Sex scandals highlight need to have more LGBTQ, women in power: campaigners

LISBON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Sexual harassment scandals sweeping from Hollywood to other industries globally highlight the need to have more women, gay and black people in power at a time when minority rights are being rolled back, LGBTQ campaigners said on Tuesday.

Abuse allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein have prompted thousands of women and men to share stories about improper behavior by people abusing their power in the movie world, UK parliament and elsewhere.

Allegations against actor Kevin Spacey stemming from an alleged attempt to seduce a 14-year-old boy about 30 years ago, for which he has apologized, added a new focus to the pitfalls of power differentials - the targeting of young, gay men.

U.S. filmmaker Dustin Lance Black, an lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) activist who won an Oscar for the screenplay for the 2008 movie Milk, said sexual abuse had been ignored for too long in Hollywood.

“We’ve heard about the casting couch in Hollywood forever but I think this is likely the end of that,” Black, 43, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of the 2017 Web Summit global technology conference in Lisbon.

“We now need to create an environment in Hollywood where women and LGBTQ people feel safe and then we will see more diversity among the people who succeed in television and film,” he said, adding he never personally faced abuse in Hollywood.

Black, who married the British Olympic diver Tom Daley this year, said this was not just a problem in Hollywood but in many industries.

But he said it was interesting this has come at a time when LGBTQ rights, as well as women’s rights, were starting to suffer globally with the United States no longer pushing forward the equality agenda since Donald Trump’s election.

“Without the leadership of the United States we are seeing LGBTQ rights in many countries going backwards,” said Black.

“Previously countries that tended to discriminate against LGBTQ were worried of doing so and jeopardizing their relationship with the United States. This is no longer the case and it is very dangerous for our community around the world.”

Sarah Kate Ellis, head of the U.S.’s largest gay and lesbian advocacy group GLAAD, also flagged her concerns on the erosion of LGBTQ rights without U.S. enforcement, citing recent reports of anti-gay actions in Chechnya, Egypt and Tanzania.

“The greatest protection for LGBTQ is acceptance but you also need legal protection and this is rolling back,” said Ellis, who took over as head of GLAAD, or the Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, in 2014.

She said it was important LGBTQ people, as well as women, took more leadership positions, to stop the abuse of minorities and vulnerable people by those in positions of power.

“It is important this is starting to come out and I hope we see a turnaround in Hollywood where more women, people of color and LGBTQ get into more power because the problem is where the power lies,” Ellis told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.