We speak to Louis-Georges Tin, who has fought for gay rights at the UN, founded International Day Against Homophobia and may now get a Nobel Prize.
Louis-Georges Tin is one of the world’s leading LGBT activists and an important campaigner on race issues in his home country, France.
He became famous after launching the International Day Against Homphobia (IDAHO) and taking the battle to decriminalize gay sex worldwide to the United Nations, sparking progress which continues to this day.
He’s now being promoted by his friends and colleagues as a possible Nobel Prize winner for this December, with the hope that – if successful – his win will put lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights further up the international agenda.
I spoke to him from Paris about his campaigns to date and his plans for the future.
You have a big track record not only in gay rights but also in race issues. Race issues can still be a hot topic in France, so can you tell me what you are doing at the moment?
Now I am the president of the black movement in France which is the CRAN, the council representing black organisations. I was the co-founder and I became president two months ago.
Race issues have become very political. This is related to anti-immigration policies and our home affairs minister tended to raise this issue in a very hard way. For example recently he said not all civilisations are equal, some are superior and some are inferior.
What practical things have you done around CRAN or with other organisations around race you are proud of.
The latest thing we have done is a pact for equality and diversity. It is a platform of 200 proposals, not only against racism or homophobia but against all kinds of discrimination.
There are about a dozen organisations behind this, the biggest anti-discrimination organisations in France on homophobia, on age, on race, on disability. It is the first time these organisations have worked together in this way and it will be sent to all the candidates for the French presidential elections so there is the platform in the newspaper. Also a book will be issued.
It is still relatively unusual for one person to have a high profile campaigning about race issues and LGBT issues. Do you have a perspective on racism in the gay scene and gay community?
There is a problem. It would be wrong to deny it. What I’m trying to do is combat racism in the gay community and homophobia within some black communities as well.
It is true that many people may be surprised to see me in important positions of responsibility in both areas which isn’t very common. But what I tend to say is that it’s the same issue, that all discrimination is the same issue.
One of my comments is that 100% of French people are exposed to discrimination – and that could be said of British people or Germans or any nationality. Why? Well if you just consider the five European criterias for discrimination which are origin, handicap, gender, sexual orientation and age, these criteria gather more than 80% of the population of everywhere. If you take the people who are not in those criteria, well they are a minority but all of them are young, have been old and may be exposed to discrimination.
So anyone is directly exposed to discrimination, has been, will be or may be. So discrimination is not a matter for minorities it is a matter for every single person who is directly concerned even if he or she does not realize.
Do you think it’s important for both communities to see you as a role model working in both areas?
I think I would be proud to be so. We need role models and I needed them when I was younger, both as a gay person and a black person. And if it can be a connection as well between both communities, which usually don’t speak to each other, that will be a great achievement.
You mentioned being young then. What was it that inspired you as a young person about doing campaigning and human rights work?
I remember when I was 14 or 15 years old, I was still living in Martinique where I was born. At the time there was not a single gay organization in my country, not a single gay bar, nothing on television.
I felt very isolated and lonely, as many people did. But when I realized that in other countries there were people fighting like this I made a promise to myself to try to do for others what I would have liked to have for myself as a young person. So I made a promise to myself.
IDAHO is the most world famous thing you have done that is picked up around the world…
More than 100 countries now. It is recognized in 12 countries officially but it happens in more than 100 countries.
So what gave you the idea and how did you set it up?
I had the idea of a day and in 2000. I was just getting out of a French debate relating to same-sex unions and I was very concerned about all these politicians or journalists or other people speaking against LGBT people in general.
It occurred to me I could make a dictionary of all these silly arguments. At the same time I was involved in other days, like women’s day. But it made more sense to do the book first, which was published in 2003. And after that I felt I had been thinking about homophobia for three years so I decided that I was ready to launch the day as a tool to fight homophobia at the roots.
The idea was launched officially in 2004 and the first day was celebrated in 2005. It was very stressful. We were glad the first year to have 40 countries taking part but it was a very, very difficult year. I had not a single minute for myself. From August 2004 to June 2005 I worked every day from 7am to midnight from Monday to Sunday. In the end it was a success but I was too tired to be happy.
Subsequent to that you started to focus on decriminalization at the UN...
The fact that so many countries in the world criminalize homosexuality is a shock for anyone who cares about human rights. So one of my main issues when I launched IDAHO was the notion of decriminalization.
We were fortunate enough to contact friends who signed the petition, including some with Nobel prizes. I started to ask many governments to bring this issue to the UN and finally I found one, two years later, that was France.
On 17 May 2008 it was the first time ever that this issue was raised in the General Assembly of the UN. The text was supported by 68 countries.
Mow I’m working to have not a declaration like in 2008 but a resolution. The difference between a UN declaration and a resolution is a resolution is supposed to be a legal constraint. A declaration is only symbolic, and it’s important to have symbols, but nobody is compelled to follow it. Whereas people are supposed to follow a resolution.
Of course I don’t believe that Iran or countries like this will follow any resolution on gay rights but many other countries would be more than influenced by such a resolution so I am working, especially this year, to ask the French government to bring in a real resolution because we need that desperately.
Countries like the US and UK have been more vociferous for LGBT rights recently, is the time right to get powerful allies?
Unfortunately I think our allies are not strong on this issue. Many things are said but, as far as the resolution is concerned, everybody is very shy.
Many allies will say it’s too early but I think it’s not too early for the people who are in jail it is not too early. If Barack Obama is not reelected in November it will be very, very difficult to have any resolution during the four, or possibly eight, coming years. American diplomacy is obviously the strongest in the world and if you don’t have this ally with you it is very difficult to have any progress. People believe to do a resolution now would be risky but to wait would be even more risky.
What is your level of optimism that decriminalization can be achieved?
Often I tend to thank all the people who did not try to break my optimism in all my campaigns and these people are not very numerous. For example, when I launched IDAHO, everybody said to me ‘that’s stupid, it will never happen, you don’t have any budget, you don’t have any staff, you don’t have any offices, so I don’t see how you can make it.’ When we started the campaign for decriminalization everybody said the same thing.
But I think we shall make it. We shall overcome. Obviously there are many places where it is difficult not even to be gay, but just to be free. But globally the situation gets better every day. I dare say even in Uganda.
The situation is terrible in Uganda, I went there twice, once in 2008 and once in 2010. I know what people suffer in Uganda. However I don’t think it is too silly to say that many people know what is happening in Uganda now.
So formerly they were chased but nobody would care, now they are chased but many people care, like Barack Obama and David Cameron and so on. There is now a battle between people who fight for freedom and the others and this battle did not exist five years ago. The situation is still a disaster but now there is an international awareness about the issue and I think homophobic people in Uganda and elsewhere are losing ground.
People are saying countries like France, US, UK still aren’t perfect so shouldn’t lecture Africa about LGBT rights until they sort themselves out...
I don’t agree at all with these arguments, if only perfect people could lecture others there would never be any international campaigns on anything.
Sometimes I can hear people from other countries saying ‘but you French people are also, sometimes, homophobic’. And I say ‘that’s true, and please if you can help us solve this, I would be glad’.
Is there any other work you are doing?
Within the context of IDAHO we launch other campaigns as well, for example the campaign on transphobia which is a very difficult issue that many people don’t even understand – it’s not that they don’t agree, it’s just they don’t understand.
But we managed to secure a decision on 17 May 2009 in France, because the French government decided to remove the so-called ‘transexualism’ from the list of mental disorders so that was a great decision because it was the first country to remove it from the list of mental disorders. So that was a great step even if France is still a very transphobic country in many other ways.
And on 17 May 2010, the minister of health of France went to Geneva asking the World Health Organization to do the same thing, to remove ‘transexualism’ from the list of mental disorders. Of course, that will take some time but recently Spain decided to do the same thing, the European Parliament voted going in the same direction. So this is something we are very proud of.
Also we launched a campaign on education, asking UNESCO to include homophobia in their fight against all discrimination, in a spirit of peace. For several years they refused to take this into account. But on 17 May 2011, Irina Bokova, the director general of UNESCO made a speech on LGBT rights and this is the first time ever that someone in that position raised LGBT issues and then she launched a campaign on homophobia.
How do you feel about the possibility of getting a Nobel Prize for your work?
I had been contacted several times, three or four times, especially in 2008 after the campaign in the UN and it did not seem very relevant for me at this time because I had so many things to do.
I was contacted this year again and my friends they convinced me the Nobel campaign would also help the campaign for a resolution at the UN. So I said if you want to do this, that’s ok. I have to campaign for my own issues but if you want to do it, that’s ok.