Lesbians and Human Rights
What does it mean to be a lesbian?
According to www.youth.org, an information organization geared towards
young people, lesbians are "women-loving-women. We are women who are
sexually attracted to other women. We are women who may feel emotionally and
spiritually closer to women. We are women who prefer women as our partners.
As lesbians, we are not alone. One out of ten teenagers is lesbian or
gay. Lesbians are White, Black, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, Jewish,
Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist. Lesbians are rich, poor, working class, and
middle class. Some lesbians are in heterosexual marriages. Some lesbians
are disabled. Lesbians are young women and old women. You name it, we are
It is often difficult for heterosexual people to understand all of the
subtle, heterocentric assumptions that are placed on lesbians everyday. The
following questionnaire is reprinted from "Are You Still My Mother?" by
Gloria Buss Back, Warner Books, 1985. The actual questionnaire is attributed
to Martin Rochlin, Ph.D.
This questionnaire can be useful as a tool to help heterosexual people
understand the implications behind seemingly neutral questions.
- What do you think caused your heterosexuality?
- When and how did you decide that you were a heterosexual?
- Is it possible that your heterosexuality is just a phase that you may
grow out of?
- Is it possible you heterosexuality stems from a neurotic fear of others
of the same sex?
- If you've never slept with a person of the same sex, is it possible that
all you need is a good gay or lesbian lover?
- To whom have you disclosed your heterosexual tendencies? How did they
- Why do you heterosexuals feel compelled to seduce others into your
- Why do you insist on flaunting your heterosexuality? Why can't you just
be what you are and keep quiet about it?
- Would you want your children to be heterosexual knowing the problems that
- A disproportionate majority of child molesters are heterosexual. Do you
consider it safe to expose your children to heterosexual teachers?
- With all the societal support marriage receives, the divorce rate is
spiraling. Why are there so few stable among heterosexuals?
- Why do heterosexuals place so much emphasis on sex?
- Considering the menace of overpopulation, how could the human race
survive if everyone were heterosexual like you?
- Could you trust a heterosexual therapist to be objective? Don't you fear
(s)he might be inclined to influence you in the direction of her/his own
- How can you become a whole person if you limit yourself to compulsive,
exclusive heterosexuality, and fail to develop your natural, healthy
- There seem to be very few happy heterosexuals. Techniques have been
developed that might enable you to change if you really want to. Have you
considered trying aversion therapy?
Why Lesbian Rights?
In a Lesbian Caucus open letter to the United Nations in Beijing on
June 8, 2000, a group of women gathered because of their shared concern that
the recognition of sexual rights and issues of sexuality had not been
recognized by the Beijing Platform for Action.
"Our demand is not just about sex and sexuality, nor is it just about
the lives of lesbians. It is about the totality of our lives. It is about
recognizing that human rights are universal, interrelated, interdependent,
and indivisible. It is about recognizing that human rights must be not only
protected and respected, but realized. If one woman is denied human rights
protections, then the human rights of all women are at risk. When the safety
of any group of women is not considered worthy of protection, then no woman
is truly safe. The attack on the human rights of lesbians is an attack on
the sexual autonomy of every woman.
We deplore the undermining of the human rights of lesbians, part of a
systematic attack on the rights of all women that is being mounted at this
conference. Fundamentalist forces, both in the halls of the UN and in the
world outside, politicize "culture" and "religion" to serve as alibis for
torture and murder, or to defend practices of violence and abuse. We condemn
this distortion of the notion of sovereignty and the nature of faith. We
affirm, in the words of Paragraph 9 that 'While the significance of national
and regional particularities and various historical, cultural, and religious
backgrounds must be borne in mind," it is the duty of all States 'to promote
and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.'
We, who have been dispossessed of our human rights, stand in
solidarity with the dispossessed. Lesbians come from every region, every
country, every religion, every culture, every race, every age group, every
class, every part of every society. We are citizens of the world. We demand
that governments recognize our human rights. We demand that the United
Nations guarantee them, as they are bound to do by the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights."
According to the National Organization of Women, homophobia is a major
issue for LGB people. The following are some statistics which illustrate
some of the effects of homophobia:
- Students who describe themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or
transgendered are 5 times more likely to miss school because of feeling
unsafe. 28% drop out.
- Most victims of anti-lesbian/gay violence (80%) never report the incident.
- 85% of teachers oppose integrating LGB themes in their curricula.
- Due to sexual orientation discrimination, lesbians earn up to 14% less
than their heterosexual female peers with similar jobs, education, age, and
- 42% of homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
- More than 84% of Americans oppose employment discrimination based on
- Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are 4 times more likely to commit or
- A survey of 191 employers revealed that 18% would fire, 27% would refuse
to hire, and 26% would refuse to promote a person they perceived to be
lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
According to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights
Coalition's definition, discrimination is when "governments, institutions, or
individuals treat people differently based on their personal characteristics
-- such as (but hardly limited to) sex, sexual orientation, gender identity,
racial or ethnic identity, age, or health (including HIV status).
Discrimination can be direct -- an explicit policy or law which generates
unequal treatment; or it can be indirect -- an implicit side-effect of
another policy of decision.
Discrimination is often fueled by homophobia which is "characterized by
prejudice, discrimination, harassment, or acts of violence resulting from a
deep-seated fear or hatred of those who love others of their same sex.
According to James T. Sears, author of Overcoming Heterosexism and
Homophobia (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), heterosexism is
simply "a belief in the superiority of heterosexuals or heterosexuality
evidenced in the exclusion, by omission or design, of non-heterosexual
persons in policies, procedures, events, or activities. We include in our
definition not only lesbians and gay men, but also bisexuals, transgendered
persons, and other sexual minorities."
- Herdt, Gilbert. Same Sex, Different Cultures: Exploring Gay & Lesbian Lives.
Colorado: Westview Press, 1997.
- Savin-Williams, Ritch C. and Kenneth M. Cohen. The Lives of Lesbians, Gays,
and Bisexuals. Florida: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1996.
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