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This week political scientist Peter Wickham said that he would support sanctions by the United States against Caribbean countries with laws that discriminate against same-sex relationships.
On the surface this may seem like a reasonable answer to the imprisonment, abuse and death of our LGBT brothers and sisters – money talks and it seems like a quick and conflict-free way to ensure equality in law. But is this really a necessary step for nations like the USA and the UK?
Certainly the situation for many LGBT people in some Caribbean and African nations is dire. Uganda sentences those found guilty of same-sex relationships to life imprisonment and also includes penalties for companies or organisations that support LGBT rights. Sexual acts between two men in Jamaica can result in a 10-year-long prison sentence. But this isn’t just restricted to so-called ‘third world’ nations.
It was only last year that David Cameron signed gay marriage into UK law. 50 years ago, gay men in England were given the choice of hard labour in prison or chemical castration for the crime of being homosexuality. Notable victims of the United Kingdom’s past anti-gay laws include Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing – whose treatment at the hands of the government was recently covered in the film The Imitation Game.
It’s a similar situation in America. Same-sex marriage is being pushed through state by state and is met with hostility from the right. Equality campaigners have been pushing for decades to ensure the safety and dignity of LGBT people. Virginia is currently considering a law that would allow doctors, teachers and all companies to deny service to LGBT people, under the guise of ‘religious or moral conviction’. So who is the USA to decide which nations are worthy of aid or not?
It’s hypocritical for nations in the West to consider punishments for other nations because of their anti-gay laws when we aren’t much better. The case of Aderonke Apata is a prime example of our blindness when it comes to LGBT people. As a lesbian from Nigeria, Aderonke spent 10 years seeking asylum in the United Kingdom, despite being at great risk of death, rape or imprisonment if she were sent back to her home country. Those seeking asylum because of their sexual orientation have to prove their sexuality to be considered eligible for asylum, something the European Court of Justice has condemned.
Sanctions, which usually take a financial form thus affecting trade and aid donations to a country, would probably do more harm than good. As previously mentioned, laws in places like Uganda also punish organisations that help LGBT people or advocate for their human rights. Decreasing the amount of aid to that country would negatively impact these organisations that fight for citizens. Do the civilians need to be punished for the workings of their government? Would the USA be okay if they were in this position? If they had a stagnant economy and decades of corruption in government, as well as a history of colonisation, would they accept sanctions placed on them by far-off nations who considered themselves better off than they were?
This isn’t to say that international discussions are easy to solve, they’re not. But understanding the cultural contexts that allow anti-LGBT feeling to flourish is important, as is actually sitting down and speaking with governments to establish human rights for all people.