Scott Long, the director of Human Rights Watch’s queer program, and the guy who the organization just delivered a five-years-in-the-making apology for his untruthful and vicious defamation campaign against British activist Peter Tatchell, is leaving the organization, he relays in a goodbye email. He “suffered a pulmonary embolism of a fairly unpleasant sort,” which left him in intensive care and the time to make a lot of lists about life. “Somewhere in the middle of the lists, I realized that working for Human Rights Watch wasn’t on them.” So is this a health-related exit, or him forced out for being a jerk?
His full autobiographical exit interview:
As some of you know, in mid-July I suffered a pulmonary embolism of a fairly unpleasant sort. While running to catch a bus on a New York street, I saw a blinding effusion of white light, amid which several spangled and bell-bottomed figures vaguely resembling ABBA beckoned me to an eternal disco complete with spinning ball. Yanked back from their blandishments by a superior fashion sense, I spent a couple of weeks in intensive care. I had plenty of time lying in a bendable bed with an IV dripping, to compose, like Woody Allen, lists of the things that make life worth living: the last movement of Bruckner’s Third Symphony; “Sit Down, I Think I Love You” as covered by the Staccatos, with that harpsichord and those violins; the closing pages of “Lolita”; W. H. Auden as sung by Cleo Laine. Somewhere in the middle of the lists, I realized that working for Human Rights Watch wasn’t on them.
I am resigning as director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch. I feel great pride at what this program has accomplished in the almost eight years I have worked at HRW. I’ve had the privilege of partnering with the best, smartest, most creative and committed staff in the world: Juliana Cano Nieto, Boris Dittrich, Rasha Moumneh, Dipika Nath, Jessica Ognian, and, in the past, Jessica Stern and Iwona Zielinska. I am also especially proud of the deep and cooperative relationships we have built with activists and social movements around the world. I remember our long engagement in Egypt, where with a coalition of courageous human rights groups we produced evidence and performed advocacy to terminate a state crackdown that had marred hundreds of lives. I remember our work in Jamaica, where we were present at the creation of a similar activist coalition that generated passionate debate about the island’s colonial sexual legislation for the first time—and provided vital legal and social support to people under attack or arrest. I remember our efforts in Iran, where our accurate research dispelled misconceptions and deceptions about the state of sexual rights, and where we furnished life-saving assistance both to activists inside the country and to asylees without. I remember our emergency work in Iraq, where we documented for the first time ever who was behind the killings of non-conforming men, and began the slow work of putting the issue on a paralyzed state’s and still-stunned society’s human rights agenda. And I remember our work in the United States, where we showed the intersections between homophobia and anti-immigrant agitation, and the invisible corrosions both insinuate into people’s struggles for common lives.
The LGBT Rights Program was, and to some extent remains, an experiment: the first program of its kind at a so-called “mainstream” human rights organization. Undeniably there have been frustrations. One of the most basic splits in contemporary human rights work—sometimes mapped onto a division between “global South” and “global North,” though not quite reducible to it—is between rights as a set of legal norms, and rights as a complex of human dreams and political aspirations. The split has to do, as well, with the difference between institutions and movements, the former ones formal and developing their own standards and needs, the latter fluid and chaotic and responsible to individuals’ and communities’ desires and drives. The LGBT Rights Program worked balanced on the knife’s edge between these divisions.
It was never easy. Things need to change. For its efforts in this sphere to succeed in future, Human Rights Watch—and other international organizations like it—needs a far deeper understanding of what social movements are, why they are important, how they turn human rights into living values rather than legal abstractions. It also needs a far clearer comprehension of the political contexts in which it works every day; the impotence of artificial categories to explain the experiences of suffering or joy; the intersections that are the real geography of LGBT people’s, and everybody’s, lives.
Racism, neocolonialism, Islamophobia, patriarchy, anti-Semitism, and sectarian hatred, to name only a few, are as real as homophobia for LGBT people. They are real facts within LGBT movements as well. A “mainstream” intervention that willfully elides this complexity is doomed to make almost everything worse.
Likewise, though, our movements need to compare their histories more closely and examine their actions more exactingly. They must reject the temptation to be parochial, simply because others are. They must be alert for the foreshadowings of real rather than simply rhetorical universals that glimmer through the challenges they have overcome. Every intersection is a meeting place, as well as a divergence. To forget that is to be crucified on the differences, and divided into irrelevance.
And that’s it. One of the glorious Nina Simone’s recordings—it’s her version of “I Shall Be Released”– starts off with her stopping the band: “Don’t push it,” she tells them. “Don’t put nothin’ into it unless you feel it.” That’s my mantra as I move ahead. I intend to rest a bit, most likely with a fellowship at Harvard University over the next year, and write a book: based on my own experience, about what’s moral and what’s immoral about “international solidarity,” and what’s worked and what hasn’t in campaigns for sexual rights. I’ll keep on being a loud voice for the things I do value—“Lolita,” liberation, and more; and with the book behind me, I’ll be back to activism. In much the same form, probably, only different. I can be reached at:
Telephone: +1 646 XXX