America Must Work to End Anti-Gay Abuses Worldwide

After Korab Zuka founded a gay-rights group in Kosovo in 2005, he received threatening phone calls and emails and had his car vandalized.

"We are going to make you hold your intestines," Zuka, 22, recalls being warned. "We will (rape) your mother ... and we are going to cut your head off.'"

The police were indifferent to his cries for protection.

"I was frightened. A gay guy had been beaten to death a few months earlier. The threats kept coming. There is only so much a person can resist," he says.

So Zuka applied to the United States for political asylum, which has just been granted.

Zuka sketched out his terrifying story in an interview with me and at a recent news conference called to highlight the latest State Department report on human rights violations around the globe, including outrageous and horrifying abuses of gay men, lesbians and transgender people.

While the report describes courageous gay activists and some court breakthroughs, it also tells of alarming anti-gay violence and harassment by police and run-of-the-mill bashers, as well as discrimination in employment, housing and health care. For example:

-- Honduras: "(P)olice beat and detained" a gay leader, then threw him in a cell with 57 gang members, who raped him. A "transvestite activist" was attacked by five men while "police reportedly prevented other persons from aiding" him.

-- Iraq: Islamist death squads are thought to be behind a rash of anti-gay killings, kidnappings and torture. The victims included a taxi driver, a tailor and a chef.

-- Indonesia: Two gay men were harassed by neighbors, then "arbitrarily arrested, beaten and sexually abused by police."

-- Croatia: A survey found nearly 15 percent of gay people said they'd been physically assaulted in the past three years. Several tourists also were gay bashed, including a hand-holding German gay couple and a British man who ended up with a concussion.

-- Cameroon: Gays "suffered from harassment and extortion" by police. Also a private high school kicked out 34 students accused of being gay or lesbian.

"The U.S. is a very respected country in Kosovo ... If the U.S. government ... were to say to the government, 'This is not OK, how gay and lesbian people are treated,' I am sure that it would have made a difference," Zuka says.

"I hope that Kosovo will change. And that will be with the help of the United States serving as a role model -- and not only for Kosovo, but for many countries," he added.

Zuka's heartfelt plea comes as a new gay group, the Foreign Policy Project, is pushing the State Department to work harder to reduce anti-gay abuses abroad.

The project is getting help from the nation's only openly gay ambassadors: James Hormel, ambassador to Luxembourg from 1999 to 2000, and Michael Guest, ambassador to Romania from 2001 to 2003.

"We need to challenge these abuses wherever they occur," Guest says. "Our embassies must become advocates for change."

Hormel adds, "If the State Department will highlight sexual orientation and gender identity as important components of a broad U.S. commitment to human rights, it will be taking an important step toward rebuilding our credibility abroad."

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness: Just like their heterosexual friends and neighbors, gay people in every corner of the globe ought to enjoy those fundamental freedoms. And Uncle Sam should say so at every opportunity.



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