Queer Britain is a new museum in London, as its name lets us know it is a museum about LGBT+. We have museums dedicated to many issues and causes, but this is a first in the UK. Since 1985 the Schwules Museum in Berlin has existed and both it and Queer Britain predate the US where the first American LGBT+ Museum will open in New York in 2026. The 50 years it took for Queer Britain to become a reality, since a march in 1972, underline the accomplishment of being able to highlight a community which has been marginalized, and one which is still not recognized in at least 70 countries. One exhibit in Queer Britain for example is the door of the writer’s Oscar Wilde’s cell, a reminder of his having gone to prison for what was called gross indecency, a sentence that destroyed his reputation and maybe his health. He died 2 years after being freed at the age of 46, and for many he has become a symbol of the injustice the LGBT+ community has been subjected to. But this is also a time when in countries like the US rights such as marriage equality which were fought for for generations may well be in jeopardy. And our current discussions reflect questions these museums must address. Are they to speak to the general public, or address their own communities? It’s a line which each addresses in its own way. Queer Britain as it traces the arc of the LGBT+ history is aimed at the larger community, but then neither does it want to forget the issues affecting LBGT+ people in the present. In Berlin the focus is almost the inverse.
As they work through those issues, the fact remains that those museums exist, and regardless of what the public discourse ends up being, it’s hard to imagine the momentum will cease.
Protactile is a new language used by the deaf blind. I’ve known blind people and I’ve known deaf people, but I’ve never met someone who is deaf and blind. And as we know from the history of Helen Keller, they not only exist, they are able to communicate. How they do that has been an evolution and will no doubt continue. In Helen Keller’s day people could communicate by spelling words in the other’s hands. Then sign language and Braille were developed, and over time deaf blind people realized they were somehow not given the same consideration as others, they had to adapt to others’ way of communicating. For example signing involves the use of the space around the person, certain signs depend on it, not much use to a blind person. The deaf blind then had to depend on interpreters and that made them less independents. In 2005 a group of deaf blind women who were then at the Deaf Blind Service Center in Seattle began to seek another way, for them a better way. They use touch. They sit with knees touching and use touching to communicate. Different gestures have come to mean certain words, usually what the word means or evokes. The word oppression can be expressed by pushing down on the arm or thigh. A large car will be translated with something that means it is heavy such as a weight upon the arm or some other gesture conveying the importance of the car. A pat on the back is a sign that the person is here. As a more formal way of communicating Protactile was developed about 15 years ago by Jelica Nuccio a deaf blind person at the center in Seattle. She is now aided by one of her co-founder Aj Granda and was later joined by John Clark and together they founded the Deafblind Interpreting National Training and Resource Center through which they teach this new language which has attracted the attention of linguists who are beginning to think of it as a language all its own. Having had a sister who was a quadriplegic and could not move at all I am familiar with the handicaps humans can conquer and still thrive. Protactile is not only a reminder it stands as a testament to that conquering and thriving.
Spain as we know is a conservative Catholic country. Yet in 1985 it decriminalized abortion in the case of rape, an abnormal fetus or harm to the physical or psychological health of the mother. In 2014 the law was widened to be abortion on demand for the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. In practice the law worked mainly for doctors working in private clinics, those working in public hospitals often refused to perform the procedure. The legality of abortion didn’t of course stop anti-abortion activists, including right to life groups there. 89% of women seeking an abortion reported that they had felt harassed and 66% felt they had been threatened. Now Spain has criminalized harassment or intimidation of women seeking an abortion. It means that anti-abortion activists who try to convince women not to have abortions could face up to a year in jail. The law applies mainly to protests outside abortion clinics but also to the harassment or intimidation of the health care professionals who work there. The legislation was proposed by the prime minister who now plans to go further, making sure that public hospitals are able to practice abortion and also go still further, making it possible for 16- and 17-year-olds to have an abortion without parental consent, something that is possible in France and the UK.
Abortion is a divisive issue in the United States, and the example of deeply religious countries is instructive and encouraging. When abortion is legal in countries like Spain and Mexico, it suggests that somehow, down the road, however far down, the right and freedom to choose in the United States will have to prevail.
In Ecuador individual wild animals now have legal rights. It’s the first country in the world to do so. And it follows because in 2008 Ecuador became the first country to recognize that nature or Pachamama, was an entity deserving rights. That law became part of the country’s constitution and yet it wasn’t clear whether wild animals were included. The new case has now settled that thanks to a woolly monkey named Estrellita. The monkey who had been illegally taken from the wild was kept as a pet by a librarian for 18 years. Owning wild animals is illegal in Ecuador and in 2019 Estrellita was taken from the librarian’s home and put in a zoo. A month later she died. The librarian did not know of the death and after Estrellita was seized sued to have the pet returned on the ground that her detention was illegal. What makes this story even more moving is that the court ruled in favor of the librarian, even if it was too late for Estrellita to be returned, but also ruled that the removal from her habitat in the first place had been a violation of her rights. In Ecuador this verdict raises the issue of animal rights to that of the highest law of the land, the level of constitution. In essence the court’s decision states that animals have rights protected by nature. This means that wild animals cannot be hunted, traded, fished, trafficked, captured, kept, collected, extracted, retained or exchanged. Following the example of Ecuador several countries now have granted legal protection to wild animals either through their courts or their constitution, countries like Columbia, Mexico, Chile, New Zealand, Panama. That is only a beginning, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to know other countries will join in.