Is homophobia the new anti-Semitism?

Writing for the Web site of the American Prospect magazine, Michelle Goldberg asks whether global homophobia is akin to anti-Semitism:

Opposition to homosexuality in conservative countries is, of course, nothing new. But right now, partly in response to the increasing visibility of gay rights in the West, we’re seeing a ratcheting up of anti-gay demagoguery and persecution throughout the world.

The hatred comes in many guises and from many different directions. But there are some underlying themes, enough so that it’s possible to talk about global homophobia as a single concept, akin to anti-Semitism. Indeed, worldwide, the rhetoric of homophobia recapitulates the tropes of classical Jew hatred. Gay people are seen as a subversive internal enemy with dangerous international connections. Even in places where they’ve been cowed into near invisibility, they’re viewed as having an almost occult power. They represent modernism and cosmopolitanism, the bete noirs of every type of fundamentalism.

In part, global homophobia is a reaction to the great strides the gay-rights movement has made internationally. Almost every developed nation — including, once Obama took office, the United States — signed onto a recent United Nations declaration calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality worldwide. The European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights recognizes gay rights. In 2006, at a conference that led to the creation of the International Day Against Homophobia, Louise Arbour, then the U.N.’s high commissioner for human rights, denounced anti-gay legislation in forceful terms and dismissed the kind of cultural relativist arguments often used to justify repressive laws.

“In my view,” she said, “respect for cultural diversity is insufficient to justify the existence of laws that violate the fundamental right to life, security, and privacy by criminalizing harmless private relations between consenting adults. Even when such laws are not actively enforced, or worse when they are arbitrarily enforced, their mere existence fosters an atmosphere of fear, silence, and denial of identity in which LGBT persons are confined.”

Meanwhile, just as the gay-rights movement has been globalized, so has the religious opposition. “There are currently two major sources of homophobic thought globally,” says Hossein Alizadeh, the Iranian-born communications coordinator of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. “One is primarily Christian conservative movements that are mainly based in the United States. We see a lot of that fitting into the hatred and violence in Africa, the missionaries that go into different African countries and bring with them the message of hate. The second is Islamic fundamentalism.”

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