Thirty years ago, it would be unthinkable that there would be anti-discrimination laws to protect gays in public and private employment, custody of children, immigration etc. But they are now common in over 15 states in the world. And nine counties have laws that punish vilification of gays. The 31 Aug 2002 issue of the Economist reported that many leading banking and investment banking firms including HSBC, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan Chase have formed GLT support groups for their staff.
In Asia, in 1997, the Tokyo High Court ruled that the Tokyo City Board of Education discriminated against the gay group Occur in 1990 by refusing to let its members hold an overnight study meeting at a city-run youth hostel. Lawyers for the government argued that letting gays sleep overnight in youth hostels would "cause disorder" because hostel rules require that "men and women ... sleep in separate rooms. [A]llowing gay people in the same room, who are likely to have sex, would cause troubles to other guests," they said.
But the court rejected the government's argument. It said: Government agencies are "obligated to pay careful attention to the situation of homosexuals as a minority and to guarantee that their rights and interests be upheld," the court said. "Indifference and ignorance regarding homosexuality are inexcusable on the part of persons in the position of wielding governmental authority."
It also said: The rejection was unconstitutional as it denied gay people equal access to the public facility," the High Court said. "The city government should have given due consideration to homosexual people, and its indifference and ignorance will not be tolerated."
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has finally included sexual orientation as a category protected from discrimination within its new human rights guidelines.
With this decision on November 21, 2000, Tokyo sets a significant precedent as the first city or country within Asia to provide anti-discrimination protection on the basis of sexual orientation.
Fifteen years ago, it would be inconceivable that benefits and rights reserved for straight marriages would be extended fully or partially to same-sex couples. But now same-sex couples in ten countries and the state of Vermont in America enjoy such rights and privileges. And who could ever think that same-sex marriage would be legalized in the Netherlands in 2000, making it the first state in the world to do so.
In Baker v State the Vermont Supreme Court held that "legal protection and security for the claimants avowed commitment to an intimate and lasting human relationship is simply, when all is said and done, a recognition of our common humanity."
(ii) To empathise with the sufferings, persecutions and struggles of GLBT People. In the Amnesty International Report 2001 entitled 'Crimes of hate, conspiracy of silence: Torture based on sexual identity - an unacknowledged global shame' (the Amnesty Report), there is well-established evidence to show that LBGT people have tortured, coerced into accepting medical and psychiatric treatment, sexually abused, to the extent that they have tried to escape from their countries and seek asylum in other countries.
Homosexual acts are criminalized in over 80 countries. And in Sudan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Chechen Republic, Iran, Yemen and Mauritania, homosexual acts are punishable by death. And gays have been put to death over the past ten years in Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The Amnesty Report states that "generalised tolerance of abuses against LGBT people, fear of retaliation and reluctance by the victims to gain exposure, are some of the factors contributing to this silence."
You should read a very tragic yet hopeful story of the persecution of gays which can be found in the introduction of the Amnesty Report. Justice Albie Sachs, Constitutional Court of South Africa, 1998 states that:
In the case of gays, history and experience teach us that the scarring comes not from poverty or powerlessness, but from invisibility. It is the tainting of desire, it is the attribution of perversity and shame to spontaneous bodily affection, it is the prohibition of the expression of love, it is the denial of full moral citizenship in society because you are what you are, that impinges on the dignity and self-worth of a group.
(iii) To contextualise and see Safehaven and all the GLBT groups in Singapore as part of worldwide struggle for equality, justice and freedom. By providing a safe and accepting environment for GLBT people to express and associate with each other, the gay support groups in Singapore are securing and advancing the inalienable and fundamental human rights of freedom of expression and association for GLBT.