Friday, May 15, 2009

Rep Polis: Iraq Feels Pressure to Act

on Violence Against Gays

As San Francisco prepares for the May 17 rally at Milk Plaza for LGBT Iraqis, I wondered what openly gay Congressmember Jared Polis had done lately about this matter, on top of the many avenues he's already pursued to help the LGBT community of Iraq and keep their desperate needs in the news.

Thanks to an interview in this week's edition of Washington, DC's Metro Weekly, I know Polis is keeping in touch with the State Department on behalf of LGBT people in Iraq.

Excerpted from Metro Weekly:

MW: From what you learned during your trip to Iraq, from your interviews with Doug Ireland and speaking with the State Department, what is your assessment of the situation for GLBT Iraqis? And what can you do about it?

POLIS: There's certainly a very serious problem with the level of dedication that the Iraqi regime has toward human rights. This is being felt most urgently in the human rights of the LGBT population of Iraq, which in Baghdad and many other areas lives in fear. There have been several killings [and] imprisonments.

I think [the Iraqi government is] beginning to feel the pressure to do something about it. Our efforts have been to encourage the American government to emphasize the importance of protecting human rights, including protecting all minorities, whether they're gay or Christian or atheist or Jewish. The real test of whether Iraq is dedicated to protecting human rights is whether they protect some of the less-popular minority groups in their country.

We are currently circulating a letter to Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton and there's been great support from my colleagues here in Congress. We had a couple good calls with Ambassador Karen Stewart, the head of the human-rights division of the Department of State. They've addressed it at the human-rights level. But we need to make sure we, through normal diplomatic channels, try to get the Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki and the civilian leadership to more broadly condemn this practice. They have issued a condemnation, stating that people have to follow the law, basically. But they need more specific actions to combat this anti-gay violence.

I raised the issue with a member of the Iraqi Parliament, the chairwoman of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights. Part of the problem is that their committee doesn't have very much authority to actually protect human rights, but she was generally receptive to the arguments. I think that there are allies within the Iraqi government, but the prime minister needs to take these allegations more seriously and really promote more of a culture of tolerance, of diversity.

Keep up the terrific advocacy, Representative Polis.

[Solidarity Rally With LGBT Iraqis.
Sunday, May 17, Noon - 4 PM.
Harvey Milk Plaza, Castro and Market Streets
San Francisco, CA, USA.

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