Karen Pollock explores exactly what equal rights for all LGBTQ+ people means.
Who do you despise?
It might seem a blunt question, it is a blunt question. You might feel there is no one who you would use such a strong term about. There are those you would prefer not to see, avoid at all costs, but not despise. Others reading this might easily come up with a whole list of people, from child molesters to Tories, people they feel unable to feel empathy or compassion for.
So let’s rephrase the question. Who do you believe should be removed from those deserving of the protection of human rights legislation? It may seem a leap from despising someone, a category of hate which is stomach churning in its intensity. However we need to consider who exactly human rights are for. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights opens with a bold statement of who human rights apply too;
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world
“All” is a small word, just three letters, but it lies at the heart of the declaration. Not some humans, or humans who by their behaviour, ethnicity, race, creed, or any other determinant have earned their basic rights, but all humans. When the horror of the Holocaust became clear, as the smoke of battle cleared and the Nuremberg trials began, nation after nation realised just where declaring some to be non human led. The term untermensch, first coined by Nietzsche but seized upon by the Nazis, means sub-human. Their justification, ( as if the horrors of the Holocaust could ever be justified), for the treatment of those they despised was that they were less than human, and so, had no rights. A similar line of (un)reasoning was used in the slave states of the United States, they saw enslaved people as less than human.
Who do you believe should be removed from those deserving of the protection of human rights legislation?
When we say human rights only apply to some, that they are earned, or justified, then we cross the floor to join those who previously have felt they could separate humans, like the goats and sheep. The first step to treating one group as not-human is to say they deserve to be despised, and that they have, through some determinant or other, removed themselves from the class of humanity. The argument is very often the same, it is not that we oppose human rights, it is that this individual or group has removed themselves, or has been removed from the class of humans.
If it is not a cliché
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Who do you despise?
Who comes next?
Right now we live in a world where it is argued that human rights have gone too far. What is actually meant by this is that the extension of the protections of being classed as human enough to deserve rights, has reached groups the speaker despises. So we have a situation such as equal marriage, where church leaders speak of homosexuals as lesser humans, who can be denied a right heterosexuals have. This is made very clear in the “I can marry my dog/computer/garden fence” arguments made by opponents of equal marriage. You have to be used to seeing LGBTQ+ people as less than, as lesser, humans in order to think there is an equivalence in marrying an animal or inanimate object. To these people queers are things, not people, and so, do not get full human rights.
When the horror of the Holocaust became clear, as the smoke of battle cleared and the Nuremberg trials began, nation after nation realised just where declaring some to be non human led
To stick with equal marriage for a moment, a separate line of attack is to equate LGBTQ+ people with paedophiles, a group society is more comfortable with denying rights too. LGBTQ + people are framed as having broken the social contract of rights and responsibilities by merely existing. Usually in our society we practice the limited denial of rights against those who have broken the laws (either criminal or societal). It is recognised that the social contract says in order to have full rights you must obey certain ground rules. Of course what laws need to be obeyed vary, despite attempts by some of our greatest thinkers from Hegel to Hume, there is no natural law.
As Ibtisam Ahmed wrote earlier this week even being homosexual is judged to be a crime worthy of execution. The most basic right, that of life, denied because of someones sexuality.
You have to be used to seeing LGBTQ+ people as less than, as lesser, humans in order to think there is an equivalence in marrying an animal or inanimate object
It is easy to assume that if a nations laws do not deny the right to life based on arbitrary criteria then everyone has equal rights. However if one section of society has certain rights, such as marriage, family life, access to health care or support services, and other groups are denied these rights then we are back determining some humans as lesser, and outwith the class determined fully human.
What of those who we have determined have broken the social contract, broken a society’s laws, and thus have limited and predetermined rights removed? How do we ensure they are not seen as lesser humans but as humans who have for a time had specific rights (such as liberty) curtailed? One important way is by not removing rights because of an identity but because of actions. By framing the actions as the reason for the curtailment of rights legal systems attempt to bridge the divide between society and the transgressive individual. This is also why it is important that the limits of the removal of rights be clear and explicit. So, for example, imprisonment for a crime is the punishment set down, not denial of medical treatment or the term of imprisonment being served in a jail of the wrong gender. They are additional punishments being meted out because of the identity, not the actions of the individual.
Denying someone the right to be who they are, whether it is criminalising homosexuality, banning the practice of a religion, or refusing medical treatment, is denying a fundamental part of what makes an individual human. The current debates about trans people are actually debates about whether we consider them human enough to give full and equal rights too. Countries who are rounding up and imprisoning and torturing people because they are LGBTQ+ are doing the same. Nice middle class liberals may not like to accept that they are marching in step with those who would torture someone because they are gay, but they are. Motivated by the belief that those they despise are lesser we can hope they are on the wrong side of history, and perhaps pray that history does not repeat itself.
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Picture Credit By epicharmus – https://www.flickr.com/photos/epicharmus/3033462896/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41502831