At the 81st PEN World Congress this October in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, the delegates of the General Assembly of PEN International, the largest world-wide organization of professional writers, passed Resolution #20 protesting the anti-LGBTQI legislation enacted recently in 75 nation-states. 250 delegates from 80 PEN Centers from 70 countries and regions of the world participated in this Congress. Resolution # 20 received the support of all voting Centers. There were only three abstentions.
The astonishingly rapid acceptance of ‘gay marriage’ and other LGBTQI rights in the US, Ireland, and other countries masks a most serious global backlash against LGBTQI people and their supporters. In her book ‘Words Will Break Cement: the Passion of Pussy Riot’ (Riverhead Books 2014), PEN member Masha Gessen documents how the Russian Federation restricts and punishes artistic freedom of expression for women and all other individuals and groups considered ‘anti-state.’ Putin’s Russia, with its cult of muscular masculine nationalism, especially singles out LGBTQI writers and writers who support LGBTQI people and their rights, the stated reason being that such speech threatens and injures Russian values. Putin and Russia do not confine their anti-gay muscle flexing to the Russian Federation; they vigorously export their versions of state-ism and nationalism to the former Soviet republics and their former satellite nations.
At the 80th PEN World Congress in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (a former Soviet Republic), PEN leaders confronted Kyrgyzstan officials on their efforts to criminalize ‘gay propaganda’ -- even the mere discussion of ‘non-traditional relationships.’ This legislation is still pending and stands a good chance of passing. (Cfr: THE DAILY BEAST: QUORUM -- 09.18.15 -- 3:43 PM ET.)
According to PEN, as of this October, same-sex relationships have been criminalized in 75 countries, and have been made punishable by death in 10 countries. Algeria, Belarus, Iran, Lithuania, Malaysia, Nigeria, the Russian Federation, and Saudi Arabia, to name a few, have enacted laws prohibiting free discussion of LGBTQI people – it is a crime to talk about, let alone write about, the existence of these human beings, our brothers and sisters.
What is most alarming about this type of anti-gay legislation is that it links discussion of LGBTQI people and their rights with ‘security and anti-terrorism’ regulations. Many of these countries are our allies against ‘terrorism’ and receive anti-terrorist funding from US.
These anti- LGBTQI laws give license to violence against LGBTQI people. In ruthless ‘Catch 22’ logic, these laws make it a crime to write about or protest this violence against LGBTQI people, with the result that many LGBTQI writers are now desperately seeking asylum in safe countries.
In the Americas, 11 nation-states — all in the Caribbean — criminalize same-sex relationships. These laws are applied not just to people who engage in same-sex behavior but to people who ‘look’ gay or abnormal or ‘act’ in ways judged to be not normal. Human rights organizations cite the violence against gay men in Jamaica to be among the worst in the world.
The Inter–American Commission on Human Rights has repeatedly brought these violations of basic human rights to the attention of the Organization of American States —to no avail. Throughout Latin America, impunity for those who attack LGBTQI individuals and writers continues to be the norm.
PEN International has set up a blog called OUTWRITE which enables LGBTGI writers from all over the world to communicate with each other, give support, and provide information on what is going on in their respective countries and regions. I am happy and proud to say that I will be contributing to this blog.
Many people ask me what is PEN. Here is my answer: PEN International supports freedom of expression -- including the freedom to create and to write -- and works to protect writers at risk for the exercising of their fundamental human rights to write and publish.
I had the honor to participate in the 81st PEN World Congress in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, and to vote for Jennifer Clement, the first woman president of PEN since its inception in 1921, and to vote for Resolution #20.
First Publication: Open to Thinking: WINDY CITY TIMES Chicago Wednesday 04 November 2015