Thursday, May 14, 2009

LA City Council Unanimously Passes Resolution Condemning Iraqi Torture of Gay Men

On Wednesday, after hearing several emotional speeches, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously passed a resolution that "calls upon the government of Iraq to prevent the persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and protect the right to life and the right of all its citizens to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

The resolution, sponsored by openly gay council member Bill Rosendahl, is the first public statement by a city or official government body in the United States condemning the torturous actions and murder of gay men in Iraq. Among the atrocious actions is the rounding up of gay men, gluing their anuses shut and giving them a diarrhetic, causing their digestive systems to shut down, ending in death.

The hearing began with an opening from Rosendahl, stating "While we’re standing here in this great country, right now, in Iraq . . . We are seeing gay people rounded up and killed. As I’m standing here, our people are being murdered. Our government needs to focus on it."

Rosendahl then handed the proceeding over to Hossein Alizadeh from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, whose organization's motto is "Human Rights for Everyone. Everywhere."

Mr. Alizadeh read a letter from a 25-year old gay man in Iraq who feared for his life.

"My problem is that I’m a gay, and as a gay man I can’t live a normal life in Iraq because," the letter read. "Every time I walk on the street I wonder what may happen to me today. To protect myself, I have to lie to everyone and pretend that I am a straight person. It is really hard to be a 24/7 liar out of the fear of death...I keep asking myself if this is going to be MY LIFE!!!

"I have no one to turn to.

"My family doesn’t know about my homosexuality…if they find out, they will disown me because I will become a disgrace to them. They may even try to kill me to protect their honor."

The letter is posted in full at the bottom.

While reading this letter, Mr. Alizadeh played the following PowerPoint presentation that included text from posters distributed throughout Baghdad, calling for the death of homosexuals, as well as witnesses and quotes from news reports.

Iraq Persecution of Gays

Mr. Alizadeh concluded his presentation, stating, "There are hundreds of people like him in Iraq that are being tortured to death and killed everyday."

Following the reading of the letter, Ally Bolour, Immigration Attorney specializing in LGBT asylum and co-chair of the IGLHRC board, spoke. "I’ve been working human rights, asylum cases for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folk from all over the world. And after almost thirteen years of being in this business, I’ve seriously thought I’ve seen it all. When I heard and what I saw what’s happening to Iraqi gays, just one word came to mind, one phrase - unconscionable, " Mr. Bolour said. "How can we as the civilized west, the civilized world, sit by, idly, and not do something?"

The floor was then opened up for public commentary. The crowd in the chamber room contained many union members present for other issues, including the service workers' union SEIU, who were waiting to hear a resolution that would pressure the local airports to provide health insurance to their members.

When those from the public spoke in support of the Iraq resolution, the union members stood in solidarity. In a further show of support, Jose Morales, member of the executive board of the SEIU of local chapter 1877, spoke with a translator.

"We’re an organization that opposes discrimination wherever it is," Mr. Morales declared. "Whether it’s in Iraq, whether it’s in Mexico, and we’re here today in opposition to what’s happening in Iraq. So we’re here today to demand dignity and respect all over the world for our people.”


Rosendahl then stood up, amending the resolution's motion and heightening its urgency by adding a call to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "to take action, to end the persecution and murder of Iraqi gays, including but not limited to making a strong public and international statement, condemning the action and exerting all necessary pressure on the Iraq government to take action."

At this point, council members took emotional stands of support for the resolution. Councilmember Tony Cardenas stood first. "We as a country stand for equal justice and equal rights for every single human being," he said. "I think the city of LA should stand up and say we’ve been made aware of this, and because we’re aware of it, we’re saying as a city, that we shall not stand silently and just watch it happen."

Councilmember Janice Hahn followed with an emotional declaration. "It’s just so hard to hear. It’s so hard to listen to this. It’s unbelievable torture. And it’s interesting that we’ve had this broad civic debate in this country about where we stand as Americans on torture, "she said. "This is certainly a level of torture that I think really rises above all the memos the war memos that we’ve seen released during the last month."

"And when I say the pledge of allegiance, when it gets to the end phrase, 'with liberty and justice for all,' I always add 'someday,'" she continued. "I believe there is not justice for all at this moment, and as long as we hear stories about that on this planet I will not be able to say that there is liberty and justice for all anywhere. An injury to one is an injury to all. We pray that this type of torture will come to an end.”

District 10 Councilmember Herb J. Wesson, Jr. had an important objection to Rosendahl's earlier statement. "I take issue with one statement that you [Rosendahl] made when you said 'these are my people.’ That’s not true. They are human beings. They are our people. And I think we need to get away from that. People need to just start seeing people for who they are."

He continued, "I feel real personal where it relates to this because there’s not a member here that doesn’t have a relative, even if you don’t want to admit, that is either gay or lesbian. I got like nine in my family! OK. Every week it seems like I get a new addition. That’s my family, ok. That’s my people."

He then referred to the importance of the resolution. "The least we can do is stand up and say, 'We know this is going on, it’s wrong, and we’re lifting our voice, saying it’s wrong. Stop it.' I don’t see a reason why the president could not say something about this."

Councilmember Ed Reyes followed. "This is the 2nd largest city in the country. For this council to make a statement, it will be heard. It will be heard by many."

Mr. Reyes then made a connection between the torture and the bullying of LGBT youth in America. "Right now, today, throughout the country today, there are children who are being bullied, there are kids being attack because of the way they are, how they behave, because of the tendency to be different. And that’s wrong. And it’s all connected. The message of allowing this to occur, of sticking our heads in the sand, it’s wrong."

"The United States went to Iraq on the basis of protecting human rights," Councilmember Jose Huizar reminded the chamber. "And when we see it’s actually gotten worse in respect to gays and lesbians we got to raise the flag and say, 'This is wrong.'"

President of the Council, Wendy Greuel, then called for a vote. The resolution passed unanimously 12-0 to thunderous applause.

Letter From Iraqi Gay Man

My own personal account, including a public comment at the hearing I gave, will be posted soon.

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