As if you need another reason to travel to Europe, Copenhagen was just named the most gay-friendly city in the world by Lonely Planet. The capital city of Denmark recently celebrated it’s 25th anniversary as the first city in the world to allow same-sex civil unions, and same-sex marriage has been legal there since 2012. In July, one of the city’s popular squares was renamed “Rainbow Square” to commemorate the LGBT movement.
I’ve never been to Copenhagen. Until now, whenever I thought of the city, I thought of Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, a novella about a Jewish family trying to escape Copenhagen during the Nazi occupation of Denmark.
What is still overlooked by much of Holocaust literature is the fact that gay men and women — regardless if they were Jewish — were also sent to camps like Auschwitz and received some of the most extreme torture treatments there. Paragraph 175 is a documentary that details the horrors gays and lesbians experienced in the camps.
In 2014, much of the Western world has noticeably evolved on LGBT rights. But despite great progress in Europe and the United States — despite places like Denmark — there are still ten countries, by the Washington Post’s count, that punish homosexuality with death. Thes are Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, Nigeria, Mauritania, Qatar, Somalia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Aside from Somalia, Mauritania, and Nigeria, all but eight countries in Africa condemn homosexuality as illegal and deserving life imprisonment. The remaining eight don’t outlaw homosexuality only by a technicality — there are no laws for or against homosexuality in these countries.
Out of the entire African continent, only one country, South Africa, allows same-sex marriage. Homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Homosexuality is even illegal in Guyana, South America. On paper, Russia does not outlaw homosexuality, just every visual representation of it.
Here in the United States, same-sex marriage is only legal in certain states. Why? Because some Republicans want to keep fighting a tired battle long after their country has shifted its opinion on this issue. [Author’s update: A year after this post was written, we won it.]
With data like this, the worldview is darker. Safety zones and battle lines are clearly drawn. Cities like Copenhagen shine like small beacons of sanctuary in a bleak landscape. The world can be divvied up into welcoming areas and regions of hate. In the U.S., this can be the difference of a few miles between a city and the towns and countryside surrounding it.
What would it take for Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan, to become Copenhagen? So many parts of the world are so mired in cultural tradition and fierce religious practices dating back thousands of years that the question is not how these places can change — because I don’t think they can, and I don’t think they will — but how will we protect our queer brothers and sisters who live there? How will we get them out? How can we give them the hope and resources they need?
When we win national marriage equality in the United States — and we will — we can’t trick ourselves into thinking that such a victory marks a successful end to this movement. Transgender rights, same-sex adoption rights, anti-discrimination policies in the housing market and workplace, hate crime legislation, and those horrifying anti-sodomy laws that still exist in many states are our next battlegrounds. These are future fights we cannot become complacent about. They are coming.
And since we live in such a rapidly-progressing world, we need to turn our attention to the places overlooked by the LGBT movement — Africa, the Middle East, Japan, China. A victor’s sense of complacency, of having “won,” means others elsewhere will suffer. Don’t let them.
If you’re reading this in hostile territory, whether that’s in the U.S. or overseas, I’m with you, I’m here, and I’m always an email away. You’re never alone.
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