LGBT Humans Rights Watch director speaks on global human rights issues

Luke Rafferty | Asst. Photo Editor

Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, speaks about LGBT rights and perceptions around the world during his talk in the Hall of Languages on Monday night.

Graeme Reid, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch in New York City, spoke about human rights issues and how they relate to traditional values in front of a nearly filled Killian Room in the Hall of Languages on Monday.

Reid talked about the problems surrounding LGBT rights and perceptions in many different countries, including his native country of South Africa.

He delved into his studies in South Africa, which focus on the way black and gay youths act in their own country. Their actions support their lifestyles in terms of laws, but not in terms of traditions.

“In the research, I show how contemporary gay identity in rural South Africa is a hybrid identity, drawing on many different traditions, and is unmistakably a product of its time, place, history and culture,” Reid said.

He praised a resolution that was adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2011, which focused on maintaining sexual orientation and gender identity rights. The resolution suggested a study should take place to analyze different discriminatory laws and practices against sexual orientation and gender identity that occur around the world.

Reid said this resolution may seem insignificant, but it is a big step toward bettering human rights laws.

“It was a watershed moment,” he said. “It was a watershed moment because it was the first U.N. resolution to bring specific focus on human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Reid said being gay in some foreign countries can be difficult because politicians often use the topic of sexuality as a scapegoat when dealing with larger issues. In Zimbabwe, he said, negative attention toward gays routinely occurs more often during the election cycle because that’s when the issue is most discussed.

He told the story of a Jamaican man who was stabbed and stoned to death with encouragement from police for being widely perceived as gay.

“Gays and lesbians often live in secret due to laws and social prohibitions,” Reid said. “They are the easy targets for social panics that erupt in times of crisis. In Jamaica, for example, gays are seen as harbingers of moral decay.”

Despite the controversies surrounding the way countries have traditionally viewed LGBT issues, Reid said tradition is something that should be embraced rather than feared.

“We should hold onto the idea of tradition and its principle and dynamic,” he said. “They’re compatible with the human rights principles. We should guard against unseating the terrain of tradition to conservative and homophobic rhetoric.”

Freshman television, radio and film major Elaina Crockett said she feels there is a profound value in the work Reid does.

“There are a lot of inequality issues worldwide, and I really appreciate anyone that wants to combat those issues, regardless of what that looks like,” she said. “Going to Latin America, Africa, countries that we don’t hear a lot about as far as their views on tradition and sexuality – I think it’s great to shine a light on it.”


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