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Learning Community hosts panel on LGBT rights around the globe

By Eleanor Hudd
On March 11, 2014

  • Philosophy professor and faculty at the Africana Studies Institue spoke as part of a panel discussion at Global House on attitudes towards LGBT rights across the globe. Santiago Pelaez/ The Daily Campus

The Global House learning community hosted a global forum Tuesday that addressed differing attitudes toward LGBT rights throughout the world.
The event, comprised of a lecture and discussion, was led by Lewis Gordon, a UConn professor of philosophy, and Fleurette King, executive director of the UConn Rainbow Center. The event was particularly salient in the face of the wave of anti-gay laws being enacted throughout the world. Though Russia's vocal anti-gay stance, Uganda's recent legislation and even the religious freedom legislation being debated here in the U.S. stand as the most well-known examples, anti-gay legislation has become an unfortunate global trend, and the discussion Tuesday night was a critical one.
Gordon immediately established himself as a powerful and effective speaker, setting a tone for the event of reasoned optimism despite the setbacks the LGBT community has faced recently throughout the world. He was able to analyze and explain the various interlocking structures-political, economic, psychological, and sociological-that allow for this kind of oppression to continue. He spoke in depth about the reaction of groups in power-in this case, the heterosexual population of the countries in which these laws are being enacted-to movements towards equality, particularly emphasizing the changes they themselves must undergo as society changes.
"In being able to have certain people come in the room," Gordon said. "It changes the people already in the room."
Gordon used historical examples to illustrate how systematic oppression is perpetuated. In discussing the changes in South Africa upon the fall of apartheid, Gordon noted the crucial difference between legislated equality and "the lived reality of how we go about the organization of social life."
"At the level of the law," Gordon said about South Africa. "Radical equality had to be dictated... but there is disconnect between law and the function of society."
For those opposed to this "sociological realignment of humanity," Gordon said "the issue became how to block equality [from] getting to the level of economy."
King, for her part, emphasized the importance of not casting the U.S. as a more developed or enlightened nation in this discussion.
"Our country is not less homophobic [than others]," she said. "It's a matter of what the mechanics are."
In particular, King pointed to legislation like that currently being debated in Kansas-which, if passed, would allow businesses to deny services to LGBT individuals based on their own religious views.
"When you have these laws on the books," King said, "it gives people implicit permission to act on their prejudice."
King also discussed some of the more violent human rights violations occurring in Uganda.
"They were putting names and photos [of LGBT individuals] in the newspaper... if [people] were just trying to live their lives, if [they] weren't out, [they] are outed," she said.
The discussion that followed, which addressed potential solutions to the problems caused by this kind of legislation, was both thorough and nuanced. Shana Clarke, a graduate student in the higher education and student affairs program, said many of the laws overseas seem to reflect those that have been debated in the U.S. She also discussed the necessity of thoughtful, careful interventions in these countries.
"Even pulling back money [for humanitarian relief] can be seen as bullying, [or] us putting our values on them," Clarke noted.
King agreed with this, saying that for many of these formerly colonized countries, allowing foreign intervention would be like "letting the oppressor back in the house."
Any interventions in these countries, King said, "cannot even look like colonialism."
Gordon ended the discussion with a note on how our perspectives on different historical movements can shift over time. He said oppression requires a continuation of the status quo that defies the forces of time and the evolutions in social thought that time brings with it.
"If you look at almost all systems of oppression," he said, "they require locking people into a permanent present."
Though the "present" in many of these countries, including our own, is less than an ideal of equality, the most resonant note in the chorus of voices and perspectives present at the discussion was one of optimism. Gordon's and King's ability to draw from multiple disciplines in order to speak truth to power served as an example of the impact a university can have in facilitating educated, impactful discourse on issues far beyond its walls.

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