Scores of activists were arrested in Moscow on Saturday when the police broke up their attempt to stage the city's first gay pride rally aimed at marking the 13th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the country.

The parade's organiser, Nikolai Alexeyev, told the BBC that despite a court ruling banning the parade, campaigners had achieved their goal of raising awareness of homophobia in Russia.

Clearly, gay people are still being oppressed out there and - contrary to what many of us may think - there are still some parts of the world where gay people are being tortured and killed because of their sexual orientation. Unfortunately, these stories of brutality are often hidden from our Western eyes.

When Mario Gerada, project coordinator at Integra Foundation, carried out research on Non-Governmental (Development) Organisations (NG(D)Os) he found that very few represent homosexual people and bring gay issues to the forefront.

He was shocked to learn that torture and killings are a reality for gay people in several countries.

"In Nepal they have a sexual cleansing policy. In Iraq there are trap chat rooms that lead gay people into the violent hands of the police. In Iran they are hanging homosexuals. In South Africa lesbian women are being raped to 'put them in their place'. These are just a few examples.

"But what shook me even more than the news itself was that no one here is talking about it."

As Mr Gerada surfed through human rights websites and learnt more about the subject he asked himself: What are the authorities and NG(D)Os doing about this?

Speaking about the role of NG(D)Os he said that, on a local and European level, there is a lot of sterling work going on with regard to development, as such organisations work hard to combat poverty.

But the plight of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (LGBTs) in these same countries is barely mentioned. Mr Gerada stressed that although major human rights organisations, such as Amnesty International, are active on the LGBT level there is still more to be done as, for most Western countries, including Malta, these issues remain an invisible reality.

"Civil society has a vital role to play in battling against such hidden discrimination. More awareness needs to be raised to sensibilise the public about what is happening. Once the people know, they can start piling pressure on their government to tackle this problem, as has been done on other issues.

"Maybe one needs to point out that gay people themselves in the West need to be sensitive to this issue and gay organisations need to start working on it and fight for gay rights in developing countries," he added.

As a strong believer in the Catholic Church, Mr Gerada also believes the Church too has a very important part to play in combating this extreme injustice.

"With regard to development, the Church is one of the most active bodies in Europe. The International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity (CIDSE) and Caritas Europe are two extremely strong Catholic movements that do brilliant work to change things in development countries and fight for the plight of the poor.

"But although this work may have an impact on a European level and on government decisions, all too often issues faced by gay people in developing countries are forgotten by the Church, governments, NG(D)Os and even gay movements themselves.

"In a nutshell, the Church does a lot of brilliant work but it needs to make its teachings for tolerance towards homosexual people more clear," he added.

Through its catechism, the Church preaches that people with homosexual tendencies must be "accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity and every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided".

But not allowing discrimination was not enough, Mr Gerada insists. The Church had a duty to speak up.

"The incongruence I see is that whereas the Church's stand on gay unions is often stressed, its teachings against discrimination and homophobia are rarely quoted."

The way Mr Gerada sees it, influential bodies - the Church being one of the strongest - ought to exercise their influence and speak up to help persecuted gay people.

Civil society can start by being aware of this reality and make its concern heard to the authorities who, in turn, will help make a difference.

"The persecution of gay people needs to be included with other issues we discuss, such as war and poverty. Let's stretch our borders and reach out a little bit more," Mr Gerada said.

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