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From the streets of New York City to the townships of South Africa, the LGBT rights movement and its opposition are engaged in an unprecedented international battle. GlobalPost presents an ongoing series of reports from key locations at this pivotal time in history, telling highly personal, often overlooked stories from the fight.
LGBT advocates face a hulking, well-funded force that fights with religious fervor. But by most tallies, they're winning.
UNITED NATIONS — This June the UN Human Rights Council narrowly passed its first-ever resolution calling for universal gay rights with the support of more than 80 countries. It was an historic milestone, a global recognition that gay rights and human rights were finally synonymous, at least on paper, here in New York at the world body.
How these rights play out in the real world is a very different story, and it is the subject of this GlobalPost “Special Report” which will examine the rights of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) through a series of reports over the next two months from every corner of the world.
In South Africa, for example, the very country that introduced the successful resolution, there is a domestic crisis of rampant gender-based violence. That violence includes a uniquely horrifying brutality known as “corrective rape” which is a targeted sexual attack against lesbians. The full extent of this disturbing phenomenon is not known, but human rights advocates have reported 10 cases per week in Cape Town alone.
And in response to the ‘Rainbow Nation’’s effort at the U.N., several African nations admonished it for allying with Western countries on homosexuality — often painted as non-native to Africa.
Such is the incongruous nature of what GlobalPost has dubbed “The Rainbow Struggle.” It is an international movement that has achieved enormous social and legal victories in the past 10 years — spanning from the Netherlands‘ landmark gay marriage legalization in 2001 to the end of the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in September. But it is a human rights movement facing a counter-movement for ‘traditional values’ that is better funded and equally fervent, tending to see homosexuality not only as a threat to humanity but also humanity’s relationship with the divine.
The result is a global culture war steeped in religion and politics, and it is a battle that is now at a critical juncture.
(Read GlobalPost's in-depth 2010 coverage of the global gay rights struggle: Rainbow Planet.)
On one hand, Christian anti-gay advocacy groups like Abiding Truth Ministries are relatively unknown in the United States but carry great weight in countries like Uganda, Latvia and Russia, where it has established outposts and partnered with local religious leaders.
Abiding Truth president Scott Lively and two American colleagues visited Uganda in March 2009, hosting a three-day event that demonized homosexual behavior as a threat the African family. Six months later, Ugandan parliamentarian David Bahati introduced what has been dubbed the “Kill the Gays Bill,” initially including a death sentence for gay sex acts. The bill is now on hold in Uganda's parliament after a sustained international outcry against it.
But the message Abiding Truth’s Lively and his allies delivered is unequivocal: “Homosexuality is not a benign, morally neutral social phenomenon,” Lively argues. “It is an insidious and contagious form of sexual perversion condemned by God as an abomination.”
In the global struggle for gay rights, according to these activists, God is the LGBT movement’s greatest opponent. And in Lively’s opinion, gays are winning.
“The homosexual agenda represents an existential threat to Christian civilization and we're in the final phase of the war, losing badly,” Lively believes.
But men like Jose Mantero, the Roman Catholic priest who was removed from the priesthood in 2002 shortly after becoming the first Spanish priest ever to come out as gay, disagrees wholeheartedly.
“I have seen the anguish that homophobic sermons can cause gay people who are perfectly good Christians,” Mantero says.
The divine opposition
In coming out, he confronted a hulking assembly of political and religious bodies — ranging from the Vatican, which oversees the world’s 1 billion Catholics, to the worldwide Anglican Communion, which presides over the churches of some 100 million Anglican — or Episcopal — followers, to the Organization of the Islamic Conference and various groupings of Orthodox Judaism.
These larger established religious organizations devote literally hundreds of millions of dollars annually to their mission. And from the pulpit in churches, mosques and synagogues, they promote their traditional view of religion which views homosexuality as a grave sin. In addition, there is a number of more active, evangelical American groups like the Exodus Global Alliance, which ministers to what it estimates as “155 million homosexuals who struggle