Protesters seek to end LGBTI repression in Commonwealth

Demonstrators ralliy outside the London headquarters of the Commonwealth on Nov. 25, seeking repeal of anti-homosexuality laws. (Photo courtesy of Peter Tatchell Foundation)

Demonstrators rally outside the London headquarters of the Commonwealth on Nov. 25, seeking repeal of anti-homosexuality laws. (Photo courtesy of Peter Tatchell Foundation)

African LGBTI activists and their allies are urging 40 countries that formerly were part of the British Empire to throw off the chains that the colonial empire created for LGBTI citizens in the form of now-ancient anti-homosexuality laws.

During a protest at the Commonwealth’s London headquarters on Nov. 25, they called for action during the upcoming Commonwealth leadership meeting in Malta. This is their press release about the protest:

Commonwealth Summit in Malta urged to back LGBTI equality

For 66 years, the Commonwealth has refused to even discuss LGBTI rights

"Love Is Not A Crime," say demonstrators in London on Nov. 25, seeking repeal of anti-homosexuality laws. (Photo courtesy of Peter Tatchell Foundation)

“Love Is Not A Crime,” say demonstrators in London on Nov. 25, seeking repeal of anti-homosexuality laws. (Photo courtesy of Peter Tatchell Foundation)

London, UK – 25 November 2015

Fifty people rallied outside the London headquarters of the Commonwealth today, two days before the start of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Malta.

They were demanding that all Commonwealth member states “decriminalise homosexuality and legislate equal rights for their LGBTI citizens, in accordance with the human rights principles of the Commonwealth Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

The rally was organised by the African LGBTI organisation, the Out and Proud Diamond Group, and supported by the Peter Tatchell Foundation, Rainbow Across Borders, Rainbow International and African Rainbow Family.

“For 66 years, the Commonwealth Summit (CHOGM) has refused to even discuss LGBTI human rights, let alone support LGBTI equality. This CHOGM is no different. They won’t even allow LGBTI rights on the agenda,” noted Peter Tatchell, Director of the human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation, who has been lobbying the Commonwealth on LGBTI issues for over 20 years.

Peter Tatchell protests against Nigerian homophobia.

Peter Tatchell (left) at a 2014 protest against homophobia.

“Forty of the 53 member states of the Commonwealth criminalise homosexuality. They account for more than half of the world’s countries where same-sex relations are illegal.

“Ninety per cent of Commonwealth citizens live in Commonwealth countries where homosexuality is a criminal offence and where LGBTI people have no legal protection against discrimination and hate crime. It is state-sponsored homophobia and it is happening in 75% of the Commonwealth member nations, without any public rebuke by the Commonwealth leadership.

“This homophobic repression is getting worse in some Commonwealth nations; notably Uganda, Cameroon, Nigeria and Brunei.

“What is the point of having a Commonwealth Charter committed to equality and non-discrimination if three quarters of the member states violate its principles and get away with it?

“Many of the anti-gay laws in the Commonwealth were imposed by Britain in the nineteenth century, during the era of colonial occupation. But this is no excuse for now independent self-governing nations to perpetuate foreign-dictated homophobic legislation,” said Mr Tatchell.

Protesters line up in London on Nov. 25, seeking repeal of anti-homosexuality laws throughout the Commonwealth. (Photo courtesy of Peter Tatchell Foundation)

Protesters line up in London on Nov. 25, seeking repeal of anti-homosexuality laws throughout the Commonwealth. (Photo courtesy of Peter Tatchell Foundation)

Today’s LGBTI rally in London urged the Commonwealth to:

1. Put LGBTI issues on the agenda at CHOGM in Malta and invite LGBTI organisations to participate
2. Set a timetable for Commonwealth countries to decriminalise homosexuality and legislate legal protection against anti-LGBTI discrimination and hate crime
3. Establish on-going consultations and partnerships with LGBTI organisations in the member states
4. Promote adherence to the Commonwealth Charter and international human rights conventions that protect the rights of all citizens, including LGBTI citizens

“The Theme of next week’s CHOGM is: Adding Global Value. This is about using the Commonwealth’s strengths in international politics to influence and effect change on important global issues. It is all about making a positive difference to the lives of Commonwealth citizens. Adding Global Value seeks to unify the Commonwealth behind an ambitious policy agenda that bequeaths to young people a life of liberty, dignity and prosperity,” said Edwin Sesange, Director of the African LGBTI organisation, the Out and Proud Diamond Group.

“Most of these countries inherited their anti-gay laws from Britain when it was their colonial ruler. They are a colonial hang-over. The existence of these anti-gay laws over the last century has created a climate where many people believe that homophobic attitudes and laws are a part of their cultures,” said Mr Sesange.

His Out and Proud Diamond Group colleague, Abbey Kiwanuka, added:

Abbey Kiwanuka, co-director of Out and Proud Diamond Group. (Photo courtesy of The Independent)

Abbey Kiwanuka, co-director of Out and Proud Diamond Group. (Photo courtesy of The Independent)

“At least seven Commonwealth countries impose life imprisonment for homosexuality. Parts of northern Nigeria and rural Pakistan have the death penalty for LGBTI people, and Brunei plans to introduce death by stoning. This makes a mockery of the Commonwealth Charter.

“Most countries that are signatories to the Commonwealth Charter have failed to live up to it. The Commonwealth has continued to do nothing serious and effective to encourage these nations to respect the liberty and dignity of their LGBTI citizens.

“The criminalisation and demonisation of homosexuality in the Commonwealth has led to mob-violence and the murder of LGBTI people, their denial of employment, housing and medical care, as well as imprisonment, torture and sexual assault.

“The Commonwealth boasts that it is strong in terms of international politics and global issues. Why, then, has it not used its strength to influence the decriminalisation of homosexuality?” queried Mr Kiwanuka.

Aderonke Apata, a Nigerian refugee and founder of African Rainbow Family, which promotes LGBTIQ equality globally, said:

Aderonke Apata (Photo courtesy of The Independent)

Aderonke Apata (Photo courtesy of The Independent)

“The situation for LGBTI people in the 40 out of the 53 Commonwealth countries that criminalise homosexuality is getting worse. In Nigeria, for example, as well as 14 years imprisonment, same-sex relations also carry the penalty of death by stoning in some regions of the country where Sharia law prevails. In the last couple of years, Nigeria has introduced draconian new jail terms for organising, funding and belonging to LGBTIQ organisations – and for advocating LGBTIQ equality.

“A wave of homophobia is being whipped up constantly against LGBTIQ people and anyone working with or supporting them. Many LGBTIQ people have fled Commonwealth countries in search of safety elsewhere. They have been driven out as a result of mob attacks, police harassment, eviction from their homes and job refusals and dismissals. Those who remain face grave state and non-state persecution,” she said.

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Americas, Asia, International pressure for LGBT rights | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Coming out in Nigeria: ‘Hate, isolation, loneliness may come’

Click the image to hear the "Should I come out?" episode of the No Strings podcasts.

Click the image to hear the “Should I come out?” episode of the No Strings podcasts.

Among trends that produce change, the process of coming out is one that can subtly persuade a society of the importance of recognizing the human rights of LGBTI people. When enough friends, colleagues, family members and celebrities come out, fear and hatred of LGBTI people tend to dissolve.

But for an individual, coming out can be risky, especially in an intensely homophobic country.

Mike Daemon, host of the Nigeria-based No Strings podcasts, highlights those risks in the podcasts’ latest episode, titled “Should I come out?”

“It’s a life-changing decision,” he says of coming out. But “how safe will you be when this decision is finally made?”

Some Nigerian parents have turned a son over to police after learning that he is gay, he says.

“I’m not saying that people should not come out,” he says. But “some LGBTIQ Nigerians have already made terrible mistakes by coming out to parents. … They suffer later.”

Among traditional family members, Daemon says:

“The first thing that comes to their mind is that you are lost, you’re a devil, it’s perversion, it’s not true, it can’t happen — not to them.

“For them, it’s a major problem. The shame gets transferred to them. …

“You must be prepared first for rejection, then dialogue; then acceptance may follow gradually. It takes time, but you must be ready for the worst and make sure you are truly ready for the horror that may follow … the hate, isolation, loneliness that may come from this action.”

Daemon’s suggestions in the podcast include:

  • If you’re still young and not independent,  don’t come out to your family. Wait until you’re fully independent and can take financial responsibility … and take care of yourself if they eventually reject you.
  • Don’t come out to people you don’t really know or who talk negatively about homosexuality. … Make it your duty to really educate them, so they will be comfortable with it, before telling them anything whatsoever.
  • If you are planning on coming out officially to the world in a homophobic country like Nigeria, plan strategically for escape. Get everything in place. Make the right connections and talk to the right people. But still there is no guarantee that it will ever be easy. … Asylum may be an option, but it’s very complicated. We’ll talk about this on a future podcast.
  • Finally, and optionally, you could talk to a professional psychologist about making that huge life-changing decision. If you need one would not judge but would offer real help, email

Logo of the No Strings podcast

Logo of the No Strings podcast

He adds, “If your life is in danger and you need help — not financial help, of course — legal help, counseling … get in touch with No Strings and we’ll get back to you in a short time.”

The No Strings podcasts, which can be streamed or downloaded, provide a voice for the LGBTIQ community in  Nigeria; they are the first of their kind in Nigeria. They are presented in the form of a traditional radio program that  chronicles the struggles, tells the stories, and reports on issues affecting the lives of LGBTIQ Nigerians.


Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan) | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

In Malaysia, Obama focuses on LGBT rights

President Barack Obama (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

President Barack Obama (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

President Obama focused attention on the human rights of LGBT Malaysians during his just-ended Asia trip.

While in Malaysia, he met with trans activist Nisha Ayub, who seeks an end to the frequent arrests of trans women.

He also lent tacit support to Malaysian opposition politician Anwar Ibrahim, who is serving a five-year prison sentence after being convicted of sodomy.

The Washington Blade reported:

U.S. officials meet jailed Malaysian opposition leader’s family

Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in 2011 (Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch)

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in 2011 (Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch)

Senior members of the National Security Council on Saturday met with the family of a leading Malaysian opposition figure who is serving a 5-year prison sentence for sodomy. The meeting with former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s family took place in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.

The meeting coincided with President Obama’s visit to the Southeast Asian country.

Obama on Nov. 20 met with Nisha Ayub of Justice for Sisters, a group that advocates on behalf of transgender Malaysians, and other members of the country’s civil society. The president on the same day told reporters during a press conference with Prime Minister Najib Razak that he raised the country’s human rights record during their meeting.

Nisha Ayub promotes trans rights and trans pride.

Nisha Ayub promotes trans rights and trans pride.

“We talked about the importance of civil society and issues, not just in Malaysia but in the region in general, and how we can promote those values that will encourage continued development and opportunity and prosperity,” said Obama. “I very much appreciate this conversation. I think it was constructive.”

Obama on Sunday during a press conference before returning to the U.S. defended the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a controversial trade agreement that Malaysian LGBT rights advocates and labor groups in the U.S. and elsewhere have sharply criticized.

For more information, read the full article in the Washington Blade.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Arrest reports in Nigeria: 21 in Delta, 2 in Lagos

Map of southern Nigeria shows locations of Lagos and Asaba. (Map courtesy of the BBC)

Map of southern Nigeria shows locations of Lagos and Asaba. (Map courtesy of the BBC)

Nigeria’s homophobic and untrustworthy media has published reports — unconfirmed reports — about two sets of arrests of gay youths:

Two teenagers, ages 14 and 19, were arrested in Ikotun, near Lagos, after police allegedly caught them having anal sex, according to Absolute Naija.  The report gave their alleged names and school affiliations, but no date for the arrest. The account, published Nov. 13, was accompanied by a presumably unrelated photo of two men lying together.

Twenty-one students, ages and names unspecified, were arrested in Asaba in Delta State at two unnamed state polytechnic schools that had allegedly had become “a beehive of perverse sexual acts,” according to the Nigerian newspaper The Punch and several other Nigerian online news sites. The account in Punch, published today, was accompanied by a photo of the Delta State Commissioner of Police, Alkali Usman, who was not mentioned in the article.

Nigerian newspapers often report on alleged arrests of LGBTI people, but almost never report on any subsequent steps in the legal process, such as trials, acquittal and release, or conviction and sentencing. On investigation, some such reports have turned out to be total fabrications.

The Punch article also reiterated two myths about homosexuality that are common in Nigeria and elsewhere — that people adopt a homosexual  orientation for financial gain and that homosexuality is a result of cult activity.

For more on the bias in the Punch coverage, see commentary in the “O-blog-dee” blog.

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Harassment / murders | 4 Comments

U.N. vs. anti-LGBTI laws; plus news in brief

In brief, here is recent news from countries with anti-LGBTI laws. These items are excerpted with slight modifications from UNAIDS’s Equal Eyes recap of the world’s LGBTI-related news:




UNAIDS released a new five year strategy to end the AIDS epidemic that calls for the removal of  76+ countries’ laws against same-sex sexual relations.

The new strategy aligns with the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals and incorporates human rights based approach to development. While UNAIDS acknowledges the strategy to be ‘bold and ambitious,’ some are calling it a ‘breath of fresh air’ and ‘remarkable.’

The strategy recognizes sexual and reproductive health and rights issues, calls for comprehensive sexuality education, and the removal of ‘punitive laws, policies and practices that block an effective AIDS response, including travel restrictions and mandatory testing, and those related to HIV transmission, same-sex sexual relations, sex work and drug use.’

With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, governments need a solid framework of indicators and statistical data to monitor progress to the goals. To this end, the UNDP and the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights are reaching out to civil society for help determining how LGBTI people should be measured in international development.

$10 million to battle Aids amid repressive laws

Elton John (Photo by Ernst Vikne via Wikimedia Commons)

Elton John (Photo by Ernst Vikne via Wikimedia Commons)

To increase access to HIV medication for LGBT people living in countries with anti-gay laws, singer Elton John announced a new $10 million partnership between his foundation and the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

Trained to help

In Tanzania, a new program is training government healthcare workers to help gay men, intravenous drug users, and sex workers in an effort to reduce HIV infection despite ongoing stigma against these communities.

Proposal to punish

Members of parliament in Russia introduced a bill that would punish any public display of ‘non-traditional sexual orientation’ with fines and up to 15 days in jail.

New hire: trans police officer

Prithika Yashini (Photo courtesy of DNA India)

Prithika Yashini (Photo courtesy of DNA India)

In India, Prithika Yashini has become the first transgender police officer after the Madras High Court directed the police recruitment board to accept trans candidates.

Provincial punishment

The province of Aceh in Indonesia implemented a new bylaw that explicitly criminalizes sexual activity between people of the same sex, with a punishment of public caning. Homosexuality is not criminalized elsewhere in the country.

Vigilante attacks

In Uganda, where eight transphobic attacks were reported in less than a week, the Chief Executive of Human Dignity Trust noted that: “Criminalization makes the perpetrators of these horrific violent attacks see themselves as vigilantes, upholding the laws which persecute LGBT people.”

Praise for victim and police

In India, a young gay man is being heralded for his courage seeking help after he was sexually and physically assaulted. And the local police are being applauded for their unusually supportive response which led to the arrest of four men.

Persecution in tourist’s paradise?

Take this interactive quiz from HIV/AIDS Alliance that asks if your favorite vacation spot is ‘Paradise or Persecution.’


Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Anti-LGBT laws and legislation, Asia, International pressure for LGBT rights | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Commentary: Jamaican activists need to change focus

Jamaica needs to make a wide variety of improvements in its human rights record with regard to its LGBT citizens — which may not be possible if activists focus too much attention on the nation’s buggery law, says Jaevion Nelson, program and advocacy manager at the Jamaican LGBT advocacy organization J-FLAG.  In today’s Jamaica Gleaner, he takes that position in a commentary that goes against what many Jamaican activists have pushed for in recent years.

PM must find alternate ways to support LGBT community

Jaevion Nelson, program and advocacy director for J-FLAG, the Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays.

Jaevion Nelson, program and advocacy director for J-FLAG, the Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays.

Portia Simpson Miller’s statement in December 2011 in the lead-up to the general election about reviewing and facilitating a conscience vote on the antiquated buggery law has been the subject of scathing criticisms and even protests. Many have accused her of hoodwinking the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community because the matter was never tabled in Parliament.

It is rather unfortunate that when there is discourse about LGBT rights in our country, it almost exclusively focuses on the need to repeal or amend the buggery law found in Sections 76-79 of the archaic Offences Against the Person Act. Consequently, political will to address the myriad challenges, such as homophobic bullying, inability to secure justice when their rights have been infringed, and employment and housing discrimination, among others faced by the LGBT community, is assessed on this basis. Regrettably, without realising, many gay-rights activists create the impression that this is the panacea for improving the rights of LGBT people. One of my lesbian friends says “buggery needs to be buggered”.

A more prudent move

I do not think the prime minister should be castigated for not pursuing her so-called election promise. I don’t recall her ever saying she would repeal the law. Regardless of her sentiments about non-discrimination and violence perpetrated towards LGBT people, we should appreciate that it might be more prudent to pursue other ways of promoting the rights of LGBT people than facilitating a vote that would likely fail and set the movement back.

Jamaica PLe Premier ministre jamaïcain, Portia Simpson-Miller (Photo de Wikimedia Commons)rime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller (Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons)

Jamaica Prime Minister Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller (Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons)

The National Survey on Attitudes and Perceptions towards Same-sex Relationship conducted in 2012 found that Jamaicans want the law to be retained because they are (1) concerned that homosexuality would become more prevalent and popular, to the point of becoming the norm (12.2 per cent); (2) believe gays and lesbians would receive a new sense of freedom and begin to flaunt and openly display their lifestyle (11.3 per cent); and (3) fearful that children would be more at risk of molestation (11 per cent). Ludicrous? Yes, but it shows the tremendous work left to be done. About one-third did not provide a reason for its retention.

The surveys show many of us agree that LGBT people should be treated with respect and dignity. About 37 per cent of Jamaicans feel the Government is not doing enough to protect LGBT people from discrimination and violence despite the fact they want the buggery law to be retained (Boxill, 2012).

According to The Gleaner-commissioned Bill Johnson poll (2014), 23 per cent said transgender persons should have equal rights.

Evidently, there is an opportunity for us to take steps, as a nation, to improve the human-rights situation for LGBT people. Perhaps we can begin to acknowledge some of the other actions taken by successive governments to improve the human-rights situation for LGBT people over the years. It might be prudent that we outline to our Government what are some of the steps that can be taken to move the country further, in addition to a repeal/amendment of the buggery law, which isn’t the only thing that needs to happen where LGBT rights are concerned. Here are some recommendations:

1. Increase the number of shelters and implement strategies to make them LGBT-friendly. Staff and others residing at this facility would need sensitisation training to enable them to respect LGBT people and foster a hospitable and respectful environment for all to reside.

2. Implement interventions targeting families and community members in an attempt to reduce the number of displaced LGBT persons, including and especially children.

3. The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms should be amended to prevent discrimination on the basis of one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or any other relevant trepidation.

4. There needs to be additional training of law-enforcement officers who are already in service on human rights, including LGBT rights around the Police Diversity Policy.

5. The Government should take urgent action to strengthen the investigative arm(s) of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and ensure that efforts are made to improve the relationship between the police and citizenry to reduce under-reporting in the LGBT community.

6. The Government should address homophobic discrimination with the use of public-information sessions and public-education campaign.

Differential treatment and violence, whether perpetrated against women, children, people living with disabilities, LGBT people, men, or the elderly is impacting negatively on our country in many ways. It is incumbent on all us to promote and show respect for everyone, even if we are different, rather than use our platforms to incite further marginalisation or bigotry.

Posted in Americas, Anti-LGBT laws and legislation, Commentary | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Queer Collective aims to make an impact in Uganda

Image from the "I Am Other" project of the Queer Collective. (Photo courtesy of the Queer Collective)

Image from the “I Am Other” project of the Queer Collective. (Photo courtesy of the Queer Collective)

Keith King, the founder and creative director of Uganda’s Queer Collective, tells about the new Kampala-based organization, which aims to provide a space where queer artists  in east Africa can come together and share their work locally, nationally, and internationally.

The collective, launched in July, is currently fundraising for its first major project, called “I Am Other,” which will compile an online database of stories about LGBT Ugandans.

Queer Collective aims to empower and validate LGBTQ artists by providing education and mentorship programs that will improve their craft and enable them to become economically self-sustaining as well as agents for social change.

The Queer Collective aims to eventually have a physical location for work and exhibitions, but currently it is focusing on online exhibits.

The four people currently working on the collective are all based in Kampala:

  • Keith King, a Ugandan LGBT activist.
  • Austin Bryan, an American ethnographic researcher.
  • Mac Ilakut, a Ugandan trans* activist.
  • Matthew Alemi, a Ugandan queer “artivist.”

In connection with the collective, several local activists in Uganda are working on the multi-media research and documentation project “I Am Other,” with the goal of recording the lives and stories of LGBTQ Ugandans across the country.

This will generate the first online visual archive of the daily lives of LGBTQ Ugandans — and serve as another tool for local activists to use in the fight for their human rights as LGBTQ persons.

An aim of the project is to change the narrative and start a positive conversation about LGBTQ Ugandans — to empower and validate an invisible community that is often faced with ridicule and rejection by calling to people’s attention their successes, triumphs, and the hardships they face, while also bearing testimony and honoring victims and survivors of homophobia and transphobia.

Image from the "Shivan" project of the Queer Collective. (Photo courtesy of the Queer Collective)

Image from the “Shivan” project of the Queer Collective. (Photo courtesy of the Queer Collective)

Among the collective’s other project are:

One part of the “I Am Other” project is the story of Rihanna, a 22-year-old transgender woman living in Kampala who was arrested and jailed for a period of time during Uganda’s intense wave of anti-LGBT harassment in 2014. She was charged under Section 145 of the Ugandan Penal Code Act for having “carnal knowledge against the order of nature.”

She recalled being attacked, then arrested:

“We were still sleeping — it was approaching 6:30 a.m. The landlord said, ‘You people get ready for what’s coming.’

“We heard people screaming outside. We opened the door and the chairmen, journalists, police, and people from around were there.

They said, ‘Get out!’ ‘Remove all your things!’ ‘We won’t tolerate gay people in our area.’

“It was mob justice — they beat us badly. That’s even how I got this wound.”

Rihanna’s story is one of many accounts from Ugandan LGBTQ individuals that are being archived in the new research and documentation project. Her story, along with thousands more, represents the struggle for equal human rights of sexual and gender minorities in the country.

Because many political, cultural, and religious leaders believe that LGBTQ Ugandans are “un-African” or that they do not exist — it is important to document the vast gender and sexual orientation diversity in the country, King says.

For more information, see the Queer Collective’s Facebook page and its website.

The team is also seeking financial support through a crowd funding campaign, which will run through Dec. 8, to raise money to travel to the most remote regions of Uganda to document the stories of sexual and gender minorities.

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Positive steps | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment