World Report 2018: Fighting for Rights Succeeds

Human Rights Watch‘s World Report 2018 summarizes key human rights issues in more than 90 countries and territories worldwide, drawing on events from late 2016 through November 2017.

In his keynote essay, “The Pushback Against the Populist Challenge,” Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the surge of authoritarian populists appears less inevitable than it did a year ago. Then, there seemed no stopping a series of politicians around the globe who claimed to speak for “the people” but built followings by demonizing unpopular minorities, attacking human rights principles, and fueling distrust of democratic institutions. Today, a popular reaction in a broad range of countries, bolstered by some political leaders with the courage to stand up for human rights, has left the fate of many of these populist agendas more uncertain.

CLICK HERE to view full report and browse by countries

 

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Freedom To Marry Movie

Click image to find a screening near you

The Freedom To Marry is the behind-the-scenes story of the architects of this historic civil rights movement and the brilliant, nerve-wracking campaign to win same sex marriage throughout the United States. The nail-biting, untold story of how same-sex marriage became law of the land. The Freedom To Marry  follows RPCV Evan Wolfson (Togo 1978-1980), the architect of the movement, civil rights attorney Mary Bonauto and their key colleagues on this decades long battle, culminating in a dramatic fight at the United States Supreme Court. More than the saga of one movement’s history, this is an inspiring tale of how regular people can change the world.

CLICK HERE to find a screening near you.

Evan Wolfson biography:
Wolfson is known as the national architect of the same-sex marriage movement. Having written his third year thesis paper at Harvard Law in 1983 on the subject, Wolfson began advocating for the freedom to marry when almost every gay rights leader was adverse. People thought he was ‘crazy’, and that he was seriously overreaching. After AIDS ravaged the LGBT community, and the need for legal protections became clear, Wolfson (as an attorney at Lambda Legal Aid) renewed his push for marriage. He claimed not only that same sex marriage could only become a legal reality, but that by working towards that goal, LGBT Americans could improve their status on a huge host of other fronts.

National Coordinator, Manuel Colón, and Evan Wolfson at a screening of The Freedom to Marry in Santa Monica, CA

In the early 1990s, Wolfson helped fight the first successful legal marriage court battle, in Hawaii. As the movement began to gain traction, he founded, Freedom to Marry, a not-for-profit which spearheaded the strategy and the national campaign. His genius came from an acute understanding of history, and other civil rights campaigns. His catch-phrases like, “wins trump losses”, and “there is no marriage without engagement” underpinned what soon become a national and international movement.

Evan was first to understand that, while marriage battles could be won in court, it would require changing the ideology of the nation – helping non-gay people understand that gays and lesbians were ‘people too’ – to make ‘wins’ happen, and to make them stick.

As he predicted, his early efforts were met with intense opposition from the masses, the Church and even the White House. Unperturbed, Wolfson helped devise and implement a cohesive strategy that included public education, grassroots mobilization, PR, polling, messaging, fundraising, social media campaigns and carefully orchestrated legal efforts. Evan, himself, spent decades criss-crossing America, speaking at every event, large and small, guiding and leading the campaign to win hearts, minds and victories. These efforts led to his eventual moniker, Mr. Marriage.

Wolfson began working on the marriage movement, there was not a single town in America where gay people had even a shred of legal protection. As of this writing, gay marriage is now legal not only throughout America, but in 22 other countries on five continents.

Ironically, having fought the government for decades and won, ironically, Wolfson eventually put himself out of business. Having achieved his organization’s stated mission, he happily closed Freedom to Marry in December, 2015. His staff (with this remarkable victory on their resume) has gone on to key positions at other LBGT and civil rights organizations throughout the United States.

After a short vacation, Evan returned to New York, where he resides with his husband, Cheng He. He has become extremely active in a variety of other campaigns for social justice (including LGBT anti-discrimination) not only in this country, but around the world. Interestingly, much of his current work is now currently sponsored by the US State Department, which has requested Evan to provide his expertise to other nations currently embarking on same sex marriage battles.

The Power of Video Stories

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In September 2010, Dan Savage and his husband, Terry Miller, uploaded the very first It Gets Better video to YouTube. Within months, one video would grow to over 50,000, converting Dan and Terry’s single video into one of the largest collections of LGBT stories in the world. In hindsight, their original goal of one hundred videos – “best-case scenario: two hundred videos”[1] – was a major underestimate, to say the least.

So what happened? How did just one video – and two stories (Dan & Terry’s) – become one of the most successful social media campaigns for social good of all time?[2]

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Some of this success can certainly be attributed to various external factors at play at the time. In 2010, the LGBT community was growing in political strength, and YouTube and other social media platforms were rising in popularity. These elements helped attract pro-LGBT celebrities and political figures to the campaign, which invited mass media coverage to follow. Without these things, the It Gets Better Project might never have become what it is today.

But to give them all of the credit would be wrong. These external factors alone can’t attest for the continued influence of the It Gets Better Project around the world today, or to the seemingly endless support and love we receive from contributors near and far. We attribute that sort of success to one thing: the power of story.

As one researcher put it at the time, stories like those contained within It Gets Better videos have the potential to “set up possible ways of being in the world, [inviting] one to the realization of [their] possibilities.”[3] That’s something incredibly important for people who are LGBT. Although we may frequently identify with one another and can adopt shared cultural values, there is no simple way to do that across generations. As a result, younger LGBT people can have a difficult time connecting with LGBT adults and with finding appropriate role models in times of need.

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The It Gets Better video campaign helped change that. It gave LGBT adults the opportunity to tell their own personal stories, some for the first time. Simultaneously, it provided a portal through which LGBT youth could connect directly with the voices they were in need of hearing the most. That’s why what seemed like a simple idea to Dan and Terry at the time was actually revolutionary. Much more than just telling a story, Dan and Terry were helping to build a community.

Here’s one scholar’s explanation for why collective storytelling can be so important for groups like the LGBT community:

“We celebrate storytelling, and especially personal storytelling, for its authenticity, its passion, and its capacity to inspire not just empathy but action. Everyone has a story, we often say, and that makes for a discourse with uniquely democratic possibilities… In telling the story of our becoming, as an individual, a nation, a people, we define who we are.”[4]

On a community level, it’s this “capacity to inspire” that makes the It Gets Better Project so successful. That leaves us with one lingering question: beyond being valuable to the identity of the LGBT community as a whole, does collective storytelling really help LGBT youth in need?

IGB5As a writer at Vox.com recently put it, “[It Gets Better] is not just something celebrities and other famous people say to make the world feel good. It’s something that’s been backed by empirical research.”[5] Here are just a few of the things that research has told us about the impact of storytelling and positive messaging in general on LGBT youth:

  • Inquiries Journal (2010): Online social support can be an incredibly effective means for helping teens mediate stress and find inclusivity.[6]
  • Public Relations Journal (2013): By effectively utilizing commons-based peer production, the It Gets Better Project has helped teens identify with a greater online community, which in turn can help them combat social isolation and adversity.[7]
  • Clinical Psychological Science (2014): Convincing kids that things can change for the better helps them dodge depression, assists with aggression, and improves general health.[8]

This is what the It Gets Better Project is all about: making the lives of LGBT young people better, one video at a time. To bring it back to the words of Dan Savage: “Let’s all commit to making things better right now, let’s all do what we can to create a world where no child, gay or straight, is bullied for being different…Do your part. Give ‘em hope.”[1] Sometimes all that takes is a story.

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[1] Savage, D., & Miller, T. (Eds.). (2011). It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living. New York: Dutton.

[2]  Skarda, E. (2014, September 16). What You Need to Know About the 5 Most Successful Social Media Campaigns for Social Change. Retrieved from NationSwell:http://nationswell.com/social-media-campaigns-successful-at-change/

[3] O’Connell, Sean P (2001). OutSpeak: Narrating Identities That Matter. Albany: State University of New York Press.

[4] Polletta, F. (2006). It Was Like a Fever: Storytelling in Protest and Politics. Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press.

[5] Lopez, G. (2016, April 15). LGBTQ study finds it really does get better. Retrieved from Vox: http://www.vox.com/2015/1/29/7945603/it-gets-better-study

[6] Dietrick, Cindy (2010). Online Social Support: An Effective Means of Mediating Stress. Inquiries Journal.

[7] Ward, Jamie A (2013). The Next Dimension in Public Relations Campaigns: A Case Study of the It Gets Better Project. Public Relations Journal: 157-186.

[8] Miu, Adriana Sum and David Scott Yeager (2014). Preventing Symptoms of Depression by Teaching Adolescents That People Can Change: Effects of a Brief Incremental Theory of Personality Intervention at 9-Month Follow-Up. Clinical Psychological Science.

WATCH: Peace Corps Response Volunters raise LGBT awareness in Jamaica

Reprinted with permission from Peace Corps Passport

Peace Corp Response Volunteers serve communities around the world engaging in specialty projects. Watch how these dedicated Volunteers work with Jamaicans on HIV/AIDS awareness and LGBT awareness.

“The work and the input that Peace Corps Response Volunteers has brought to Jamaica cannot be quantified realistically in dollars and cents but the impact that they’ve had on various NGOs is remarkable.” – Dane Lewis, J-FLAG (The Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays) Executive Director

The Boatman: An Indian Love Story

-John Burbidge (burbidge@centurytel.net), author.

Although I was not a member of the Peace Corps, I have a strong affinity for it since I have lived in the US for 27 years, am married to an American, and belonged to an organization whose work paralleled the Peace Corps in many ways.

The Boatman: An Indian Love Story is a memoir of the six years I spent working as a volunteer with an international NGO in India and my coming out as a gay man in that society. It describes my roller-coaster journey of sexual adventuring while living in a tightly knit community and playing a public relations role for the organization, and the delicate balancing act this called for.

The Boatman took 13 years to write and its publication in India in February last year was most timely. Shortly before I arrived in New Delhi for its launch, the Indian Supreme Court reinstated a law criminalizing homosexuality that had been repealed by the Delhi High Court four years before. One of the main justifications for this action was that the law only affected a minuscule portion of the population. In the words of one journalist, “The Boatman provides a much-needed reality check of that view.”

A new edition of the book with an afterword that places it in the context of the current Indian political situation has recently been released. It is available from Amazon.com as a print and e-book.

For RPCVs in the Seattle area, I will be doing a reading at the University Bookstore in the U District on September 18th at 7:00PM. I would love to meet you there. CLICK HERE for more information.

Details of all events are on the book’s Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/theboatmanjohnburbidge
More information about The Boatman is at http://www.theboatmanamemoir.com

The Boatman