Melissa Minor Peters
The death knell doesn't toll so loudly in our own backyard any more, and thus we often view news of homophobic discrimination and injustice elsewhere as evidence that other cultures are archaic.
But Northwestern University anthropologist Melissa Minor Peters noted in a 2014 interview with The Bilerico Project that countries like Canada and the United States "exaggerate or trumpet their gay rights record in order to justify military and economic meddling in other regions, while papering over [their own] egregious human rights violations."
In February, shortly after Uganda's AHA was passed, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird made Canada's position clear in an official statement: "This act is a serious setback for human rights, dignity and fundamental freedoms and deserves to be widely condemned."
But how can Canada take aim at the state of human rights abroad when we have our own ongoing history of violations?
Refugee lawyer El-Farouk Khaki makes a point of reminding me that many people come to Canada to escape terrible conditions in their country, only to face discrimination within our borders.
"I've had Ugandan and other clients who had to go to Fort McMurray and Nunavut to get jobs despite their language and education.
"When people come to Canada, they face racism as well as homophobia. Their own ethno-racial-national communities may not be a support. People are often forced to continue living in a cycle of poverty because their qualifications may not be recognized, and they lack that dreaded and elusive ‘Canadian experience.' Then they are forced into the closet, looking for work in their ethno-racial-national communities."
Outright violence is still a major factor here, too.
Statistics Canada reported in 2011 that hate crimes based on sexual orientation rose 10 per cent, following a 13 per cent increase in 2009. In both years, the most violent hate crimes largely targeted people because of their sexual orientation.
Learn the names of the victims: in 1985, Kenneth Zeller was murdered in High Park by five youths; in 2001, Aaron Webster was assaulted and killed by four people in Vancouver's Stanley Park; in 2009, 62-year-old Ritchie Dowrey was assaulted in Vancouver's Fountainhead Pub; again in 2009, Chris Skinner died after he was beaten and run over by an SUV in Toronto (note: despite Skinner's friends' insistence, police refused to identify this as a hate crime); in 2010, the house of a gay couple in Little Pond, PEI, was firebombed and destroyed.
This condensed history lesson shows that our own rights and freedoms are fragile.
The United Nations first discussed LGBTQ rights in 2008, and the UN approved a resolution affirming the rights of LGBTQ people for the first time 2011 - and it just barely passed, 23-to-19, with three abstentions. (Mauritius was the only African state to approve the initiative.)
Canada is a leader on LGBTQ rights and freedoms, but sodomy was only decriminalized in 1969, while same-sex marriage only become a nationwide reality in 2005.