LGBT panel attacks global homophobia

Fareed Zakaria (left) chaired two panels of LGBT activists at Davos. The first (above) consisted of Alice Nkom, Masha Gessen and Dane Lewis (Image: Twitter/@m_delamerced)

Fareed Zakaria (left) chaired two panels of LGBT activists at Davos. The first (above) consisted of Alice Nkom, Masha Gessen and Dane Lewis (Image: Twitter/@m_delamerced)

A panel of LGBT activists used the World Economic Forum last week to scrutinise recent homophobic laws passed by the Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, despite rumours prior to the event suggesting it would be Putin who, for obvious reasons, would come under attack at the discussion.

Those taking part were flown into the event from around the world; Russian and American journalist Masha Gessen, Cameroonian lawyer Alice Nikom and J-FLAG Executive Director Dane Lewis were all present, as well as Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, and Republican mega-donors Paul Singer and Dan Loeb.

Opening the breakfast discussion the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said: “Two weeks ago President Jonathan of Nigeria signed into law a bill that criminalises, among other things, gay wedding celebrations, any public display of any same-sex affection, as well as the operating of gay clubs, businesses or organisations, including human rights organisations that focus on protecting the rights of LGBT people.”

Held rather ironically across the street from a discussion the Nigerian President himself was currently attending, Griffin followed suit: “Just to be clear what he signed, so everyone understands it in this room, it was already illegal to be LGBT but he further legalised it. You can be in prison for 14 years for simply being a gay person.

“Each one of you here would be subject to arrest because you’re in this room today: you’d go to prison for ten years. That’s what’s happening right now in that country and I bet you most people in that room don’t know what he’s just done.”

Putin’s name did manage to crop up in conversation and, not surprisingly, it was Gessen who had something to say.

She believes the Kremlin legitimately felt the LGBT community was the one minority it could beat up without fearing a backlash from the rest of the world- how wrong they were. The international reaction may have been slow to take off, she said, but the strong global response has come as a real shock to the Russian government.

“There is a reason why we talk about human rights and there is a reason why we talk about the protection of minorities, because minorities often do have to be protected from the majority, that’s the point,” Gessen said.

The ski resort of Davos, Switzerland welcomes around 2,500 of the world’s top business leaders, politicians, intellectuals and journalists each year to talk business. The singling out of countries or politicians for criticism during the conference is unheard of, according to Politico, which referred to the forum as a “week of political calm”.

This year’s conference came under the banner The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business. Singer and Loeb, who organised the panel, reshaped the theme into a discussion about global sexuality and equality.

Loeb said: “We’re at the World Economic Forum. They say we’re here to make the world a better place. I think we need to take care of the injustices imposed on others in our efforts to make the world a better place.”

Griffin closed the talk by looking at the future of LGBT discussions at Davos, emphasising what an incredible start the first attempt at grabbing the world’s attention at the World Economic Forum was. But there were wishes that the intimate breakfast event would one day “be in the building across the street”.

Watch the full video of the discussion here.

This article was published on 30 January 2014 at