department presenting evidence about the abuses suffered by gays beyond U.S. borders, and we didn't insist our groups make damn good use of the report to help our foreign brothers and sisters.

The question now, for me, is what will I do before the December 2005 State deadline for submission of records, news stories and other files about all human rights abuses abroad, to be considered for inclusion in next year's annual report?

A few answers come to mind.

I will send all available information on each country's mistreatment of gays to the two people who will write the 2005 report. Here are their names and ways to you can also contact them.

Nadia Tongour, Director, Human Rights Report
Phone: (202) 261-8024

LeRoy Potts, Deputy Director, Human Rights Report
Phone: 202-261-8025

State Department
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Please make sure when writing to either Tongour or Potts to put the name of the country in your subject or re: line to assist them in routing your letter and documentation to the proper regional desk.

Throughout the year, I'll bring certain country's homophobic violations to the attention of the State analyst charged with monitoring that nation's human practices and principles.

If you also want to reach a country desk at State, go to this page on the agency's web site, , then click on the letter for the country in question. You'll be linked to that letter's list of nations, along with the phone number. Call that number and inform the analyst of the antigay abuse, and be ready to provide State with news articles and other documentation.

If an incident in a particular country concerns me, I will call the press office at State and speak with the media liaison for that country and ask what comments or statements the department has to offer about the given situation.

Of course, when possible and if deemed necessary by me, I'll post State's remarks on my blog.

The number for State's media center is (202) 647-2492.

Should you also have a blog, why not get in the habit of calling State for a comment when abuses of gays in other countries makes the news, and posting State's remarks on your blog?

In my heart, I hope that these activities will go a long way to help State prepare and issue the most comprehensive annual human rights report next year, one that's extremely inclusive of antigay violations.

And should you also be made aware of some trouble one of our gay brothers or sisters suffers somewhere around the globe, please share your evidence and concerns with State by using the contact information above.

As we move beyond Iran and its public hanging in July of two male teenagers who might have been gay, let's use the existing mechanisms of our State Department to document and combat abuses of gay people in foreign lands.


In a message dated 7/29/2005 7:00:36 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

by Rex Wockner

[story filed April 10, 1991]

The man who writes the State Department's report on human-rights abuses
around the world has agreed to include antigay incidents if activists
worldwide provide confirmable information.

The agreement by Tom Williams, director of the Country Human Rights
Reports Team, came at an April 9 meeting with three Washington activists
-- Michael Petrelis of ACT UP, Margaret Cantrell of Gay and Lesbian Watch,
and Barrett Brick of the World Congress of Gay and Lesbian Jewish

Activists presented Williams with 14 months of Outlines, a Chicago
gay/lesbian newspaper with extensive coverage of international news, to
document the extent of gay/lesbian human-rights abuses around the globe.

"The only mention of gays and lesbians in the 1990 report was a paragraph
on Denmark's legalization of gay marriage," Petrelis said. "I want them to
improve this report as it relates to gay and AIDS issues.

"Williams was very receptive," Petrelis said. "He listened intently and
told us what to do to get this information included in the report."

Petrelis initially encountered opposition before locating Williams. "The
undersecretary for the division told me the report could not include gays
and lesbians without a Congressional mandate," Petrelis said.

But Williams said antigay incidents merely need to fit into existing
categories approved by Congress, such as disappearance, torture and
arbitrary arrest.

During the meeting, the three activists highlighted the reported mass
executions of gays in Iran, the extended police and judicial harassment of
the Comunidad Homosexual Argentina, and the reported murders of
transvestites and gays by Maoist guerrillas in Peru.

"I really feel we're going to get somewhere," Petrelis said, "if activists
around the world provide the information."

Reports should be filed with the political counselor at the U.S. embassy
in the nation where the antigay incident takes place and carbon-copied to
Williams and the Washington "desk officer" for that particular country.
The address is Bureau of Human Rights, Department of State, Washington,
D.C. 20520. Phone: (202) 647-1442.

The paragraph on Denmark in the "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
for 1990" reads: "In 1989, Denmark became the first nation ever to grant
homosexual partnerships a legal standing and to give homosexual partners
most the same legal rights as heterosexuals. The first case involving a
1987 law prohibiting discrimination due to sexual orientation was tried in
1990. In this case, the author of a published letter to a daily newspaper
was charged with 'inciting racism or hatred' after she wrote that
homosexuals deserve AIDS and cited the Bible for terming homosexuality
immoral. Though vigorously prosecuted, she was acquitted."


Michael Petrelis
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