Originally published on the blog of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
On the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, I’ve been reflecting a great deal on the power and possibility of social change. The climactic moment on August 28, 1963 came when Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his quintessential “I Have a Dream” speech, which crystalized decades of tireless activism and ignited decades more. But a lesser-known speech delivered by Rabbi Yoachim Prinz—the President of the American Jewish Congress, who took the podium immediately before King—was stirring in a different way.
Prinz understood the plight of African Americans and other disenfranchised groups in the context of his own experience as the rabbi of a Jewish community in Berlin during Hitler’s regime. He devoted much of his life in the United States to the civil rights movement. And, in his speech at the March on Washington, he articulated a message that has always resonated with me: “Bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.”
A Ugandan activist holds up a popular tabloid ‘Red Pepper,’ one of several newspapers inciting prejudice and violence against LGBTI people in Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal and LGBTI people are routinely denied their rights. Photo: Evan Abramson
A new report released last week by the Pew Research Center reveals alarming data about attitudes toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities around the world. Here are a few statistics that shine a spotlight on the countries in which AJWS works:
- In El Salvador, 35 percent of survey respondents believe the LGBTI community should be accepted, whereas 62 percent do not;
- In Kenya, 8 percent of survey respondents believe the LGBTI community should be accepted, whereas 90 percent do not;
- In Uganda, 4 percent of survey respondents believe the LGBTI community should be accepted, whereas 96 percent do not.
These attitudes are symptomatic of the oppression LGBTI people face on a regular basis—the loss of their jobs, unequal access to healthcare and limited opportunities for education. LGBTI people are ostracized, rejected, threatened and assaulted just for living their lives.
It gets worse.
A few weeks ago, I attended the International Human Rights Funders Group (IHRFG) conference with several other AJWS colleagues. My first time at IHRFG, I decided 2 furiously abbr., #hashtag & @mention for 2 days str8 (AKA Live Tweet) the sessions I attended in an effort to document the fascinating conversations going on at #IHRFG2012NY. Shameless plug: follow @AJWSinASIA!
Tweets from the 2012 International Human Rights Funders Group conference.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with IHRFG or AJWS’s involvement, here’s a quick rundown:
What is IHRFG? IHRFG defines itself as a “global network of donors and grant-makers committed to advancing human rights around the world through effective philanthropy.” What does that mean, minus our wonk-speak? We’re a group of donors passionate about funding social justice movements and human rights work globally. We work all over the world. We come together to share experiences and learn from each other. We want to be the most strategic grant-makers we can be. Read More
Rosanna Flamer-Caldera. Photo: Indu Bandara
During Pride Month, many countries around the world have been celebrating progress, equality and human rights gains for LGBT people. But in Sri Lanka, we are fighting to simply survive.
Since 1886, LGBT people in Sri Lanka have suffered tremendous bigotry and oppression. The criminalization of same-sex relationships along with cultural and social stigmas means that LGBT Sri Lankans face all forms of discrimination, marginalization and violence. Many LGBT Sri Lankans lack basic health care and often have low self-esteem and internalized homophobia.
A law that is over 100 years old, which directly hinders equal rights for all, must be revoked. Consensual sex between adults should not be policed by the State nor should it be grounds for criminal punishment.
It’s time to urge the Sri Lankan government to decriminalize same-sex relationships. Sign this petition to support LGBT Sri Lankans’ basic human rights—something we all deserve.
Rosanna Flamer-Caldera is the executive director of AJWS grantee EQUAL GROUND in Sri Lanka.
Foreign Policy Magazine recently released its list of the Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2011. We were disappointed—though not so surprised—by the paucity of women on this list. So, we’ve added six extraordinary women who deserve recognition.
Leymah Gbowee, Liberia. You’ve probably heard a lot about Leymah Gbowee, in the news and on our blog. She won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize and is the founder of AJWS’s grantee Women Peace and Security Network- Africa (WIPSEN), which is why we were so surprised that she doesn’t appear on Foreign Policy’s list. (Leymah was, however, named as one of Forbes’ 10 Most Interesting Women of 2011.) Together with activists from the Liberian women’s movement, Leymah mobilized women from all walks of life and across religious and ethnic lines to demand peace and put an end to Liberia’s devastating 14-year civil war. She also fought to ensure that women could participate in political processes and rebuild the country.
Imagine finding yourself suddenly blind in the prime of your life. Now imagine that you’re not only blind, but displaced from your home by civil war, living in an entirely new place, trying to navigate the world with a daunting new disability.
This is the hand that Vellayan Subramaniam was dealt, when, at 24, he was blinded in an accident in his final year of university. But unlike many, Subramaniam used these setbacks to garner strength, creating a life dedicated to helping others.