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5 Heroes Working to Give a Voice to LGBTQ Around the World

by Juliana Bilowich Nov 28, 2015

1. Brazil’s Toni Reis: family man and occasional TV star

We have all heard about Brazil’s gay friendly reputation, but the country is not all rainbows and pride parades. Despite party-worthy accomplishments over the years — including São Paolo’s gay marriage approval in 2012 — the regional hegemon has seen a steady rise in homophobic hate crimes.

Fighting on the front lines is Toni Reis, Education Director of the Brazilian Federation of LGBT Groups, or ABGLT. This organization, the largest LGBT network in Latin America at 203 organizations, earned consultative status with the United Nations in 2009, the first in the southern hemisphere!

Recently, Reis celebrated a win of his own: for one day in March, his family became TV ‘stars’ on ParanáTV. When Reis married his partner 25 years ago, he could not have predicted that their silver anniversary would be featured on television, let alone that they would star with their three adopted children — No thanks to the Brazilian courts, which fought the couple tooth and nail on the right to adopt.

2. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: forcing the ‘gay agenda’ of equality

The U.S. government is becoming a beacon of LGBT hope — if not at home, then certainly abroad. Mere months after her 2009 inauguration as Secretary of State, Clinton issued an order to her diplomatic minions worldwide: Time for LGBT equality.

Championing ‘universal standards,’ Clinton’s comprehensive LGBT overhaul included, finally, equal employee benefits for all couples in the Foreign Service. On top of internal restructuring, Clinton advised her embassies worldwide to “lead by example” and push for LGBT equality in their host countries. And the best part is this: Once released, her subpoenaed emails proved Clinton’s constant commitment to the community.

Back at home, ‘pro-family’ groups denounced the move as ‘forcing the gay agenda on foreign nations.’ If the gay agenda is equality, then so be it. In her historic Geneva speech, Hillary maintained that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights, once and for all.” Kudos, Madam Secretary.

3. Ireland’s David Norris: Too tired to celebrate?

The country’s national referendum in May altered the Irish Constitution to extend civil unions into marriages. Congratulations, Ireland, on becoming the first country to legalize marriage equality — somebody had to do it!

For Ireland, that somebody is gay rights champion Senator David Norris, who has battled on behalf of the community for decades. The openly gay Senator took his fight all the way to the European Court of Human Rights — the U.S. Supreme Court on steroids — and won the Irish government’s decriminalization of homosexuality in 1993. This year’s national referendum on marriage equality may seem long overdue for 71-year old Norris — who confessed to ‘watching the boat from shore’ — but for the upwards of 2 million Irish who voted, it feels like a revolution.

4. Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda “Nadya” Tolokonnikova: to prison and back again

Think politics is boring? Russia’s Pussy Riot, a punk-meets-protest feminist group, begs to differ: “Politics, after all, isn’t just Bushes and Clintons but also Harvey Milks and Hunter S. Thompsons,” says the group’s ring leader, Nadya Tolokonnikova.

Nadya’s political involvement has been anything but ordinary. Following a pro-gay rock band stunt in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral — during which they called on the Virgin Mary to join their feminist ranks — Pussy Riot members were sentenced to jail-time for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” Nadya’s job as an inmate in Russia’s penal colony? Sewing police uniforms, of course.

Although their reputation is mixed, their message is clear: Political involvement is potential to make art. This perspective brought them state-side this year to feature in House of Cards, American TV’s scrupulous political reenactment. In, hopefully, the show’s most realistic script to date, Nadya and fellow Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina accuse the fictional Russian President of homophobia before being ‘removed’ from the state dinner. Nadya on politics: “Who, if not you, should make it more fun?”

5. President-Select Roberta “Bobbie” Cordano: Deaf and Gay and President

Washington DC’s Gallaudet University’s slogan speaks truth: ‘There is no other place like this in the world.’ Since 1864, this bilingual university has been designed with the needs of deaf students in mind, including coursework in American Sign Language and light-flickering doorbells.

As the world’s only deaf university, Gallaudet spearheads equality on a global scale — and it fights for more than Deaf rights. 64 years ago, the school’s first Black student was harassed into completing his 4-year degree in three; 27 years ago, students shut down campus, demanding the resignation of yet another hearing president who did not know ASL.

The chartered university has come a long way since then: January’s inauguration will bring Gallaudet’s first Deaf and gay and female President into office. And with 52 countries represented on campus this semester, the effects are global. The LGBT community should be proud to have an ally in the Deaf community — let’s return the favor!

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