Feb 252008
Authors: Mary Ackerson

Many gays in today’s world still fear for their lives on a daily basis.

Just last Saturday, a New York Times article described an incident in Jamaica a month ago when a group of gay men were attacked by a mob with machetes, sticks and knives. So far there have been no arrests, and the fate of one missing man remains unknown.

By Jamaican law, sex between men is punishable by up to ten years in prison. Discrimination and violence against gays is a common occurrence.

In our country where gay marriage is one the top political controversies — as seen by the Freedom to Marry Day that took place in Old Town on Saturday — it is disconcerting to be reminded that there are still countries where the private decision to engage in homosexual relations is illegal.

Iran is an even more extreme example of oppression of homosexuals.

Although President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies homosexuals exist in Iran, according to a New York Times article on Sept. 30, 2007, two gay teenagers were executed in 2005 in the city of Mashad. If it can be proven that gays in Iran have sexual relations, they are punished by lashing or death. They have even been arrested for merely looking “too feminine,” but are generally fined and released.

Regardless of whether or not the majority of a community believes it an unacceptable lifestyle choice, the United Nations, in its “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” has said “sexual rights include the right of all persons to express their sexual orientation, with due regard for the well-being and rights of others, without fear of persecution, denial of liberty or social interference.”

Thus, regulation of one’s private life with regard to sexual orientation is viewed as a violation of human rights. No government has the right to infringe on an individual’s rights to the extent that they are not harming others.

The Jamaican law is based upon the Christian beliefs that the majority of Jamaicans endorse. The commander of the Mandeville police station, inspector Claude Smith, said he doesn’t think that the situation for gays will change anytime soon.

He told the New York Times that “based on the response of these mobs, people get very angry when they come across them,” he said. “I don’t think they can survive in the open.”

This is a shockingly sad reality. It is completely incomprehensible to me how one can use his or her Christian beliefs to justify violence against gays. The main message of Jesus’ life and teachings was love.

Even if Christians view gays as “sinners,” Jesus is described as the friend of “sinners” — he didn’t ridicule or beat them for their lifestyle.

When one’s religious beliefs get in the way of love and acceptance of others, he or she is often the one who ends up inflicting the harm they claim to be preventing.

A poor alternative to violence in addressing the issue of homosexuality, simply ignoring its existence, can be just as damaging.

In response to people protesting the showing of Brokeback Mountain in Jamaica two years ago, the marketing director of the Palace Amusement Company, Melanie Graham, told the BBC, “it (homosexuality) is something that we need to come to grips with, it is here in the society. It is not something that is going to go away if you stick your head in the sand.”

Mary Ackerson is a senior political science major. Her column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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