The company we keep?

From a press release by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 23, 2006 — The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force today denounced the United States’ vote against two gay rights organizations’ applications to join the United Nations Economic and Social Council. The United States joined the repressive, anti-gay regimes of Iran, Zimbabwe, China, Cameroon and others in voting against even granting a hearing to the application of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) and the Danish Association of Gays and Lesbians (Landsforeningen for Bosser og Lesbiske — LBL). Instead, the two groups’ applications were summarily dismissed without a hearing.

“It is an absolute outrage that the United States has chosen to align itself with tyrants — all in a sickening effort to smother the voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people around the world,” said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “Apparently Iran, which President Bush has deemed part of the ‘Axis of Evil,’ is a suitable partner when it comes to discriminating against gay people.”

The governments of Iran and Zimbabwe are among the most repressive anti-gay regimes in the world. President Mugabe of Zimbabwe has long scapegoated and persecuted gay men and lesbians. The recently-elected president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has overseen an anti-gay campaign in recent months, in which many young people accused of homosexual acts have been executed. Also leading the charge against the application of the two gay groups was Egypt, which has persecuted gay men in recent years.

Today’s vote to summarily dismiss the applications of ILGA and LBL was as follows, according to ILGA: Yes: Cameroon, China, Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Senegal, Sudan, United States of America, Zimbabwe No: Chile, France, Germany, Peru, Romania; Abstention: Colombia, India, Turkey Not present: Ivory Coast.

I’m not a big fan of the U.N., and I seriously doubt that having two gay rights groups on the U.N. Economic and Social Council would have done much to change the actual lives of gay men and women for the better. Still, as a symbolic gesture, this vote and our alliance with the likes of Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Zimbabwe is, to put it mildly, not a proud moment for America.

More: A poster in the comments pointed out that ILGA originally lost its consultative status with ECOSOC in 1994 (after gaining it in 1993) because its membership roster had included the infamous North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) and two other groups that advocate sex between adults and minors. By the time its consultative status at the U.N. had been terminated, ILGA had already expelled NAMBLA and the other two pro-pedophilia groups from its ranks by a vote of 214-30. (More on the subject here.) ILGA’s attempts to regain consultative status at the UN have been blocked because opponents believe that it has not presented suffiicient proof that it has severed all ties to pro-pedophilia groups. This is mainly because ILGA has refused to present a full list of its member organizations to UN officials, arguing that such a list could expose member groups to persecution in some countries.

Since the mid-1990s, ILGA’s Constitution includes an endorsement of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which explicitly condemns the sexual exploitation of minors (defined as anyone under 18).

I think the original association between ILGA and NAMBLA does point to a disturbing aspect of the gay rights movement, at least in the past: a tendency among some activists to view groups like NAMBLA as being questionable but basically “on the same side,” and to be sympathetic to all forms of sexually unconventional behavior. ButI also believe it’s an aspect the movement has almost entirely outgrown in the last decade, and particularly with the new emphasis on marriage rights as a goal.

Leaving aside that larger issue, is ILGA’s past association with NAMBLA a legitimate reason to deny it consultative status with ECOSOC? It seems to me this association has been repudiated enough to move past this issue, and at very least to consider the organization for membership. (The vote joined by the U.S. was to summarily reject its application without consideration.) Furthermore, no reasons are given as to why the application of the Danish gay and lesbian assocation was rejected as well.

Meanwhile, responding to my post, Joe’s Dartblog notes that ECOSOC is a useless organization whose record “is a series of 1989-era websites, full of sound, fury, and resolutions signifying absolutely nothing,” and whose rejection of the two gay groups will mean absolutely nothing to the lives of actual gays and lesbians around the world. I basically said the same thing. But once again, the symbolism of joining with Iran, Zimbabwe, Cuba and China to reject two gay rights groups is very, very bad.


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20 responses to “The company we keep?

  1. Jake Winship

    I don’t know what sort of organizations constitue the UNESC, but I don’t care much for the makeup of national representation. If 90% of applying organizations are summarily rejected, then I guess I’m OK with the decision. It is distasteful to be in that majority, though.

  2. Cathy Young

    SteveK: Can you provide a link to support this claim?

  3. SteveK

    The company we keep, indeed.

    The reason the ILGA got the boot originally was because of it’s official relationship with NAMBLA.

    The UN has asked for the ILGA to document that it is not connected with pedophile groups, and they have refused.

  4. Cathy Young

    Just found this:

    According to Wikipedia, ILGA expelled NAMBLA from its ranks in 1994 by a vote of 214-30.

    And besides, what about the Danish lesbian organization?

  5. Anonymous

    So if Hitler said 2+2=4, then we must say it isn’t because otherwise we are the same company?

  6. Jim

    “So if Hitler said 2+2=4, then we must say it isn’t because otherwise we are the same company? “

    No. But if Hitler says “The Jews are a threat to humanity and we must destroy them.” then we must say that’s false and he’s a monster. You don’t think it’s shaneful to agree with Iran on an issue?

  7. Anonymous

    Did we reject for the same reasons? I am sure Iran and the US had voted on the same side of other issues as well. Does that make us their bed fellows?

  8. SteveK

    Here is the entire wikipedia entry.

    Controversy and loss of UN consultative status

    In the summer of 1993 the ILGA gained consultative status on the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) as a Non-Governmental-Organization, joining 3,000 organisations throughout the world. However, that status was suspended in 1994 after a campaign led by Jesse Helms focussing on NAMBLA’s membership in ILGA. ILGA members voted 214-30 to expel three pedophile groups but despite this was not able to convince the UN that it had no member organisations that promoted pedophilia.

    ILGA had passed a resolution in 1985 which stated that “young people have the right to sexual and social self-determination and that age of consent laws often operate to oppress and not to protect.” In spite of this apparent agreement with NAMBLA on the age of consent issue just nine years before, ILGA, by a vote of 214-30 expelled NAMBLA and two other groups in early 1994 because they were judged to be “groups whose predominant aim is to support or promote pedophilia.” The UN removed ILGA’s consultative status “based on concerns raised about its member organizations or subsidiaries that promoted or condoned paedophilia”. [3]

    ILGA applied to have its consultative status reinstated in 2000 [4], but on 30 April 2002 the United Nations’ Economic & Social Council voted 29-17 not to grant this application. [5] The Washington Times reported that opponents blocked ILGA’s attempt to regain consultative status because the association had not provided sufficient evidence that it had eliminated NAMBLA and the other pedophile groups from its membership roster, ILGA having refused to provide UN officials with a list of its member organizations. ILGA justified keeping its membership secret on the grounds that, in many countries, homosexual activity is still criminalised and such a list would identify its groups and put them in danger. [6]

    On 3 May 2003, ECOSOC voted to again decline consultative status to ILGA. ILGA submitted another application, along with other LGBT rights organisations but it was rejected on 23 January 2006.

    Having purged all three pro-paedophilia groups from its 400-group membership, the ILGA continues its work promoting equal rights for lesbian and gay people across the world. Much is still made of the NAMBLA scandal and it is commonly used as an argument against gay rights by various groups, particularly the right wing.

    If the ILGA has, in fact, provided acceptable documentation that it no longer is connected to pedophilia advocates, then I would agree that the Bush administration is pandering to the homophobes. As it stands now, it seems to me that the burden of proof is on the ILGA.

    If the Danish group tied its application to that of the ILGA, perhaps it ought to consider the company it keeps.

  9. Anonymous


    If the ILGA released its membership lists from all those countries in which homosexuality is not illegal and none of those member groups endorsed pedophilia, would you agree that they have sufficiently met the burden of proof?


  10. Anonymous

    Well, hopefully, Stevek will reply by tomorrow. I have to sign off soon, but I thought it might be useful to add a little context to this discussion.

    I came out in ’92, and was a member of a student gay rights group when this whole ILGA / UN thing went down. Within the gay community, kicking out NAMBLA and the others was controversial. Basically, while the vast majority of us thought (and still do) that NAMBLA was creepy, disturbing, and pretty much made us all look bad, they were still allies in the fight against homophobia, discrimination, and other mistreatment of gay people.

    At the time, the don’t-ask-don’t-tell debate had produced a lot of anti-gay backlash, and along with that, assaults against gay people increased. Most of us had been harrassed or discriminated against at some point and knew at least one person who had been physically assaulted. It was a scary time. We didn’t have that many allies and the gay community isn’t that big. So, some people felt that, rather than split the gay community into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ groups, we should all stick together.

    I understood their view, but I was very happy ILGA put some distance between itself, mainstream groups pushing for equal rights, and the creepy NAMBLA types. Included in that is the fact that ILGA amended their constitution, in the ’90s, to officially sign on to the Convention to the Rights of the Child, which explicitly defines children as under 18, and bans the sexual abuse and exploitation of them. All members must agree to the tenants of the ILGA constitution.


  11. Cathy Young

    Z, thanks for the background.

    I think that ILGA’s officially signing on to the International Convention on the Rights of the Child should be sufficient to put the “pro-pedophilia” controversy to rest.

    (Incidentally, re the critique of age of consent laws: in a number of countries the age of consent for same-sex relationships is officially set higher than for opposite-sex ones, and penalties for same-sex relations with a minor are higher than for opposite-sex ones. I think that’s a legitimate issue of discrimination.)

    Also, let’s not forget that the US along with Iran, Cuba & Co. voted not simply to deny these groups membership in the council, but to summarily reject their application without a hearing.

    A hearing could’ve been ILGA’s chance to prove its record is clean with regard to pedophilia issues.

  12. Revenant

    I wonder what the reason was for China voting against the inclusion of the groups. Do they typically adopt homophobic policy stances? I can’t say I’ve followed their behavior on these issues.

  13. Anonymous

    This issue regarding ILGA and NAMBLA is ridiculous. If UNESCO had disassociated itself from countries that allowed for underage and/or forced marriages, female (and male) forced circumsisions, “honor killings” and other attrocities, I might sit up and listen. They don’t, so I won’t.


  14. Anonymous

    raj wrote: “If UNESCO had disassociated itself from countries that allowed for underage and/or forced marriages, female (and male) forced circumsisions, “honor killings” and other attrocities, I might sit up and listen.”

    The UN will never disassociate itself from any country, no matter what. It is the, you know, United Nations. This is both the major strength and the major weakness of the UN.

    Z wrote: “Basically, while the vast majority of [the gay community] thought (and still do) that NAMBLA was creepy, disturbing, and pretty much made us all look bad . . . “

    Republicans are often (and rightly) condemned for associating with racists. The same rule applies to the gay community: if you can’t find it within yourselves to condemn and shun criminal deviants, then you will suffer the consequences. There should be no controversy over a group such as NAMBLA.

  15. Anonymous


    Well, we suffered for it then. We are still suffering for it now, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of us DO condemn and shun the pedophiles and have officially done so for over a decade (though most of us have informally done so for as long as I can remember).


    I don’t follow the gay press as religiously as I used to (and probably should). So, I don’t know that much about gay prosecution and harrassment in China. I do know that it wasn’t until the late 90s that the Chinese psychological association decided that homosexuality wasn’t a mental illness. The American Psychological Association, by contrast, determined that in 1979.


  16. William R. Barker

    re: “The company we keep.”

    Heck… what about the “company we’re KEEPING” just by being a member of the UN? (*SMIRK*)

    Seriously… I don’t know or care enough about NGLTF or UNESC or ILGA or LBL to hazard an opinion on who’s right and who’s wrong and regardless of absolute rights or wrongs which organization(s) have no good points vs. some good points vs. lots of good points, BUT…

    Taring (tarring?) the US (the Bush administration specifically) with the broad brush of “guilt by association” seems somewhat simplistic and a bit of a cheap shot.


  17. SteveK

    I’ve been remiss in not answering the question Z posed to me, so here goes.

    I would welcome ILGA’s presense at the table, given what appears to be their repudiation of their prior relationship with NAMBLA.

    However, my original point still stands. I felt that it was dishonest for the ILGA, Cathy Young, and Kevin Drum (where I originally linked from) to portray the ILGA as a victim, and the U.S. as a villain, without mentioning the context under which they lost their consultive status. That said, I applaud Cathy’s addendum.

    I’m no fan of the Bush administration, and have no doubt that they may be rejecting the ILGA for purely ideological reasons. But I think it’s telling that in their press release, the ILGA gave no indication that they had made any attempts to assuage the concerns of the U.S., and others.

    If they have, they should make that point loud and clear, and they deserve to have their application fairly condsidered. If they have not, they need to explain why.

  18. Cathy Young

    Steve: no dishonesty; I simply wasn’t aware of the issue. As soon as I became aware of it, I ran my addendum.

  19. SteveK

    Dishonest may have been an unfortunately harsh choice of words.

    Incomplete better describes it.

    But I’ve been pleasantly surprised that you have taken the time to flesh out your original post, and to positively engage your commenters. Keep up the good work!

  20. Revenant

    Did the US government give a reason for voting to reject the two groups? I haven’t seen one — just the NGLTF’s press release on the subject.

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