While attention recently has shifted to the subject via a popular and much-discussed film, it seems as if the debate has made little impact on a global level at combating violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered individuals (GLBT).
Close to home in 1998, the murder of Matthew Shepard made all-too-apparent the horrors of violence enacted on gay individuals. Sadly, this crime was not an isolated event, and such crimes of hatred, ignorance, fear and intolerance continue around the world. Indeed, by examining many cases around the world, this epidemic of violence against GLBT individuals seems an ever-present and ever-horrific situation that we all must fight to end.
Just last month, concerns of homophobia and violence against the GLBT community grew immensely after the murder of a young lesbian in Cape Town, South Africa. While walking home with a friend early last month, 19-year-old Zoliswa Nkonyana was brutally beaten and stabbed by a group of men wielding golf clubs, bricks and knives.
Sadly, as with many cases of violence against the GLBT community worldwide, this was a tragic episode in a long string of horrific events befalling many in the GLBT community in South Africa, organizers of local activist groups reported to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
"In the past 10 years I have recorded 50 rape cases involving black lesbians in townships," said Zanele Muholi, a community relations officer with the non-governmental organization, Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW), in a report by IRIN, the news service for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs.
While the crisis of violence against women in South Africa continues to grow, it is severely carried over to women who appear to be challenging the traditional patriarchal order. Lesbians in particular are perceived as a threat to male dominance, and thus violence, discrimination, intimidation and insults are often unleashed upon these women.
"Rape and violence against lesbians is common (in South Africa)… the men who perpetrate such crimes see rape as curative and as an attempt to show women their place in society," said Dawn Betteridge, director of Triangle Project, in the IRIN report.
Other places around the world also seem to be seeing more visible, if not an increase in, discrimination and violence against GLBT individuals.
In Russia, a gay pride parade was blocked from taking place, and violence was threatened against any who attempted to participate.
"Hostilities against gays in eastern Europe became more menacing this month after the leader of a Muslim group in Russia said that gays should be 'thrashed' if they try to hold a gay pride march there in May, and other religious leaders jumped on the bandwagon," reported Lisa Keen in the Bay Area Reporter. Hostility appears to be growing toward the proposed march and the GLBT activists sponsoring the march, the BBC reports.
In nearby Poland, a recent gay awareness and pride march was held, despite a ban by the mayor of Warsaw, wherein 2,500 GLBT community members and supporters turned out. However, such marchers were met with taunts and had eggs thrown at them, Keen reported.
With one transgendered woman brutally gunned down on the streets of Guatemala City and another wounded in the attack, the December shooting marks a long string of violence upon GLBT individuals in the country. Indeed, over the course of just three months near the end of 2005, three gay men were gunned down in various parts of the city, crimes for which there have been no prosecutions, noted Human Rights Watch.
"Human rights are not a popularity contest," said Scott Long of Human Rights Watch in a recent report, and rightly so.
While conditions of hatred, fear, intolerance and discrimination are still being fostered, such violence will likely, and sadly, continue to grow. Working toward a more equitable society that recognizes human rights for all individuals likely will help in stopping some of this violence, and hopefully save many lives from these hate-based crimes.
Meg Burd is a graduate student in anthropology. Her column runs every Thursday in the Collegian.