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How Realistic is Google's 'Legalize Love' for Gay Rights Campaign?
Google's controversial plan to abolish anti-gay laws comes with its fair share of questions and concerns

Google has launched an international campaign targeted at countries with homophobic cultures and anti-gay laws in an effort to provide safer environments for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The Legalize Love campaign sounds revolutionary, but how realistic is this? Is it an over ambitious white-picket fence dream of the Western world or is it possible an Internet-fronted company with an easily accessible global audience can make a difference of this magnitude?

“In so many countries you can be executed for being gay. All over the world LGBT people live their lives in secrecy and constant fear. Legalize Love’s focus on the decriminalization of homosexuality could be a piece of what changes that,” says Proud FM host Acey Rowe, whose submission of “Celebrate and Demonstrate” was chosen as the 2012 theme for Toronto Pride.

The Legalize Love campaign kicked off earlier this month and will likely start by focusing on Poland and Singapore, according to Gay Star News. “Singapore wants to be a global financial center and world leader and we can push them on the fact that being a global center and a world leader means you have to treat all people the same, irrespective of their sexual orientation,” Google’s Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe said at the Global LGBT Workplace Summit in London earlier this month.

“We want our employees who are gay or lesbian or transgender to have the same experience outside the office as they do in the office. It is obviously a very ambitious piece of work,” he continued.

Google isn’t new to the LGBT equality scene. In 2008, Google co-founder and president Sergey Brin was publically opposed to Prop 8 and the company’s employee policies. Google provides additional compensation to gay and lesbian employees to make up for discriminatory domestic-partner tax laws. “Combine this with Google’s massive reach, finances and influence, and they’re kind of the perfect company to head up a campaign like this,” says Rowe.

Google’s announcement comes with great hope, skepticism and controversy. The company is working with NGOs and corporations to form a global alliance in partnership with the US government, but its received immediate backlash from American citizens. Conservative nonprofit the American Family Association launched a plan to boycott Google in the same fashion they did Oreo cookies, who recently posted a gay pride support ad to Facebook with a rainbow of coloured frosting.

On July 9, AFA spokesperson Buster Wilson admitted boycotting the Internet conglomerate would be difficult. “It’s more than just a search engine,” he says. He announced in a broadcast supporters of the boycott would also have to lose Android phones and stop accessing Gmail, Google Calendar, Google tasks and YouTube.

The Right Wing Watch broadcast below shows Wilson discussing the difficulties he expects to face with the boycott. 

Canada is the most advanced country in the Americas when it comes to equal rights. Section 15 of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees equality rights. It was introduced in 1985 to include sexual equality, and amended in 1995 when a landmark ruling recognized sexual orientation as platform for discrimination. There are some discrepancies in these laws, for example, the right to freedom of religion conflicts with section 15, but Canada still remains one of the leaders in gay rights.

In June, Canada celebrated the passing of Toby’s Act — an amendment to the Ontario Human Rights Code that includes gender identity and gender expression. The province is the first major jurisdiction in North America to provide and protect human rights for transgender people. 

Many Canadian Companies have extensive programs in place to ensure equality and safety for LGBT employees. Twelve companies including Deloitte and TD Bank launched the Pride At Work initiative in 2008 to improve the level of inclusiveness of LGBT employees. Since then, companies including RBC, Ontario Power Generation, Xerox, Telus, McMaster University and Loblaw have joined — and that’s only naming a few.

Pride organizers beaten in the streets of Kiev, Ukraine © Reuters. Photo taken from AllOut.org.

But countries such as the Ukraine are going backwards when it comes to gay rights. Equality activist group All Out partnered with two of Ukraine’s LGBT organizations, Insight NGO and Fulcrum, to launch a petition against Law 8711. This “gay gag” law came to light in May and was brought to parliament the first week of July. It bans the promotion of homosexuality and would essentially silence both homosexual and straight people from speaking out against gay rights including the prevention of HIV.

The campaign against the proposed law has received 120,000 signatures thus far in part thanks to a social media movement that bombarded Euro Cup hash tags with awareness of the law during the soccer game against the Ukraine and England. Elton John wrote the Guardian regarding his stance against draft law 8711. He said, “In Ukraine and elsewhere, gay people don’t have to imagine it. They already face the very real prospect of being criminalised for their sexuality. In no fewer that 78 countries around the world homosexual acts are still illegal. In five of them the maximum penalty is death.”

All Out aims to get 150,000 signatures minimum by the time law 8711 is put on the table in September.

“Internet and social media have reshaped social activism greatly. This is particularly true for the queer community who, due to being a minority, always faced isolation,” says Mariom Ferrer, a social activist for queer and immigrant rights. She moved to Canada from Latin America six years ago and continues her mission of changing perspectives through her involvement with the International Gay Rights Organization, Sex Workers’ Action Group and the Coming Out, Living After initiative.

“However, we also have to keep in mind that in a lot of countries access to Internet is limited to a privileged few,” she says.

In North America, we tend to focus our efforts on the legalization of gay marriage. This has caused the Legalize Love campaign to be mistaken for a gay marriage campaign – and more specifically, the legalization of gay marriage in the States – a separate issue.

“While equal marriage laws are an undeniably important component for the overall equality for LGBT people, the focus on marriage has been overshadowing more dire queer issues, especially internationally,” Rowe says. “My one concern about Legalize Love is that in the same way gay marriage issues overshadow other queer issues, gay issues have a tendency to overshadow transgender issues. I hope that Legalize Love puts resources and attention to the advancements of trans rights in addition to their efforts with gay rights.”

It is hopeful that the Google campaign will eradicate anti-gay laws and, considering the scope of the project, that it will be taken one country at a time. Ferrer says that where she’s from, the rainbow is not recognized as a symbol for gay equality. She says more work needs to be done in developing countries. And in developed countries, more work needs to be done to ensure that online activism transforms into off-line action.

“For this campaign to be successful there needs to be a team of people working on keeping momentum and making sure the countries targeted by Google are following this initiative as they are supposed to,” Ferrer says.


Sheena Lyonnais is Toronto Standard’s Tech and Business Editor. You can follow her on Twitter at @SheenaLyonnais.

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