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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Friday, December 01, 2006

American Apartheid: Notes from the new South Africa

It used to be popular to hate South Africa. That country on the southern tip of Africa was the last hold-out of white minority rule and the ugly policy of apartheid, a systems of laws that harshly segregated blacks and non-whites (legally referred to as "Coloureds") from the priveleged white population.

U2 lead singer Bono and other rockers calling themselves Artists United Against Apartheid released an album called "Sun City," named after a white-only resort in South Africa, and took a pledge not to perform there until apartheid was abolished. Universities, at the urging of student activists, began to divest themselves of investments in South Africa. It became unfashionable to own gold Krugerrands. Even Mel Gibson's second "Lethal Weapon" movie featured white South African diplomats as the bad guys in 1989.

Faced with the wrath of Mel and Bono - not to mention near universal condemnation around the world and at the U.N. - South Africa began to change. The racist system of apartheid, which had been in place since 1948, fell in 1994.

Once a symbol of oppression, South Africa became a symbol of hope on the African continent and around the world.

In little more than a decade, South Africa has gone from international outcast to a respected member of the world community and a leader in the field of human rights. Meanwhile, America has gone from acknowledged superpower and leader of the free world to a nation viewed with mistrust and sometimes out-and-out loathing.

Since 9/11 and BushCo's ill-conceived war in Iraq, America's standing in the world community has dropped like a stone carelessly kicked into the Grand Canyon. BushCo squandered the world's sympathy and support following the 9/11 attacks on a war based on either erroneous beliefs or outright lies that Iraq was stock-piling weapons of mass destruction. We thumbed our national nose at the international community's concern about how we treated prisoners ... oops! I mean "detainees." Secret prisons, "water boarding," suspension of habeus corpus, photos of grinning Marines pointing to the genitals of naked Iraqi prisoners, thousands upon thousands of dead Iraqi civilians, and a leader viewed by much of the world as a three-quarters mad cowboy who would rather shoot first (and second ... and third) than ever ask questions, painted a bleak picture of 21st century America for the rest of the world.

Somewhere along the way America lost its soul. Or perhaps it simply traded it off for a chance to seize control of an ever-dwindling supply of oil.

The American experiment that began with such promise in words like "We, the people" and the visions of great men of ideas seems destined to draw its final curtain on a leader without a vision who refers to the Constitution as "just a goddamn piece of paper."

LGBT Americans see the reflection of America's ever-speeding decline in our own positions on the national stage. Always marginalized, we had begun to see movement toward having a place at America's table. Rights began to be carved out. Some cities and states passed laws to protect us from discrimination or allowed us domestic partner benefits. We won court challenges on the legality of same-sex only sodomy laws, parenting rights, custody battles, and more.

Then came BushCo and the rise of the hate-mongering "new" conservatives. Suddenly our rights became frozen. As more and more states enacted bans on same-sex marriages, the rights we had won began to be chipped away. Those who would normally be our political allies abandoned us out of fear just supporting our rights would doom them to election losses.

Few things drive this home better than the news out of South Africa today: South Africa becomes first country on continent to legalize same-sex marriage, according to the Associated Press.

Somewhere along the way, America and South Africa traded places. While South Africa moves to become a progressive nation that protects all of it's citizens, America falls back on out-dated bigotry to justify oppressing a minority group.

Now even the U.N. is beginning to pay attention to the plight of LGBT people. A petition titled "For the Universal Decriminalization of Homosexuality" and based essentially on the articles of the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been introduced into consideration, New York City's Gay City News reports. That document says, in part, "We ask the United Nations to request a universal abolition of the so-called 'crime of homosexuality,' of all 'sodomy laws,' and laws against so-called 'unnatural acts' in all the countries where they still exist." According to the article:

Five Nobel Prize winners, six Academy Award winners, 10 Pulitzer Prize winners, and two former French prime ministers are among the hundreds of VIPs who have endorsed a critically important new global petition campaign for a United Nations resolution in favor of the universal decriminalization of homosexuality, unveiled Monday in Paris.

The resolution and the petition campaign for it were the brainchild of Professor Louis-Georges Tin, president and founder of the Paris-based International Committee for IDAHO (the International Day Against Homophobia).

"With more than 70 countries in the world still making homosexuality a crime by law-and punishable by death in 12 of them-this is a legal scandal which the petition for a proposed U.N. resolution decriminalizing homosexuality gives people a concrete way to fight," Tin said in a statement launching the online petition drive.

Elsewhere, other countries are stepping forward to stand against anti-gay discrimination. Norway is at the forefront of recent efforts, according to the U.K.'s Pink News:

Representatives from Norway will be delivering a short oral statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday on the issue, and ARC activists want other countries to pledge their support.

The statement deals with the most severe human rights abuses , such as violence, torture and death, directed against people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. ...

The main States which have already joined, or might consider joining, the statement are Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the European Union have expressed their support for the statement.
I don't see America on that list of supporters, though the article does mention that "the USA may support the statement with sufficient international support and domestic encouragement."

Odd how we used to be the first nation to call for an end to human rights abuses. Now we wait and offer our support only after we see who among our allies is taking a stand.

Odd, too, how we used to condemn countries like South Africa who make bigotry official national policy and now, sadly, we have become one of them.