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Story Publication logo May 27, 2013

Triumphs and Turmoil in a Month of International Gay Rights Advocacy

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Some of Harvey Milk's belongings at the GLBT History Museum in San Francisco. Image by Gerard Koskovich via Wikimedia Commons.

This month Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the United States, would have celebrated his 83rd birthday. Assassinated in his City Hall office 11 months after his historic election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, Milk's birthday commemorates both his legacy and the pivotal achievements of the gay community thereafter.

Despite the celebration, May has been particularly tumultuous month for gay rights and activism. Analogous to Milk's own life, the story of gay rights around the world has been riddled with victories and violence. Here are a few from around the world:

• On May 9th, Minnesota lawmakers voted to make the state the 12th in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage. Couples can begin marrying as early as August. Fellow mid-western state Illinois will also be anticipating a vote on an equal marriage bill by the end of the month. Amid the celebrations of marriage equality around the nation are questions whether such high-profile victories are either provoking (or eliciting more reporting of) biased-related hate crimes. For instance, after the shooting and killing of a young gay man in Greenwich Village this month, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg held a press conference releasing statistics about hate crimes in the city – in May of last year, there were 14. This year there are 29.

• On May 21st, during a Senate Judiciary Committee's meeting over the Immigration Reform Bill, an amendment allowing same-sex couples to sponsor foreign partners was dropped. With questions over the amendment's scope, timing, and legality as well as concerns that it could stalemate the Immigration Reform Bill, Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy dropped the amendment "with a heavy heart."

As the New York Times reports, the President of France, Francois Hollande, signed the "marriage of all" act, making France the 14th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. The law's passage came amid widespread protests attracting thousands of conservative and religious leaders, however. In a symbolic act of violence presumably against the law's passage, Dominique Veneer, a prolific, right-wing French historian, committed suicide in front of 1,500 tourists in Notre Dame Cathedral, shooting himself in the head at the church's alter.

• In Georgia, a small group of 50 gay rights demonstrators was swarmed by thousands of people, including priests and religious leaders. The crowd, organized in part by the Georgian Orthodox Church, threw rocks, eggs, trash, and metal at the demonstrators and police officers assisting in evacuation efforts, injuring a dozen people. The demonstrators were celebrating "International Day Against Homophobia" in the country's capital, Tblisi.

• In Jamaica, sodomy is punishable by ten years imprisonment and hard labor, a law that is upheld by the nearly 85 percent of Jamaicans who believe that homosexuality should be illegal. The Jamaican LGBT community endures violence, public anti-gay sentiment and institutionalized discrimination that leads to a denial of social services. Pushed underground and fearing the stigma of the HIV test as a "gay test," the LGBT community in Jamaica has been hard hit by HIV/AIDS – the HIV prevalence of men who have sex with men in Jamaica is 32 percent, compared to 1.6 percent in the general population. Men like Maurice, a leading human-rights activist who filed a lawsuit against the anti-sodomy law, are forced to choose between death threats and danger or being exiled from the country they call home.

Pulitzer Center grantee Micah Fink captures the tribulations and triumphs of the Jamaica's LGBT community in his film The Abominable Crime. The film follows Maurice and others in a tale of resilience, exile, and often-violent discrimination, spanning four years and five countries. The Abominable Crime will be screened at Frameline, the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival on June 25. Tickets can be purchased here.



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