Photo essay: Third gender finding its place in Indian society

The hajjra third-gender community in India is the subject of a photo essay by French photographer Yannick Cormier in Foreign Policy magazine, focusing on a respected mentor and matriarch in the city of Chennai. Below are excerpts from the text and one of the photos.  For more information, see the full photo essay, “In Transition: How a third-gender community -— both stigmatized and revered -— is finding its place in Indian society” in Foreign Policy.

Portrait of Malaika at Hindu ceremony honoring Shiva. (Yannick Cormier photo courtesy of Foreign Policy)

Portrait of Malaika at Hindu ceremony honoring Shiva. (Yannick Cormier photo courtesy of Foreign Policy)

In Transition

Malaika has always considered herself a woman. And eight years ago, at age 22—after some 12 plastic surgeries and a series
 of hormone treatments—her body finally matched her identity. Today she’s among the hundreds of thousands in India who identify as hijra, comprising a community of eunuchs, cross-dressers, and transgender people.

Revered for centuries in South Asian culture, the hijra population was criminalized under colonial rule. Since then, hijras have been targets of police violence and discrimination, but they’ve also managed to maintain certain esteemed social roles. Last year, the Indian Supreme Court recognized hijras’
 right to identify as a third gender.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, this charged history has created tight networks among hijras. In the city of Chennai, Malaika—known widely by only her first name—is more than just a “respected member of a united community,” says French photographer Yannick Cormier. She serves as both a mentor and matriarch within it. …

While close-knit, the hijra community is also very hierarchical. Malaika is a “queen”—others are “gurus,” older members who often supervise queens, or “apprentices,” younger people who have yet to undergo sex-reassignment procedures—a distinction that commands respect even outside her hijra network. …  She is often asked to mediate local disputes. [In one photo] Malaika arbitrates a family fight after the daughter  accuses her father of molestation. Malaika gives him an ultimatum: If he sexually abuses the girl again, Malaika will inform the police. …

Diadana is one of Malaika’s protégés. Both Diadana and Malaika make a living in sex work, a profession that attracts many hijras, who often face employment discrimination in mainstream sectors….

As part of her duties as a queen, Malaika acts as an informal guardian for younger hijras. …  She offers them personal and professional guidance and may even help raise money for cosmetic surgery and other treatments required for transitioning. … Syncretism is common in India. Malaika converted from Hinduism to Christianity about a year ago, but she continues to perform certain rituals of her old religion.

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Russian LGBTI supporters march — with help from police

Despite its reputation for anti-gay fervor, Russia is home to many supporters of LGBTI people and many advocates for LGBTI people’s human rights. Hundreds of them marched through St. Petersburg on May 1, as Queer Russia reported:

LGBT rights marchers in the May Day parade in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Photo courtesy of Vmeste Coalition and Queerussia.info)

LGBT rights marchers in the May Day parade in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Photo courtesy of Vmeste Coalition and Queerussia.info)

 

Rainbow May Day in St. Petersburg draws hundreds of LGBTs and allies despite threats and curses.

This pink tank was prepared for use in the May Day parade. (Photo courtesy of Vmeste Coalition and Queerussia.info)

This pink tank was prepared for use in the May Day parade. (Photo courtesy of Vmeste Coalition and Queerussia.info)

On May 1, the Rainbow May Day march was held in St. Petersburg for the fifth year in a row, drawing hundreds of participants and guarded by the local police. The rainbow column was a part of a bigger Democratic March bringing together a number of trade unions, political and social movements to celebrate the International Workers’ Day.

The march was held in the centre of St. Petersburg, on Nevsky Prospect. Media reported the total number of participants at over 90,000 with the LGBT column itself consisting of around 600 people.

Slogans and plackards of the LGBT column included such statements as “No to discrimination on gender and sexual orientation,” “Dump homophobia,” “I love, not war,” “Milonov, thanks for promotion,” “Milonov go to Uganda for homopropaganda,” “Sexism is so last century.” [Editor’s note: Local legislator Vitaly Milonov is a prominent opponent of LGBTI rights.]

There was also supposed to be a big bright foam plastic pink tank with flowers inside its trunk to be carried along the procession, but police did not allow activists to do so due to technical problems in proper inspection.

Police restrained anti-gay protester/legislator Vitaly Milonov. (Photo courtesy of Vmeste Coalition and Queerussia.info)

Police restrained anti-gay protester/legislator Vitaly Milonov. (Photo courtesy of Vmeste Coalition and Queerussia.info)

Vocal opponent of LGBT equality, local Legislative Assembly MP Vitaly Milonov, United Russia party member, along with his very few supporters, tried to disrupt the march shouting out offensive and rude remarks at participants. For example, Milonov asked police to give him permission to “tear head off” of one of the participants. He shouted: “Arrest them! Go away! Pedophiles! Prostitutes! Faggots! I am Russian! We will liquidate you! They should be squashed with tanks and tractors!” and so on.

Milonov unsuccessfully tried to convince policemen that rainbow flags violate the “gay propaganda ban law” because he brought his children along with him and they saw the flags that in his opinion promoted homosexuality to them. Nevertheless, policemen boldly refused to take any action on that claim and prevented Milonov’s disruptions.

The march was organized by the Vmeste (Together) Coalition for Civil Equality.

For many more photos and/or to support Queer Russia, see the Queerussia.info blog.

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Ugandan LGBTI solidarity celebration coming May 16

This is a revised and updated version of the article originally published on April 22.

Kuchus Day Out of 2014 (Photo courtesy of Frank Kamya)

Kuchus’ Day Out of 2014 (Photo courtesy of Frank Kamya)

LGBTI and sex worker activists in Uganda are preparing for a celebration of solidarity, with an emphasis on developing self-sufficiency in their community.

The local Youth on Rock Foundation is organizing the event in conjunction with the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) on May 16.

Frank Kamya and Mleuben Maccarthy at last year's celebration. (Photo courtesy of Frank Kamya)

Frank Kamya and Mleuben Maccarthy at last year’s celebration. (Photo courtesy of Frank Kamya)

Organizer Frank Kamya (Kamya Francis Mwanje / Kanobana Mwanje Franco) labels this event the second annual LGBTQ and sex worker pride celebration, following last year’s Kuchus’ Day Out. It is in addition to the Ugandan pride celebrations that the country’s LGBTI community has held for the past three summers.

The theme for the day is Solidarity and Togetherness: Our Identify.  Planned activities on May 16 include:

  • Handicraft and visual art exhibitions.
  • IDAHOT celebrations.
  • Games such as swimming, soccer, net ball, chess, cards, ludo, etc., with prizes.
  • Entertainment from LGBT and sex worker divas.
  • Personal story sharing.
  • A march with rainbow-colored umbrellas, red umbrellas and banners.
  • Voluntary blood testing and counseling.
Tie dye workshop organized by Youth on Rock aims to increase the financial self-sufficiency of its LGBT and sex worker members. (Photo courtesy of Frank Kamya via Facebook)

Tie dye workshop organized by Youth on Rock Foundation aims to increase the financial self-sufficiency of its LGBTI and sex worker members. (Photo courtesy of Frank Kamya via Facebook)

This year’s celebration will extend the Youth on Rock Foundation’s emphasis on income-generating activities for the community. That goal was evident in the most recent workshop, in which community members learned tie dye techniques.

“Our community has to be self-reliant,” Kamya says. “Dependence is a bad habit.”

Kamya expressed thanks to UHAI: the East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative, which provided funding for the ongoing economic empowerment initiative; fellow project coordinator Kanyike Morgan, director the Youth on Rock Foundation; a “dear consultant”; project facilitators and participants.

Financial support for the self-sufficiency initiative and the celebration are welcome. Contributions may be made via GoFundMe.com. More information is also available there.

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Positive steps | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

How Russia and the West boosted Kyrgyz anti-gay violence

Commentary

Attempted arson at Labrys headquarters on April 3, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Labrys)

Attempted arson at Labrys headquarters on April 3, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Labrys)

By Tom Ana

In April, Kyrgyzstan’s only LGBTI advocacy group, Labrys, became the target of an anonymous arson attack. The incident, although one of the most serious attacks in the group’s history, fortunately resulted in no injuries and only very minor damage.

Anti-homophobia graphic from Labrys

Anti-homophobia graphic from Labrys

That event was the latest in a growing list of violent attacks on the LGBTI community that Labrys says have become increasingly common since the government’s introduction of homophobic legislation in late 2014.

That bill, which would outlaw the promotion of “non-traditional forms of sexual relations,” would strip activists of their power to campaign on LGBTI issues and has severely impacted already heavily marginalised individuals within the LGBTI community.

The bill garnered significant attention when it was proposed, in part because of its strong connection to the Kremlin’s notorious “gay propaganda” law.

As relations between Russia and the West have suffered in recent years, the Kremlin has continued to pursue policies that strengthen its allies, whilst weakening their economic links to Europe and North America. The introduction of the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) was the result of a desire to create stronger economic ties within the former Soviet sphere.

While Russia tried to pull their allies away from Western influence, those who signed up for the union (Armenia, Belarus and Kazakhstan) gladly accepted the inevitable reforms that would bring them closer to the rouble. Kyrgyzstan, who will officially join the union in May, happily made political changes that pleased Russia.

Although many have blamed Russia’s strong influence on the country for these laws, this stance does not take into account the hundreds of other factors that helped create the current climate of fear and intolerance.

Arrow indicates the location of Kyrgyzstan in central Asia.

Arrow indicates the location of Kyrgyzstan in central Asia.

Many complex factors resulted in the introduction of these laws, and it would be unfair to blame them on one single issue. However, Kyrgyzstan’s connection to Russia is definitely a leading factor, as well as being one of the most easily understood for observers from the West.

As in many countries with oppressive anti-gay laws, the new legislation has helped create a state-sanctioned scapegoat in Kyrgyzstan. The LGBTI community is blamed for a range of social problems. The hatred aimed at it has helped unite many groups. The NGOs that spoke out have been branded as foreign influences. As a result, all those that might once have protested against the government’s anti-LGBTI stance are now disconnected from the LGBTI community. The pro-democratic, pro-human rights groups that once stood to oppose official policy are now weakened, fractured and living in fear.

The exploitation of marginalised groups in this way is nothing new, and governments throughout history have often employed scapegoat tactics to control and divide a population. What is different about Kyrgyzstan is the factors of outside pressure and political isolation helped create the atmosphere that led to legislation being passed.

In the West, most activist groups were entirely silent about Labrys’ recent incident. Only one notable LGBTI group, Transgender Europe, publicly condemned the attack and the news came and went with very little outrage or discussion.

It is easy to see how the ongoing persecution of a minority group half way across the world can have less and less impact on the media when the same story is repeated over and over. However, in the example of the recent arson attack, this is not the case. The attack on Labrys comes out of a still very new environment of bigotry that shifted the social landscape of the country. It is still a fresh and new tragedy in many ways.

The way in which many of us in the West view the LGBTI community of Kyrgyzstan is, however, not just another example of Western desensitisation to tragedy. When we look at the issues surrounding LGBTI Russians as a parallel, for example, we can still observe a very active and powerful movement of support coming from Western groups. It is not just that we are unaware, or that we do not care for Kyrgyzstan; the problem lies largely in our perceptions of queer issues in the former-Soviet sphere.

In Western cultures the mainstream idea of Russia is still very heavily shaped by outdated perceptions. Russia is seen as the bad guy in the East; as a threat, with strange ideals and desires different from our own.

Our pre-existing idea of Russia as a culture is the leading factor that colours the way in which we perceive complex social problems in the country. When we look at LGBTI issues, this is no exception.

This misguided idea of Russia stems largely from a cold-war mentality that still lingers in much of the West. A time when LGBTI issues in the Soviet Union were hardly understood, and almost completely ignored outside of the USSR. The outdated view we still hold had a huge gap in it, a gap that was filled by Putin’s anti-gay laws. Now, when much of the Western public thinks of LGBTI issues in the former Soviet Union, we have an easy-to-understand analogy to clumsily force onto every situation.

Amsterdam protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Amsterdam protest in April 2013 against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The mainstream media in Western countries is very good at painting Eastern powers in easy-to-understand dichotomies. Russia in all its complexities is boiled down into black and white. Putin is the despotic leader; aggressive, patriotic and oppressive. All decisions in his government are the personal vendetta of his own agenda. And when we look towards coverage of former Soviet spaces we see headlines dominated by Putin’s Russia.

Although, of course, there are small pockets of truth in some of the commentary we see, the main fact is that the mainstream media narrative of former Soviet cultures has helped reduce complexities down to the point where it becomes incredibly difficult to engage with and even fully understand them.

The Russia-dominated, over-simplified, version of the former Soviet Union that is presented by the media narrative has helped groups such as Labrys to go largely ignored by an international community that normally would gladly support their efforts. It has also played into Russia’s tactic of isolating countries under its influence from the West.

After the end of the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan gained the potential to move towards a more pro-democratic and pro-human rights form of politics. However, like many other nations, as the economics of the country grew further away from Western influence, so did their politics.

Now, the cultural influence of Russia has helped to turn the official policy towards that which actively supports the persecution of sexual minorities. Russia through its own politics has managed to draw outside focus to its internal policies while beyond its borders minorities across the former Soviet Union are attacked and demonised without arousing outrage in the West.

Protest against Kyrgyzstan's proposed anti-"gay propaganda" law

2014 protest against Kyrgyzstan’s proposed anti-“gay propaganda” law

The region’s struggles have been defined by the isolation that helped create its current atmosphere. Growing influence from Russia and the political indifference seen from the West helped create a situation in which lawmakers were able to target marginalised groups to further their own political ideology.

We should not look at the issues surrounding Kyrgyzstan as a battle of East vs West, but one of right vs. wrong. It is important to validate the local culture and protect it from Western encroachment while our attempts to support international justice are ongoing. But also it is important to ensure that our fight for LGBTI rights remains and international battle, touching on all areas of the world where it is needed.

We must ensure that our approach to distant issues is informed, sympathetic and not shaped by our misconceptions or prejudices and that we approach all problems as unique and separate issues. We must not allowed at-risk communities to remain in danger while the media concerns itself with their token bad guys. More than anything we must do everything we can to ensure that marginalised groups are supported and that attacks on LGBTI groups do not continue.

What you can do

You can support the LGBTI community by supporting the important work of Labrys. For more information on the group and how you can help, visit their website.

***

Tom Ana is a British writer and campaigner currently living in Budapest, Hungary. He has a strong interest in human rights, equality and geopolitics. He is a Mobilisation and Outreach Officer for the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia and also runs the blog Euroclash!. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Posted in Anti-LGBT laws and legislation, Asia, Harassment / murders | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

After gay marriage, what?

U.S. Supreme Court building

U.S. Supreme Court building

As the push for same-sex marriage heads toward a national resolution in the U.S. Supreme Court, the blog Troublesome Remedies examines the question of where the LGBT rights movement should turn next:

  • Fight discrimination within the LGBTQ community, especially against transgender people?
  • Fight for anti-discrimination laws?
  • Attack poverty and homelessness, especially among LGBTQ youth? (“While only five percent of youth identify as LGBTQ, 40 percent of all homeless youth do”)
  • Improve health education, especially among black men? (New HIV infections are eight times higher among black men than white men.)
  • Work for change in the 78 countries with laws against same-sex intimacy? (This blog’s focus.)

Here are excerpts from that commentary, “Marriage. Check. Now what?”:

The question of “what’s next for the gay movement?” is complicated, predicated on the competing interests of an increasingly diversifying LGBTQ constituency.  Some question whether marriage was the correct focus in the first place, with many seeing the systematic discrimination against and societal discomfort with homosexuality of greater importance than a symbolic piece of paper.  It is interesting to think that marriage, an institution overwhelmingly utilized by white, upper-income people, was the first to gain traction.  To a homeless, HIV-positive black runaway, the freedom to marry is not likely one of his top priorities.

Like other minority groups, the LGBTQ community is fraught with internal politics and discrimination of its own.  Trans individuals are often vocal in their feelings of marginalization within LGBTQ societies.  78 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander and nearly half of African-American LGBTQ people reported feeling discriminated against within the LGBTQ community.

One Direction in 2014 (Photo courtesy of PopCrush.com)

One Direction in 2014 (Photo courtesy of PopCrush.com)

Moving beyond racial discrimination, Andy Cohen, host of Bravo’s “Watch What Happens: Live,” recently drew flack after referring to the members of the One Direction band as a “twink,” slang for a young gay man that some have deemed an offensive and derogatory term.  Later, a post on the gay blog site Americablog gained traction with the headline “Is ‘twink’ the new n-word?”

What’s unique about being LGBTQ is its intersectionality with various other political/social/cultural realities; being gay affects one’s racial, ethnic, religious, socio-economic, familial, gender, political, and health identity.

As a result, it has been hard for the community to convene on a single focus following marriage equality.  Many point to anti-discrimination laws as the next legal battle.  While 21 states and the District of Columbia include sexual orientation as a protected class with regard to discrimination, only 18 of those states offer the same protections to gender identity.  Many more states, however, have yet to adopt any anti-discrimination policies.  In states like Pennsylvania or Virginia, for example, same-sex couples can be legally married today, and legally fired tomorrow as a direct result of their homosexuality.

The Federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit employment and hiring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, passed the Senate in November 2013 but went nowhere in the House.  With today’s Republican majority, the passage of any federal anti-discrimination laws is highly unlikely.

Some within the community want poverty and its association with homosexuality to be the next focus:  while only five percent of youth identify as LGBTQ, 40 percent of all homeless youth do.  Some want to address racial and public health concerns:  new HIV infections are eight times higher among black men than white men.  Some are more concerned about education:  while same-sex marriage may be imminent, many states forbid the teaching of same-sex sex education in schools.

President Obama has a broader focus.  Largely untouched by mainstream media outlets, Secretary of State John Kerry recently announced that the U.S. State Department will be appointing a special envoy specifically devoted to advocating for the rights of LGBTQ individuals internationally.  And with about 78 countries explicitly outlawing homosexuality, the new diplomat will face quite a daunting task.

No one can, nor should anyone, deny the success of the gay marriage movement.  But looking forward, the horizon is foggy.  The LGBTQ movement has yet to unite around a single figure—there is no gay equivalent of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Cesar Chavez—nor should it be forced to do so. …

For more information, read the full commentary,  “Marriage. Check. Now what?”

Posted in Americas, HIV / AIDS, International pressure for LGBT rights | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How to aid LGBTI people in earthquake-devastated Nepal

Sunil Pant (Photo courtesy of TowleRoad.com)

Sunil Pant (Photo courtesy of TowleRoad.com)

In the wake of the massive earthquake in Nepal, activist Sunil Pant sent the following message on behalf of Blue Diamond Society, Nepal.

In addition, the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation is collecting United States tax-deductible donations that will be sent to the Blue Diamond Society. To donate, visit the foundation’s donation page and select “Nepal” from the drop-down menu under “Donated For.”:

Blue Diamond Society (BDS) is the lifeline for more than 200,000 LGBTI members and more and more LGBTIs, as always, are reaching to BDS for help. Our massive responsibilities now increase to provide rescue, relief and rehabilitation to all LGBTIs that are in now need, due to this earthquake. As communication is improving in Nepal we are hearing of more and more cases of “casualties, injured, missing LGBTIs or their homes have been  destroyed” coming to us.

At this difficult time we expect all of our friends and well-wisher’s promptness and greater generosity.

Thank you very much,

Sunil Pant on behalf of Blue Diamond Society, Nepal

Nepal earthquake damage. (Photo courtesy of LionsRoar.com)

Nepal earthquake damage. (Photo courtesy of LionsRoar.com)

LATEST NEWS
(April 28, 2015)

Dear friends and colleagues,

With heavy hearts, sadness and sense of fear, Blue Diamond Society, on behalf of Nepalese sexual and gender minority communities, sends this updates on aftermath of recent devastating earthquake that hit Nepal hard. You must have heard the news and some information already shared from our founder Sunil Babu Pant and other colleagues of BDS that LGBTI community are also equally affected, if not more.

The level of devastation in Nepal is huge and much is still not known. Even before the earthquakes, Nepal had electricity power load shading. There is now an acute electricity shortage which severely limits mobile coverage too. Since the earthquakes the BDS has been trying to contact and search for our members and staff.

We found the body of Ciatala (Kumar Bhujel), who identifies as third gender, in a teaching hospital. We reached her in time and found her. Otherwise the security force were ready to do a mass funeral of unidentified bodies    We have informed her mother in Dharan and we did funeral at Pashupati Aryeghat today.

 

Crowds of people left homeless by the Nepal earthquake. (Photo courtesy of Unicef)

Crowds of people left homeless by the Nepal earthquake. (Photo courtesy of Unicef)

A member of BDS’s care and support team, Jyoti Prakash KC, is still missing. We visited several hospitals in Kathmandu and are unable to find him. Moreover we have got information today  that two more transgender, Melina and Bhawani, are also missing.

The BDS’s main building and its care and support building are both cracked and damaged. Friends’ and colleagues’ houses have collapsed. Most of  LGBTI people are spending nights under some tents with BDS banner for security and identification. There is shortage of gas and food and the BDS has run out of food for the care and support and hospice for HIV-positive LGBTI.

Around 300 trans women / metis in Kathmandu survive through sex work. They now have no way of earning money.

Many LGBTI members from Kavre, Gorkha, Dhading, Nuwakot, Kathmandu, Makwanpur, Bhaktapur,  Jhapa, Saptari and several other districts have lost their homes. Relief camps are there but only for general population, segregated facilities into binary genders, excluding THIRD gender. Even accessing toilets is a big issue for TG.

This is just a preliminary report, we will keep updating you as get more information from the ground, especially from remote districts of Nepal.

The needs are huge and for many months to come.

The immediate needs: tents, clothes, blankets, umbrellas, water, food and medicine, fuel for generator and BDS’s vehicle for about 4 to 6 months. It’s difficult to estimate the amount needed just now but we can suggest something in a week’s time, however it is going to be a significant amount in BDS terms, anything from $100,000s to a couple of million US dollars.

For longer term: fund to repair both the damaged building of BDS, rehabilitation of LGBTI who have lost their homes and income/job creating program to support livelihood of LGBTI, mostly for those sex workers whose income is completely stopped now.

People have been asking us  how to support LGBTI people in Nepal. This request  has details of the an appeal that has been launched by the Blue Diamond Society. Please forward it to your networks – we need your support right now.

You can support by different ways, for bigger amount please send fund directly to BDS bank account, Its details are:

Account Name: Blue Diamond Society
Account Number: 01400105200316
Swift Code: EVBLNPKA
Bank Name: Everest Bank Limited, Branch Office, Lazimpat
Kathmandu Nepal

Physical Address: Blue Diamond Society
Dhumbarahi Height-4, Kathmandu.
Ph: +977 1 4443350, +977 1 4426652

For smaller amounts, any agency in each country can initiate collection of funds for BDS and send it later to BDS. The St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation is collecting tax-deductible donations that will be sent to the Blue Diamond Society. To donate,  visit the foundation’s donation page and select “Nepal” from the drop-down menu under “Donated For.”

Thank you for your generosity, concerns and solidarity.

 

Posted in Asia, Positive steps | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Profile of a busy queer Ugandan sex worker activist

Frank Kamya (Kanobana Mwanje Franco). (Photo courtesy of Stella Nyanzi)

Frank Kamya (Kanobana Mwanje Franco). (Photo courtesy of Stella Nyanzi)

Ugandan anthropologist and social science researcher Stella Nyanzi writes here about Frank Kamya (Kanobana Mwanje Franco), a queer sex worker activist who has been a driving force behind two activist organizations fighting HIV in Kampala’s poorest neighborhoods, the Youth on Rock Foundation and the Come Out Post-Test Club. She wrote this commentary in advance of the March 28 concert that Kamya organized to raise money to help beleaguered Ugandan LGBTQ asylum seekers in Kenya. Kamya has since moved on to organize an LGBTI and sex workers’ celebration for May 16, in conjunction with the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. By Stella Nyanzi This morning, I celebrate Kanobana Mwanje Franco – one of the young fiery LGBTIQ rights defenders in Uganda today. Secretary of a slum-based support association for same-sex loving individuals living in Uganda, Franco is also a transgender activist who was at the helm of organising the first self-support organisation for HIV-infected transgender women who are HIV-infected and sell sex to men on the streets of cities in Uganda. As a gay man/ trans-woman, sex worker, human rights activist who is Born Again and living in Kampala, Franco has variously mobilised resources and outreach missions to Ugandan refugees currently based in Kenya where they are at different stages of the process of applying for resettlement into a third country because of persecution on grounds of their sexual orientation or non-conforming gender identity. Suffering a range of challenges as they wait for their refugee status determination, assessments for resettlement and eventual travel out of Kenya, these asylum seekers often lack multiple forms of support back home in Uganda as well as in their host country.

Frank Kamya (Photo by Colin Stewart)

Frank Kamya during an earlier trip to Kenya. (Photo by Colin Stewart)

Recent stoppages of monthly funding allowances for Ugandan LGBTIQ asylum seekers have yielded a chain of several challenges from food shortages, failure to meet rent payments, lack of adequate clothing to stand the coming Kenyan winter, security and emergency evacuations, bond and bail in case of arrests, blackmail and extortion by citizens, all of which have led individuals to sell their sexual bodies in order to make ends meet. Franco in collaboration with other Uganda-based LGBTIQ performers specialised in music, dance, drama and fashion is putting up a fundraising drive to collect money to provide some basic support to Ugandan asylum seekers faced with challenges in different parts of Kenya. Franco is not waiting for the assistance of wealthy foreigners, but rather utilising skills to collect money and offer a local Ugandan hand to our folk suffering in Kenya.

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Positive steps | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments