- December 9, 2015
In honor of International Human Rights Day on December 10, the Human Rights Campaign partnered with Human Rights First for a special event at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The event, titled “Advocates & Allies in the Global Equality Movement - A Celebration of Human Rights Day” recognized the courage, hard work and support of allies and advocates for the human rights of LGBT people around the world. The honorees included Alagie Jammeh from The Gambia, Nicole Santamaria from El Salvador, Michael Uulu from Kyrgyzstan and Maurice Tomlinson from Jamaica.
Some 150 guests, including members of Congress, the Administration, HRC members and supporters, as well as representatives of HRC partnership organizations, filled the room. HRC President Chad Griffin and HRF President Elisa Massimino opened the proceedings. Griffin looked back at the advances for LGBT rights in 2015 - from marriage equality in Ireland and the U.S. to the appointment of the U.S.'s first special envoy for LGBTI rights.
"But despite some incredible progress, millions of people in this country and around the world still face dire challenges in virtually every aspect of their lives simply because of who they are," he said.
He noted the gruesome reports coming out of territories controlled by the so-called Islamist State (ISIL), and called on the Obama Administration to ensure that LGBT refugees can be processed through the screening process as quickly as possible.
"It is in the DNA of this nation to welcome those escaping war-torn lands and persecution, and we can never allow fear or political pandering to change the defining values of this nation," he said.
Griffin also introduced Jammeh, whose uncle, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, infamously threatened last spring to personally "slit the throats" of gay men in his country. The younger Jammeh spoke about his innocent-seeming Facebook post that has changed his life forever; He wrote that "no one should be denied their fundamental basic human rights because of their sexuality."
As a result of his post, Jammeh’s scholarship to study in California was revoked and he was told to return home to "apologize" to his family. He refused to do so and has applied for asylum here in the U.S. due to the threats he has received from Gambian officials.
Despite all that, Jammeh said he has no regrets.
"It has made me realize the importance of gathering together and committing as a community to the preservation of human rights for all," he said. "Human rights are not granted, they are not earned. They belong to us by nature of being born. We have a right to demand them from our leaders, and to speak out when we see others being denied these rights."
U.S. Representatives Richard Hanna (R-NY) and David Cicilline (D-RI) also addressed the guests. Rep. Hanna called intolerance a disease, which the advocates in the room have helped to cure. Rep. Cicilline’s remarks focused on the recent rise in Islamophobic rhetoric in the U.S., and called on Americans to condemn the attacks on Muslims.
Santamaria, Uulu and Tomlinson each made remarks about combating hatred in their regions. Santamaria called on people to work "as a community of human beings" to combat homophobia and transphobia in Latin America and in the U.S. where murders of trans women have continued at an appalling rate. Uulu, a leading Kyrgyz activist at just 20 years old, asked for the world's help in stopping Russian-style anti-propaganda legislation aimed at LGBT people in Kyrgyzstan, a country he said had once been a leader for openness and tolerance in Central Asia.
Closing the evening, Tomlinson called on the U.S. to combat the export of hatred to countries like his, where he said homophobia - not homosexuality - is an import.