LGBTI Ugandans tell their stories in their own magazine

The cover of Bombastic's first issue.

The cover of Bombastic’s first issue.

The Ugandan LGBTI community has launched its own magazine to tell their stories to the nation.

“Bombastic Magazine is a compilation of stories, testimonies and opinions by LGBTI Ugandans. The objective of this campaign is to end violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people countrywide,” the introductory press release states.

Supporters of the magazine are attempting to get a free copy of the magazine into the hands of each Ugandan — from local supermarkets or local volunteers. An online edition is available in cooperation with the African online media site Kuchu Times.

In the first edition, human rights defender and editor Kasha N. Jacqueline wrote:

“It is our desire that this publication will enlighten many Ugandans and people around the world who have been indoctrinated into believing that there is only one kind of sexual orientation and gender identity by religious persons and politicians who have conservative values.

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera (Photo courtesy of Amnesty.fr)

Bombastic editor Kasha N. Jacqueline (Photo courtesy of Amnesty.fr)

“We also hope that state-sanctioned homophobia via the laws that are being proposed will come to an end, and that instead we will be included in the national health policy. Driving LGBTI persons underground only continues to impede the fight against HIV/AIDS in Uganda and worldwide.”

Part of the motivation for launching the magazine is to respond to the typically anti-gay voices of most Ugandan media. LGBTI community member Ambrose said:

“Many have told our stories wrongly and we can’t accept the trend to continue. Here are our stories, narrated and shared by ourselves.”

The press release added:

“This magazine will also shed a light to readers on the extent of the marginalization and discrimination the LGBTI community in Uganda continues to face on a daily basis.

“We have been forced to live undignified lives; the authors of the stories are Ugandans who, through their voices, should be heard by policy makers and the general public, and hopefully, help to create a path for attitude change in a community that is continuously growing in homophobia and violence against this harmless group of Ugandan citizens. …

“Through Bombastic Magazine, we share our stories, realities of being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex, our health, religious, cultural and family issues,  with the public  as a  peaceful call to respect  and accept us as Ugandans; our sexuality does not make us any less Ugandan. …

“Many have told our stories wrongly and we can’t accept the trend to continue. Here are our stories, narrated and shared by ourselves.”

In an appeal to their fellow citizens, the magazine’s staff appealed to:

  1. The media in Uganda to promote humanity, peace, unity and liberation as they report on LGBTI issues.
  2. The government of Uganda to suspend all moves to introduce any further legislation that criminalizes our sexuality and gender identity and decriminalize already existing criminalization laws.
  3. The general public to establish and sustain dialogue with the LGBTI community in the country and in multi-lateral spaces
  4. Religious leaders to refrain from preaching and instigating hate  within their congregations.

Articles in the 75 pages of the first edition of the magazine include:

  • Many accounts of LGBTI people coming out to their friends and families.
  • “I lost my job refereeing and coaching for being transgender.”
  • Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Photo via WikiCommons Media)

    Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Photo via WikiCommons Media)

    A religion section, including writings by Anglican Bishop Christopher Senyonjo; Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Anglican Canon Gideon Byamugisha, founder of the African Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV/AIDS; and Pentecostal Bishop Carlton Pearson.

  • “Confessions of a Gay Naive Cleric: I clothed and schooled Bahati,” by the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, an Episcopal priest.
  • “Bible says, Love your neighbor as yourself. Are you?”
  • “My story and experience as a lesbian.”
  • “Interview: Positive Living,” a Q & A with Stosh Jovan Mugisha, a 30-year-old transgender man, interviewed by Kasha Jacqueline.
  • “VK’s Diary: I would rather have friends than lovers.”
  • Juliet Victor Mukasa

    Juliet Victor Mukasa

    “Exploring the Intersection of Religious Freedom and Human Rights.”

  • A health section, including basic information about HIV/AIDS and frequently asked questions about sexuality.
  • A transgender section, including “Why we have to live a lie to survive.”
  • “A belt for a bra,” an article that starts, “My name is Juliet Victor Mukasa, a 32 year-old transgender lesbian. It was someone’s story that liberated me. So I share my story here hoping it will liberate someone. …”
  • “My Pride Story” by Pepe Julian Onziema.
  • “Uganda Pride and My Detention” by Maurice Tomlinson.
Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Faith and religion, Positive steps | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mauritania: discreet inclusion of gays in the HIV response.

Any news concerning the struggles of LGBTI is rare out of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, a West-African country of about 3.5 million souls that achieved independence from France in 1960. One of four African countries where same-sex relations between men are punishable by death, article 308 states: “Any adult Muslim man who commits an indecent act or an act against nature with an individual of his sex will face the penalty of death by public stoning.” Modern-day slavery is still common practice in this Islamic state.   

This following article, slightly edited here, was originally published in the December, 2014, issue of the Global Fund Observer, and written by Robert Bourgoing.

Staff with SOS Pairs Educateurs carry out an integrated bio behavioral study among members of Mauritania's gay community in the capital Nouakchott, on behalf of the national AIDS commission

Staff with SOS Pairs Educateurs carry out an integrated bio behavioral study among members of Mauritania’s gay community in the capital Nouakchott, on behalf of the national AIDS commission (Photo courtesy AIDSPAN)

Mauritania, the discreet inclusion of the gay community in the HIV response by the Global Fund.

In a shaded courtyard of a nondescript building just on the outskirts of Nouakchott, a group of young men sits in comfortable repose. It’s a group with no official name, only the whispered identity of an MSM: a man who has sex with men. One by one they get up to sit on an overturned bucket

(Photo courtesy AIDSPAN)

(Photo courtesy AIDSPAN)

A peer educator helps a member of Nouakchott’s gay community complete an anonymized health survey​and tell the most intimate details of their lives. They are providing anonymized responses to two employees of the NGO, SOS Pairs Educateurs, as part of Mauritania’s first Integrated HIV survey since 2007.

The data collected by the survey will help the National AIDS Commission (SENLS) to develop its concept note for some $32 million allocated by the Global Fund to Mauritania under the new funding model (NFM).

A first data collection in seven years will clarify the state of the disease and its response in the Islamic republic, both within the general population and those groups most exposed to the risks of infection. (Editor’s note: Gay men and MSM are not officially identified as a key population here.)

But it’s the men who have sex with men who are the hardest to reach, even for the survey, in this very conservative society. “It’s impossible to say the word homosexual in public,” explains Fatimata Ball, who represents people living with HIV on the Mauritanian country coordinating mechanism (CCM). Ball is one of just two people in Mauritania who appear bare-faced when they talk about their HIV-positive status. With her head held high she daily battles discrimination on behalf of her fellow citizens living with the disease, and the taboos that complicate everything – especially anything to do with homosexuality.

“They’re [considered] horrible people who we shouldn’t engage with – not even to shake their hands because for 40 days afterwards, your prayers will be worth nothing,” she says.

A ‘foreigner problem’

(Photo courtesy AIDSPAN)

Jibril Sy (L) of SOS Pairs Educateurs, Mokhtar Salem Lehbid (C), president of the Network of Associations of People Living with HIV, Fatimata Ball(R), representing people living with HIV on the Mauritanian CCM (Photo courtesy AIDSPAN)

Officially, Mauritania is one of 11 countries worldwide where being gay is punishable by death. In reality, this penalty has not been applied against anyone since 1987.

Conventional wisdom is that the country is not nearly as harsh in its perception of homosexuality as countries like Iran, or even southern neighbor Senegal. And Fatimata Ball is quick to say that religion – Mauritania practices a very strict interpretation of Sunni Islam – doesn’t bear all the responsibility.

“We’ve got the big religious leaders who are saying that, even if Islam condemns these practices, these are human beings who have the right to treatment,” says Fatima. “But what they’re not doing is saying it publicly: not on the radio, or in the newspapers, or even during their sermons. They’re not saying it so people can hear, and so people aren’t frightened.”

“We don’t want to make noise around our work; our society doesn’t like too much buzz,” says Jibril Sy, president of SOS Pairs Educateurs, working quietly in the gay community since 2001. “When we started our work, we knew that it would be a bad strategy to attack the law,” he says. “So we have really taken the angle of right to health, which works here. No matter who you are, even if you’re a stranger, Mauritanians believe you have a right to health.”

Amadou Seye N’Diaye with two Mauritanian members of the gay community in the capital, Nouakchott. (Photo courtesy AIDSPAN)

Amadou Seye N’Diaye with two Mauritanian members of the gay community in the capital, Nouakchott. (Photo courtesy AIDSPAN)

Most don’t, however, believe that HIV is a ‘Mauritanian thing’ but rather an uninvited import from neighboring countries, carried by people who fled Senegal or the Gambia to become refugees here. They think that those foreign elements are also responsible for the introduction of homosexuality into Mauritanian culture, reflecting their disharmony with the way things really are.

According to Amadou Seye Ndiaye, himself of Senegalese origin, “if you behave normally, you should have no problems. But these new guys, they are bringing us trouble. They dress up in women’s clothings, they wear makeup, and they get married — like in Senegal.”

Ndiaye is a self-styled representative of the Nouakchott gay community, in which he says he knows about 400 people — including about 100 Mauritanians. Among them are many who use his home as sort of a drop-in center. It is here that SOS Pairs Educateurs are carrying out their survey, and it is here that Yacoub and Ahmed (not their real names) explain how the gay community in Nouakchott is changing.

“There are a lot of men in Mauritania who have sex with other men, but we are very, very discreet. We can be the masters of ceremony at weddings and celebrations of birth but beyond that, we try not to attract attention,” says Ahmed. “But the Senegalese, they are very provocative, very daring. And it shows, and it shocks, and it causes a lot of people to revolt against them.”

Leaving the shadows behind, and being heard

A member of Mauritania's gay community takes an HIV test in Nouakchott.

A member of Mauritania’s gay community takes an HIV test in Nouakchott. (Photo courtesy AIDSPAN)

“More and more we see gay men coming and asking for services from civil society,” says Aliou Diop of SOS Pairs Educateurs.

What this means, according to Diop, is that if the state is allowing groups like his to respond, it’s that the state understands that the national response must accommodate all of the different needs. And the needs are growing, according to the preliminary results of the survey, which have yet to be made public, the HIV infection rate in the gay community is on the rise, likely to substantially exceed the 5% infection rate recorded in 2007.

Nothing proves the importance of reacting to an epidemic before it spreads beyond a concentrated population to the general population than a rise in infections, but Jibril Sy says there are very few, if any, activities being carried out across the country. This is due to the challenges that followed a damning Office of the Investigator General report from 2009. Suspension of the grant meant a loss of direction and ultimately resulted in very little effort to target prevention activities to one of the communities that needed them most.

The new funding model (NFM) is providing Mauritania with a previously unanticipated opportunity: to wipe the slate clean and demonstrate its new capacity for risk management while also changing its strategy, and its approach, to HIV. This means a bigger ask — some $11 million — for innovative new programs that put key populations at the heart of the response. But even this is not without challenges because even condom distribution has to be done covertly, through people who volunteer to keep the products hidden in their homes.

Saving face or saving lives

How to encourage men who rely on the shadows to step into the light, to risk harassment, arrest and discrimination remains the unanswered question. Senegalese expat Madieng says it’s about coming together as a community.

“If we’re in a bloc, we will have a strong coalition, with a strong leader who knows the problems and can speak on our behalf,” says Madieng. “It is up to us to help ourselves; we can’t wait until society accepts us — we just want to be left in peace and treated like human beings.”

But another sign of the disconnect between the new arrivals and the indigenous community is revealed with Yacoub and Ahmed’s almost immediate rejection of the idea.

“We don’t think that coming together will serve any purpose, because we are fine just helping each other. We don’t have any specific problems that require us coming together, forming an association, being represented by some guy,” they say.

For now, some short-term plans are in place, if only to establish what activities should be prioritized under the concept note using focus groups comprised of those who responded to the survey. This has been approved to emphasize the need for these proposals to come from the local context. If in Mauritania that means individuals, not formal or even public groups, that will work, as long as it is a participatory approach, the Global Fund Secretariat emphasized.

While being back in the good graces of the Global Fund will be critical to Mauritania’s HIV response, they do not believe in any magic bullet that will see an opening of Mauritanian society to homosexuality.

“With or without funding, there is never going to be a legal recognition of the rights of men who have sex with men or sex workers,” says Fatimata Ball. “That’s non-negotiable in an Islamic country and no amount of money is going to change how Mauritanians feel about this.”

Click here to view all articles that mention Mauritania at 76Crimes.com.

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Anti-LGBT laws and legislation, HIV / AIDS | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Egypt: A call to protest anti-gay reporting, homophobia

Egyptian journalist Mona Iraqi (at right, with camera phone) records the police raid on the Bab el-Bahr public bathhouse, with men being herded into a police van, on Dec. 7, 2014. (Screenshot from Mona Iraqi's  Facebook page, courtesy of Scott Long)

Egyptian journalist Mona Iraqi (at right, with camera phone) records the police raid on the Bab el-Bahr public bathhouse, with men being herded into a police van, on Dec. 7, 2014. (Screenshot from Mona Iraqi’s Facebook page, courtesy of Scott Long)

An online protest will start tomorrow against unjust treatment of LGBTI people in Egypt and anti-gay journalists’ role in fostering government repression there.

The protest is timed to coincide with the start of Egyptian legal proceedings against men arrested in connection with sensational coverage about a Cairo bathhouse by Mona Iraqi, a television reporter who accompanied police on that raid.

Activist/commentator Scott Long writes in his blog, A Paper Bird:

Egypt: Tweeting and blogging against informer journalists and homophobia

Tomorrow, December 21, is the first hearing in the trial of men arrested in Mona Iraqi’s December 7 bathhouse raid in Cairo. I will post updates [in the Paper Bird blog.] Meanwhile: Protest this horrendous human rights abuse. Some very brave Egyptian activists are calling for a campaign on Twitter and social media — starting tomorrow, but continuing after. You can tweet using the hashtag #مخبر_اعلامي : in English, #StopInformerJournalists. You can also copy in @Mona_Iraqi and @MonaIraqiTV. The event page is here [on Facebook in Arabic], and the call to action is below, in Arabic and then English:

يوم للتغريد و التدوين ضد اللإعلاميين المخبرين و الإعتقالات بناءاً على الهوية الجنسية

في هذا اليوم سيتم التدوين و التغريد من خلال كافة آدوات التواصل الإجتماعي كنوع من التظاهر ضد تعاون مني العراقي اللا أخلاقي مع جهاز الشرطة القمعي، و الذي أدى إلى أكبر حملة ضبطية في التاريخ المصري لأشخاص بناءاً على تصورات عن ميولهم الجنسية منذ حادثة كوين بوت في مطلع الألفينات. لم تكتفي منى بإرشاد الشرطة إلى إعتقال ستة و عشرون — مع الوضع في الإعتبار أن تم إبقائهم عراة بينما قامت هي بتصويرهم بهاتفها النقال كصائدي الجوائز — بل أيضاً كنوع من التغطية روجت لفكرة أن الإعتقال سببه مرض نقس المناعة البشرية و الدعارة! نحن نتظاهر ضد الفجور الحقيقي الذي تمارسه منى عراقي و أمثالها. نحن نتظاهر ضد الإعلاميين الذين اصبحوا مخبرين لصالح الشرطة عوضاً عن كونهم ناقلين محايدين للحقائق. نحن نتظاهر ضد عنف الدولة و إنعدام العدالة ضد كل من يشتبه في كونه مثلي أو متحول جنسياً.

كيف يمكن أن أشارك؟

في هذا اليوم — غداً الأحد — دون\ي، إكتب\ي، غرد\ي على أي من مواقع التواصل الإجتماعي معبراً عن رأيك في هذه الأحداث المشينة مرفقة بالهاشتاج الآتي: #‏الاعلامي_المخبر

Tweeting and blogging against informer journalists and homophobia:

Contributions will be made through all social media to protest Mona Iraqi’s unethical cooperation with oppressive police forces, which led to the largest crackdown on people based on their assumed sexual orientations in recent Egyptian history. Not only did she lead the police in arresting 26 people — men kept naked while she filmed them using her camera phone like a bounty hunter – she covered her tracks with a media campaign spreading the idea that this is about HIV and prostitution. We protest the real perversion practiced by Mona Iraqi and her like. We protest the journalists who become informers rather than neutral transmitters of fact. We protest the state brutality and extreme injustice against people suspected of being gay or transgender in Egypt.

How can I contribute?

On that day, here’s what we will do. Go to any of your social media — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or your own blog. Write a post or share a picture that expresses your opinions on the matter. Attach it with this hashtag: #المخبرـالإعلامي

Posted in Harassment / murders, HIV / AIDS, International pressure for LGBT rights, Middle East / North Africa | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Cameroon: New leadership for activist group Camfaids

Logo of Camfaids

Logo of Camfaids

The Cameroonian activist organization Camfaids has a new leadership team that aims to expand its advocacy for LGBTI rights, strengthen its partnerships with local allies, and enlarge its work promoting the health of sexual minorities.

Brice Evina was elected  the new president of Camfaids, replacing Camfaids co-founder Dominique Menoga, who sought and won asylum in France several months before co-founder Eric Lembembe was murdered in Yaoundé in 2013.

Eitel Ella Ella, the former executive coordinator, was chosen as executive director. Michel Engama remains the group’s administrative and financial director.

The reorganization came after a report to Camfaids from a French management consultant from the 5% Initiative on AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a French project that provides expert advisors for Global Fund health initiatives for French-speaking countries in the developing world.  The consultant recommended installation of locally based leadership, improved teamwork in decision-making, and other organizational changes.

The reorganization was approved in a general membership meeting on Nov. 8, which was attended by four independent observers from different associations.

The new leadership team of Camfaids praised and thanked Menoga, the outgoing president, for his strong engagement in the fight against HIV and STIs and in the fight for the rights of LGBTI people.

Ella Ella said that in the coming year:

“CAMFAIDS plans to continue to strengthen its promotion and defense of the human rights of LGBT people, fight against all forms of discrimination and stigma against these persons in Cameroonian society, and denounce all forms of abuse and injustices done to them.

Journée mondiale du sida, une manifestation de CAMFAIDS visant à réduire le risque de contracter le VIH.

Camfaids organized this AIDS information program for World AIDS Day in 2012.

“We also plan to expand our partnerships with human rights defense organizations such as REDHAC — where partnership activities have already been undertaken through which we will gain the status of observer for various commissions and African conferences, which will allow us to make submissions and oral presentations to expose and denounce the situation of LGBT people in Cameroon — ADEFHO in Douala, ACODEV in Kribi, CAMEF in Limbe, and Amis du Coeur.

“ We will also continue our outreach, prevention, screening, counseling and comprehensive care against HIV / AIDS, STIs among LGBT people in partnership with hospitals and health organizations such as CAMNAFAW and the Biyem-Assi district hospital.

“In the short, medium and long term, we intend to extend the scope of our work for sexual and reproductive health:

Jean Jacques prepares food to take to six LGBT prisoners in Yaounde during the visit by delegates from the St. Paul’s Foundation. He is part of a vital lifeline between Camfaids and many who are incarcerated without charge or evidence of illegal behavior. (Photo courtesy of Albert Ogle)

Camfaids member prepares food packet for LGBTI prisoners in Yaoundé’s Central Prison. (Photo courtesy of Albert Ogle)

•    Among prison populations in general, but especially among incarcerated LGBT people, working with [the French-based international health organization] GIP ESTHER, which is one of our financial and technical partners, and

•    Among sex workers through the Shadow and Light project, where we work with CAMNAFAW [the Cameroon National Planning Association for Family Welfare, a key player in Cameroon’s fight against AIDS, which is supported by the Global Fund, the governments of Cameroon and Japan, the U.N.Population Fund and others].

“ We also hope to expand our work for prevention and awareness of  opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis and hepatitis.”

Camfaids has the same priorities as before, Ella Ella said, which he listed as:

  • Recognition of LGBT people.
  • Promotion and enhancement and defense of their rights.
  • Fighting all forms of discrimination and stigma against LGBT people.
  • Denunciation of all injustice and violence targeting LGBT people.
  • Elimination of prejudice and hatred towards LGBT people.
  • Reduction of homophobia by educating the general population.
  • Repeal of Section 347 bis [the part of the Cameroonian Penal Code that provides for prison sentences of up to five years for same-sex intimacy].
  • Reducing the incidence of HIV in the LGBT community.
  • Improving access to health care for LGBT people.

He said Camfaids has strengthened its relations with other groups fighting AIDS and promoting LGBTI rights in Cameroon, including Affirmative Action, Humanity First, Alternatives Cameroon, Amis du Coeur, ADEFHO, Cer Ludhus, Acodevo, Positive Generation, Lady’s Cooperation, and ADEPEV.

In coordination with the reorganization, Camfaids switched to a new email address:  camfaidsetdroitshumains@yahoo.fr.

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), International pressure for LGBT rights | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ongoing fight for trans rights in Malaysia

By Ruby Pratka

Palace of Justice in Patrajaya, which houses the Court of Appeals. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Palace of Justice in Patrajaya, which houses the Court of Appeals. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Transgender people in Malaysia may soon have fewer legal barriers to expressing their gender freely, thanks to a recent ruling in a state appeals court. The Malaysia Court of Appeal in the city of Putrajaya ruled last month that three trans women were not bound by legal prohibitions on “impersonating” someone of the opposite gender.

Aston Paiva, the lawyer for the four unidentified plaintiffs, successfully argued that trans people have a medical condition that makes it nearly impossible to live in their biologically assigned gender. The court upheld Paiva’s argument, and also found that the provision violated rights to human dignity and free movement enshrined in the Malaysian constitution.

Malaysia has two simultaneously operating legal systems: a system descended from British common law and a system of Islamic law adapted from Sharia. In theory, the constitutional law system is applicable to all Malaysians and has primacy, while the Sharia law system is only applicable to members of Malaysia’s majority Muslim community.

Aston Paiva (Photo courtesy of Daily Xtra)

Aston Paiva (Photo courtesy of Daily Xtra)

In practice, however, members of other ethnic groups are also arrested for violating the Sharia code. In every state in Malaysia, it is an offence under the Sharia code for Muslim men to “wear a woman’s attire or pose as a woman” in a public place; those arrested and convicted for “posing as a woman” can face fines of up to 1000 ringgit (US$ 289).

Human Rights Watch has also documented cases where trans women, and some trans men, have undergone physical and sexual abuse, extortion and public humiliation at the hands of arresting officers.  An HRW report in September stated:

“Official discrimination against transgender people is compounded by other forms of discrimination for which the government provides little or no protection: Human Rights Watch found that transgender people are fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, physically and sexually assaulted, and denied access to health care because of their gender identities.

“When public officials or private individuals commit violence against transgender people, the victims face serious obstacles — and at times further sexual abuse — from the police who are supposed to be helping them.”

The Human Rights Watch report also notes that trans men and women played historic roles in the arts and inside precolonial Malaysian royal courts, and served as public officials through most of the 20th century.

Thiaga Sulathireh (Photo courtesy of Nottingham.edu.my)

Thiaga Sulathireh (Photo courtesy of Nottingham.edu.my)

In the 1970s and 1980s transgender people had access to sex-reassignment surgery. However, since the early 1990s political Islam has consolidated its hold on the country. “There is this notation that to challenge a Sharia law is to challenge a divine law from God, but Sharia law was only introduced in 1992,” says Thiaga Sulathireh, an academic and advocate based in Kuala Lumpur.

The successful appeal in Negeri Sembilan comes after four years of work by Justice for Sisters, a Kuala Lumpur-based advocacy organization. Sulathireh is a researcher and co-spokesperson for the organization.

“We started working on this case four years ago when we were in the midst of a research project to document violence against lesbian, bisexual and transgender women,” Sulathireh explains. “We came across one of the people who would be a respondent in the case, and she told us about the arrests and the violence they went through.”

“We thought her story was just terrible;  why would you send something to prison for being trans?” she recalls. “We went to the community and we documented the stories of 15-20 women and [realized] there was a trend of people getting arrested and subjected to physical violence and [asked]  for bribes. The stories were just really out of this world. They [the police]  drive around in their vans and pick up people for just standing around, and ask all kinds of unnecessary questions — where did you get your implants done — pick them up and leave them in some godforsaken place so they would have to walk back alone.”

Justice for Sisters logo

Justice for Sisters logo

“Many of the women didn’t know they had legal recourse, especially the ones with lower levels of education. A lot of people felt arbitrary arrest was just something you need to put up with. Trans people who are arrested are always advised to just plead guilty to make things easier for all concerned.”

With the encouragement of Justice for Sisters, some of the women decided they had had enough.

“We talked to the community, explaining what options they had. We thought it would be better for more than one person to challenge it, one person alone would be a lot riskier,” Sulathireh recalls.

Their first court challenge, in the Negeri Sembilan High Court, was brushed away. “We got a really bad decision from the Negeri Sembilan High Court.  The judge was blinded by, I  guess, religion. She implied that Sharia law superseded the federal constitution, which should be the higher law of the land.”

“At the court of appeal, the judges were very understanding, and found that Section 66 contravened with all the articles of the federal constitution that we mentioned. We were surprised and happy; it was a surreal moment for everyone. We said, ‘Is this what change feels like?’ ”

Although the ruling is only binding in one state within Malaysia, Sulathireh says it could have wider implications. “This ruling opened up doors for everyone and for people to be able to confidently cite this as a precedent is a big thing,” she says. ‘It can be used as a precedent in other states to strike down laws criminalizing gender identity and gender expression. It opens up a lot of doors.”

The state has filed a request to review the appeal court’s ruling on technical grounds. Sulathireh says she doesn’t expect the result of that request to be known for another three months.

Ruby Pratka of Quebec City, Canada, is a journalist, communications specialist and French-English translator who has often written about LGBTI issues.

Posted in Anti-LGBT laws and legislation, Asia, Trials / punishments | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Life is tough for trans and intersex Cameroonians

By Erin Royal Brokovitch

Transgender people are becoming more visible in Cameroon, despite the legal repression of homosexuality and the fact that LGBTI people in Cameroon are often convicted in unfair trials because they look different.

NAOMI AND DELORES

Franky Djome (Photo courtesy of France24)

Naomi (Photo courtesy of France24)

For years, Naomi and Dolores have been well-known names in the city of Yaoundé, gaining a reputation that has spread beyond the LGBT community. Naomi, 25, whose real name is Franky, and Dolores, 23, with a given name of Jonas, both look so thoroughly female that they attract attention whenever they appear in public. Clothing, jewelry, hairstyles — every detail is feminine.

And in a homophobic country like Cameroon, where people cling to rigidly traditional views of gender, those who appear to be transgender or transvestites are at risk. They are automatically labeled as gay, which is condemned by Cameroonian society.

However, for the past six years or so, Willy, a well-known dancer in Cameroon, has regularly appeared in drag each night as part of his act, which makes him a familiar sight on the streets and in Yaoundé’s nightspots.

Beyond that, in recent years, the transgender phenomenon has gradually gained prominence, primarily because of Naomi and Dolores.

Jonas Singa Kimie (Photo courtesy of Amnesty International)

Delores (Photo courtesy of Amnesty International)

They have repeatedly been the victims of public attacks and assaults, but each time, like a phoenix, they emerge unscathed and unchanged, braving further taunts, scornful glances and insults. Every moment of their daily life in Cameroon is a challenge, but they remain true to their understanding of who they are, how they feel and how they prefer to present their gender identities.

They are well-known in police stations and courtrooms. In 2011, each of them was sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of 200,000 CFA francs (about US $380), which is the maximum penalty for homosexual practices in the Cameroonian penal code. During their trial, they were accused of behavior unsuitable to men, although issues of gender identity are not recognized in Cameroonian law. The country’s civil code provides for only two categories — male and female.  No section of the Penal Code condemns untraditional expressions of gender.  And yet Naomi and Dolores were convicted.  The judge memorably concluded that Dolores was homosexual because she drinks Baileys liqueur, which he said was a woman’s drink.

Dolorès (Jonas Singa Kumie) et Naomi (Franky Djome) (Photo par Eric O. Lembembe)

Dolores and Naomi (Photo by Eric O. Lembembe)

Despite their many hardships, Naomi and Delores have kept their self-esteem, which has commanded admiration.  As a result, they have made an immense contribution to the struggle for the affirmation of people’s differences. Their visibility has lifted the taboo in Cameroon on discussing the phenomenon of people who do not identify with the gender that social codes impose.

In her family, Naomi is accepted as she is, and her mom knows that her friends are like her. In fact, Naomi often has given shelter to friends who were evicted or disliked by their families because of their gender identity. But when the whole family attends an event, a separate space is allocated for Naomi and her friends.  They are tolerated, but not fully accepted.

For Dolores, family life is more difficult. Her family has not accepted her as she is. Her brothers often beat her up. Naomi remembers going to visit Dolores at home to give her emotional support at a time when Dolores’s brothers had destroyed all her women’s clothing and replaced it with menswear.

In the ensuing uproar, the family of Dolores yelled at Naomi, calling her the worst sort of abomination. They then attacked her, threw away her wig and stripped off her clothes.

KEYSHA

Keysha Rose Rosalie. (Photo de Keysha)

Keysha Rose Rosalie in women’s attire. (Photo courtesy of Keysha Rosalie)

Apart from Naomi and Dolores, Keysha Rosalie is best known by residents of Yaoundé.

Unlike Naomi and Dolores, Keysha is not biologically a man. She is an intersex person, with physical characteristics of both a man and a woman.

She admits that she does not understand her body.

In childhood, she was like any other boy. But when she reached the age of puberty, female secondary sex characteristics began to appear.

One afternoon after eating oranges, she felt a surge of hormones, which she believes was a reaction to what she had eaten.

“My breasts began to grow,” she recalls. “I was abnormally hot.  When I unbuttoned my shirt, I saw that my breasts had grown.”

Since then, she has always observed an increase in the volume of her breasts if she consumes an orange or a beer.

She has not the slightest sign of a beard.

Worse, for the past eight months, she has undergone something like menstrual periods. Her blood flows on a regular cycle, but — troublingly — it comes from her nostrils and mouth.

She has a penis that is unchanged since childhood, and she has never experienced ejaculation during orgasm. Instead, she feels vibrations of pleasure inside her body, with no external manifestation.

In the opinion of specialists, Keysha has a diffuse femininity.

She feels she has lost her sexual identity. It’s distressing, she says, that her body is incomprehensibly strange, even to her.

Unfortunately, the state of medical technology in Cameroon does not allow Keysha to  undergo sex assignment surgery. Injections of female hormones are all that currently can be done for her to help her to express her femininity.

In the future, with help, her wish is to have enough money to undergo surgery abroad. She also hopes that she will be able to have children.

Keysha has cordial relations with her siblings, but not with her extended family. She had revealed her identity to her parents before they died.  At first they turned in prayer to their ancestors, asking them to change her, but later they came to accept her as she is.

Her whole family, including cousins, aunts and uncles, knows of her gender identity, but only her siblings have accepted it. The rest of the family judges her harshly.

LIFE IN YAOUNDÉ

The other striking fact about these three women is that they are often seen in Yaoundé, looking like any other women, and accepting the advances of men.

Naomi and Dolores are hairdressers, but they and Keysha also do sex work at night.

Keysha

Keysha Rosalie hopes she will be able to afford gender assignment surgery. (Photo courtesy of Keysha Rosalie)

To preserve their personal safety, they travel through the city in private taxis rather than in common shared-ride vehicles.

Asked what they can do if a client becomes violent after the discovery of their sexual identity, they simply say that they need to be careful. Naomi evaluates each client to determine who seems prone to violence and, in any case, refuses to enter a room alone with anyone. Often, she says, she serves her customers simply by fondling their private parts.

Keysha has not yet been able to change her body surgically, but she has adopted a feminine  name. Her parents named her Major; now she is Keysha Rose Rosalie. Thanks to her older brother, she has a new birth certificate.

Cameroon does not currently authorize revised birth certificates for trans people, but the United Nations Human Rights Council is on record favoring them. In 2011, the council passed a resolution that included a recommendation that countries should “Facilitate legal recognition of the preferred gender of transgender persons and establish arrangements to permit relevant identity documents to be reissued reflecting preferred gender and name, without
infringements of other human rights.”

The author of this article is an activist for LGBTI rights in Cameroon who writes under a pseudonym.

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New LGBTQ focus on Middle East, North Africa

MENA Map (Courtesy Wikipedia)

MENA Map (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Since its launch in 2010, online publisher Muftah has collected a wealth of editors, staff writers, “gurus,” and advisors to provide English-speaking audiences with  insightful analysis of LGBTQ sexuality and gender variance issues in Middle East and North African (MENA) countries from its own perspective.

They have just launched a new, special collection that you will want to access at this link:    LGBTQ Sexualities in the Middle East and North Africa. 

“This Special Collection seeks to broaden popular, simplistic discourses about sexuality in the MENA region. It includes analyses of lesbian-identified movements in Algeria, trans* legal developments in Lebanon, a closer look at Islamic teachings on homosexuality, and the deployment of homophobic discourse to terrorize and stigmatize anti-government activists and refugees. “LGBTQ Sexualities in the Middle East and North Africa” will be a living, regularly updated collection.” says the Muftah website.

The complete list of the 9 articles in the Special Collection:

  • What’s Missing from the ‘LGBT’ Discussion in Egypt? by Sandra Fernandez & Layla Aziz
  • Gay & Lesbian Mobilization in Algeria: the Emergence of a Movement, by Sarah Jean-Jacques
  • “Too Gay To Represent #Bahrain”: Homophobia & Nationalism in the Wake of a Revolution, by Erin Kilbride
  • The U.S. Media’s Damaging Assumptions about LGBT-Issues in the Middle East, by Dominic Bocci
  • Sexualizing & Villainizing Male Syrian Refugees in Lebanon, by Adriana A. Qubaia & Mathew Gagné
  • Lebanon Just Did a Whole Lot More Than Legalize Being Gay, by Erin Kilbride
  • Being Transgender in Kuwait: My Biggest Fear Is a Flat Tire,by Belkis Wille
  • Media & the LGBT Community In Iran, by Amin Mirsaeidi-Farahani
  • LGBTQ Rights in Lebanon: an Interview with Georges Azzi, by Dominic Bocci

Muftah pledges that its Special Collection will continue to grow.  They plan to publish the best and most incisive pieces on LGBTQ issues and people in the MENA region, particularly to explore gender variance and queer sexualities across the Middle East and North Africa.

 

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