Sexual minorities were never mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948. Yet, the door was nonetheless open to them in Article 1 of the document, which states that, "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights."
While today the U.N. is working to specifically include lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) individuals in that declaration, Article 1 and other key provisions are the measurements Franklin & Marshall College researchers have used for three years in their "Global Barometer of Gay Rights."
The first-of-its-kind barometer, which recently attracted the attention of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), was developed in 2012 to ascertain tolerance toward sexual minorities -- the "21st century's canaries in the coalmine" according to Professor of Government Susan Dicklitch, referring to an old practice of using birds as an early warning system of mine dangers.
"How a country’s legal system and people treat LGBTI individuals is a litmus test of how rights-protective that regime and society truly are," said Dicklitch, an associate dean of the College. "We're looking at our barometer as a measurement of human rights."
Dicklitch, along with Berwood Yost, director of the Floyd Institute's Center for Opinion Research and the Floyd Institute for Public Policy, and alumnus Bryan Dougan '11, first used the barometer in a case study of Uganda, which they wrote about in Human Rights Quarterly's May 2012 issue. In 2009, Uganda had proposed making homosexuality a crime punishable by death.
"Uganda is not an anomaly in the African continent when it comes to respect for the rights of homosexuals," the researchers wrote. "Few countries in the world actually embrace homosexuals as valuable members of their society, and even fewer bestow full human rights on their homosexual citizens."
Uganda, which persecutes homosexuals (although it dropped its death penalty statute after intense international pressure), and Denmark, which legally and socially embraces gays, are countries on opposite ends of the human rights spectrum. The barometer looks at them and all the countries that fall between the two.
Post-Graduate Research Fellow Scottie Thompson at the Center for Opinion Research, who works with Dicklitch and Yost, said that any country that fails to protect gay rights is acting contrary to the United Nations' declaration on human rights.
"Gay rights is indicative of human rights," Thompson said.
In April, Dicklitch and Thompson were invited to the USAID's Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance in the Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Affairs Bureau, where they spoke to the Gender Working Group. Sajda Ouachtouki, the center's regional fellow for the Middle East and co-organizer of the event, said many policymakers who attended the presentation found the Global BGR useful, but wanted to see it developed further to include all groups.
"It can help us a lot in the monitoring and evaluation of our programs," Ouachtouki said. "A lot of people do see a use for it. We just want it to be very inclusive."
As a scorecard, the barometer provides comprehensive assessments on the current state of human rights for sexual minorities around the world, and a roadmap that countries could follow to expand and advance human rights for all.
Countries are scored on a five-scale model as " persecutors," "intolerant," "resistant," "tolerant" or "protecting," Dicklitch said. The researchers look at 186 countries and use 29 indices to examine each country’s constitutional protections of sexual minorities, the level of gay rights advocacy, socio-economic rights, and societal persecution of sexual minorities. Depending on their score, each country is subsequently assigned a corresponding grade of A to F.
Denmark, for example, scores an A for providing comprehensive civil and political protections. The barometer lists that country under the "protecting" gay rights column. On the other hand, the United States scores a C and is listed as "resistant" to protecting gay rights, while the majority of countries score an F for laws that make homosexuality a punishable offense.
Along with Hackman Scholar David Yao, senior government major, the F&M researchers are working on a handbook to provide reference material on human rights for policymakers. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department also is calling. Randy Berry, the first-ever special envoy for LGBTI persons, plans to meet with them July 28 to discuss their Global BGR.
"The fact that 70 percent of the world is persecuting sexual minorities is disturbing," Dicklitch said. "The barometer is showing what human rights is all about and who gets them."