Rights essential to gay safety

A recent West African refugee and a Philadelphia gay self-defense group illustrate the importance gay rights have in ensuring that gays and lesbians don’t have to fear for their safety.

After running for months from senseless violence spurred by anti-gay sentiments sweeping West Africa, Senegalese performer Pape Mbaye was finally able to obtain refugee status from the United States.
Mbaye’s story began earlier this year when a magazine published photos of a party the star attended and alleged it was an underground gay marriage.

From there, the New York Times reported that Mbaye was beaten by gangs numerous times for being gay – everywhere he ran, from his home in Dakar, Senegal, to Ghana to Gambia and all the way back to Dakar, he couldn’t escape the violence.

In July, the United States granted Mbaye refugee status, a rare occurrence, as Mbaye’s case was based solely on his sexual orientation. He moved to New York City in August.

Mbaye’s story, albeit violent and far away in Africa, could have happened here in America easily.
After all, by denying gays the right to marriage – which to me is as much a basic human right as safely walking down the street, regardless of your sexual orientation – how is America much different from Africa?

Denying any human a simple right is the same. If America refuses to allow gays to marry their partners, the people they love, who’s to say this country isn’t going to also look the other way when people are beaten senseless for being gay?

Farfetched, right? Come on, America is more progressive than that. America is certainly passed gay-bashing and gay violence. No one has any reason to worry.

“In the states, we’re afraid that sentiment toward gays, which has been improving, could take a disastrous turn at any time, and the violence toward us could suddenly skyrocket,” wrote Gwendolyn Patton, founder of the Delaware Valley chapter of the Pink Pistols, in an e-mail last week.
The Pink Pistols states its slogan clearly on the front page of its Web site: “Armed gays don’t get bashed.”

It’s an organization with chapters across the United States and in Canada and South Africa of gays who carry guns in order to protect themselves if need be. The Delaware Valley chapter meets often and practices shooting at a range in Southampton, Pa.

Patton was shocked to read about Mbaye.

“This is exactly why we exist,” she wrote in an e-mail after reading the New York Times story. “Whenever anyone is assaulted and hounded merely for being different, especially in a manner they cannot control, it reinforces the concept of the Pink Pistols.”

She continued, “We have a right to defend our own lives, should someone seek to take them.”
She also mentioned that the organization is just getting its South Africa chapter off the ground.

“We were approached by a representative of a South African self-defense organization who wanted to do his part to help [gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender] persons defend themselves in South Africa.,” she wrote. “We heard they were still in the setup stages and fighting some legal battles for firearm ownership and carry.”

The Pink Pistols are proof that gays in the United States are not comfortable with their safety. This is likely based on the fact that they are not afforded the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts.
Unjust practices are just a small step away from unjust violence.

Morgan Zalot can be reached at morgan.zalot@temple.edu.

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