Working toward a Caribbean that’s no longer anti-gay

The Caribbean (courtesy Wikipedia)

The Caribbean (courtesy Wikipedia)

The Caribbean is the only region in the Western Hemisphere that still criminalizes same-gender intimacy.  Recently, fundamentalist religious groups across the region have mounted large demonstrations condemning homosexuality, and appear to have successfully lobbied local governments to keep these British colonially imposed anti-gay laws. Not coincidentally, attacks often occur against LGBTI people, most recently a mob that threatened a young man in Jamaica on June 14 for allegedly wearing lipstick in public.

In response to this heightened homophobia, a new project called LGBTI Aware Caribbean has been launched to continue providing critical LGBTI awareness training for key sectors across the Caribbean.   The work extends a similar programme developed for the Caribbean by AIDS-Free World, which also provided the financial, logistical and other support.

Tom Decker and Maurice Tomlinson

Tom Decker (left) and Maurice Tomlinson

76 Crimes interviewed the program’s training facilitators, the Rev. Tom Decker of Canada and  LGBTI rights activist Maurice Tomlinson of Jamaica and Canada.  Tomlinson is a regular contributor to 76 Crimes; he and Tom are married.

76 Crimes: Why did you decide to launch this project now?

MT: In my previous position with AIDS-Free World, I traveled across the Caribbean a fair bit challenging homophobic laws, practices, and attitudes that contribute to the region having the 2nd highest HIV prevalence rate after sub-Saharan Africa.  During my travels I noticed that local attitudes towards gays varied a great deal.

However, I also noticed that the homophobic rhetoric was ramping up in countries that were traditionally very tolerant towards same-gender intimacy.  For example, there have been unprecedented protests against gay rights in countries like St. Lucia and Grenada.  These demonstrations were organized by fundamentalist religious groups and mirrored what was happening in Jamaica and Belize.  The result has predictably been a spike in aggression towards persons who are gender non-conforming, such as the overwhelming public support for the murderers of an intersex person in St. Lucia recently.  Aggressive homophobia is spreading across the Caribbean because the majority of citizens lack basic knowledge about LGBTI people.  Persons are susceptible to the misinformation being pushed by fundamentalist groups.

Simply put, research has shown that people fear gays because they don’t know or understand us.  Through this training we hope to continue providing key leaders and opinion-shapers in Caribbean society with information to counter some of the myths and fear mongering of the evangelicals.  It is expected that these persons can then help to turn the tide of hate against LGBTI people.

76 Crimes: Can you provide a brief explanation about the programme and who it will target?

Tom and Maurice at St. Lucia Police LGBT Sensitivity Training

Tom Decker and Maurice Tomlinson at a Police LGBT Sensitivity Training session in St. Lucia

TD:  While I was the LGBT liaison officer for the Toronto Police Service, I helped to develop a similar programme, which was eventually used to sensitize police across the world.  This programme was modified by AIDS-Free World to address Caribbean realities — for example, the absence of hate speech legislation in the Caribbean.  It is delivered in modules, on a “train the trainer” basis, in order to allow for local ownership and sustainability of the training.

The programme takes participants through basic understanding of what it means to be an LGBTI individual, and how to uphold the human rights of LGBTI people, even in criminalized contexts.

We facilitate two days of training and then certify select persons to continue delivering the sessions. We also encourage and include local LGBTI persons in the trainings in order to ensure frank discussions with key stakeholders about the types of victimization LGBTI nationals may be experiencing.  Sometimes this is the first such direct dialogue between the groups we train and the LGBTI people they are supposed to serve.

Initially, we only targeted police for these sessions but, based on demand, we included other key groups, such as health care workers, judges, social workers, and the media.

A significant aim of the course is to provide an understanding of LGBTI people.   That is why Maurice and I deliver the sessions together.  We allow participants who may never have had the opportunity to openly interact with gays a safe place for them to ask their most probing questions of a gay couple.

St. Lucia Police LGBT Sensitivity Training

St. Lucia Police LGBT Sensitivity Training

76 Crimes:  What are some of the questions that participants ask about your relationship as a gay married couple, and how do you respond?

MT: They have asked: “Who is the wife and who is the husband?” “Why don’t you have the same last name?”

We recognize that the questions, though invasive, are not meant to be malicious.  The participants genuinely want to know.  And since Tom and I are both used to these kinds of questions — he was a cop and I am a lawyer, so we have pretty much heard it ALL — we simply answer as respectfully and honestly as we can.  The learning has been transformative.

76 Crimes: How so?

TD: Officers who came into the training sessions very hostile to any discussion on human rights for LGBTI people actually expressed at the end that they really had no idea just how “normal” LGBTI people are.

Many attendees previously viewed LGBTI people as perverse abominations, and un-apprehended criminals who are a threat to children.  We present the reality that many LGBTI people have families — for example, Maurice has a biological son and has fostered 2 others — and we feel we really are only different from heterosexuals in how we express our love for another consenting adult.  This usually leads to a reduction in the level of hostility.  Participants quickly realize that our relationship is not principally about sex, but rather our desire to share and build a life with someone we love. This is a desire to which they can all relate.

St. Lucia Police LGBT Sensitivity Training

St. Lucia Police LGBT Sensitivity Training

These trainings have had impacts in ways we did not imagine.  For example, at the end of the last sessions in St. Lucia, the officers held their annual police week celebrations, which included a public debate.  The moot topic was: “As consenting adults, gays have the right to marry.”  This was amazing, as the officers chose this subject themselves and had to research both sides of this argument.  While we do not expect marriage equality to arrive in St. Lucia anytime soon — it is a very conservative society and the Catholic church is very influential — the fact is that as a result of the training, the conversation is continuing about the rights of LGBTI people on the island.

76Crimes: Are you working with other groups or individuals on this training?

MT:  Certainly.  AIDS-Free World brought this training to the Caribbean two years ago, in partnership with local groups.  Through LGBTI Aware Caribbean, local groups are now responsible for the sustainability of these trainings.  These types of sessions require tremendous local coordination and negotiation with key stakeholders.  Sometimes, these discussions can be challenging, especially in light of the politics surrounding LGBTI rights in the region at this time.  We are therefore very pleased to continue working with organizations such as United and Strong of St. Lucia, MOVADAC of Barbados, and LGBT Platform Suriname.

The Global Justice Institute of Metropolitan Community Church has also agreed to act as fiscal sponsors so that private individuals can make online donations to support this project and receive tax deductible receipts for U.S. dollar contributions.

76 Crimes: Beside awareness-raising, what do you also hope to accomplish from the training?

TD:  The aims for the training are simple:

  • To empower participants to support the safety of LGBTI people;
  • To promote respect for the human rights of all citizens;
  • To engender an appreciation of the dignity of all human beings;
  • To allow for professional and competent service delivery for key service providers in society; and
  • To promote healthy Caribbean societies through improved access to critical healthcare for groups vulnerable to HIV.

76 Crimes:  Where has this programme previously been delivered in the Caribbean?

MT:  The training has so far been delivered in 3 Caribbean countries – Barbados, St. Lucia and Suriname. The police services of St. Lucia and Suriname have expressed an interest in having the material incorporated into the curriculum of their police academies.

We also facilitated sensitization for police trainers from member countries in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Regional Security System.  We now have invitations to take the programme across the region.

76 Crimes: Why did you decide to start with the police?

Maurice and Tom, listening to a comment, St. Lucia Police training.

Decker and Tomlinson (both behind the podium) listen to a comment during a training session in St. Lucia.

TD:  We felt police/LGBT sensitization was necessary because of the critical role police play in providing access to justice.  Also, once persons see that police are trained to interact positively with LGBTI people, this usually reduces the likelihood of vigilante attacks against gays.

MT: We in the Caribbean also need to leapfrog some of the issues police have had with LGBTI people in the Global North.  At the recent WorldPride parade in Toronto, there were numerous images of police interacting positively with parade attendees.  That took some time to achieve, as police were originally seen as the enemy of the LGBTI community. In fact, the LGBTI liberation movement really started — in many major cities — because of police raids of LGBTI establishments.

76Crimes: What has been one of the most surprising things to discover about this training?

TD: I was surprised to learn that a significant number of the persons we trained were lay preachers or leaders in their churches.  So, a portion of the training necessarily involved helping participants to understand the varied religious approaches to same-gender relationships.

We also spent some time clarifying that our role as facilitators was not to change deeply held religious beliefs, but rather to ensure that, regardless of those beliefs, participants were able to respond in a professional manner to LGBTI people.

76 Crimes:  How and why should persons support this initiative?

MT: I encourage persons in the Global North to support this initiative:

  1. Because much of the homophobia in the Caribbean is being whipped up by evangelical religious extremism imported from countries such as Canada, the US and the UK.  This programme presents an opportunity for citizens of those countries to help repair the harm done by their nationals.
  2. Homophobia in the Caribbean is finding its way back to the Global North in the form of migration.
  3. Visitors to the Caribbean may be exposed to the rising tide of homophobic rhetoric and violence.  Anyone who does not fit the very rigid definitions of masculine or feminine would be vulnerable to attack.   This includes some heterosexuals who are gender non-conforming.

I therefore urge persons to donate to this project by visiting our website.

No donation is too small and we have a budget of US$150,900 to train key sectors in six countries.   The Global Justice Institute of the MCC will provide tax receipts for donations from the U.S.  Persons from the Global North may also support us by encouraging their governments to assist this initiative.  The last training in St. Lucia was kindly co-sponsored by the UK High Commission in that country.

Posted in Americas, Commentary, Positive steps | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

U.S. money keeps supporting anti-gay programs

Despite President Obama’s promise to stop funding ineffective, discredited faith-based programs claiming to reduce HIV infections and unwanted pregnancies, U.S. taxpayers’ dollars are still bankrolling them.

Freelance investigative journalist Andy Kopsa has uncovered the institutional bias toward those programs, run by anti-gay, anti-choice conservative religious groups at home and abroad at a time when anti-AIDS programs for LGBT people are denied adequate funding.

The following excerpts come from from Kopsa’s report in The Nation, entitled “Obama’s Evangelical Gravy Train”:

Barack Obama (Photo by Steve Jurvetson via Wiki Commons)

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama said, “If you get a federal grant … you can’t discriminate.” But millions in federal funds keep flowing to anti-gay faith-based organizations. (Photo by Steve Jurvetson via Wiki Commons)

[Since] taking office, Obama has done little to end Bush-era funding to a whole range of conservative religious groups. …

Faith-based offices were set up in agencies as diverse as the Department of Health and Human Services, the State Department, the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense and the Department of Agriculture and given hundreds of millions of dollars a year to distribute to faith-based groups.

As a presidential candidate, Obama promised to make a sharp break from Bush administration policies by holding federally funded faith-based groups accountable. “If you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them,” he said during a July 2008 stump speech.

But a review of a database of federal grants, independent reports and numerous interviews with government officials and grantees reveals that little has changed since Obama took office. …

Instead of seeking out new implementing partners that would follow best public health practices, [under the Obama administration] many Bush-era grantees have seen their funding renewed again and again. An entire federally funded evangelical economy took root during the Bush years, and under Obama it continues to thrive. …

Photo accompanying an appeal by Children’s AIDS Fund for school uniforms.

Photo accompanying an appeal by Children’s AIDS Fund for school uniforms.

It’s not as if advocates haven’t sounded the alarm to administration officials. [They have long raised concerns about U.S. funding for the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda, or IRCU, which pushed hard for that country's Anti-Homosexuality Law, which lost $6.4 million in U.S. in March after the law was enacted, and about] the Children’s AIDS Fund (CAF), an American organization, led by the husband-and-wife team Shepherd and Anita Smith, that operates in Uganda.

The Smiths got their start working with Watergate crook Chuck Colson and his evangelical prison ministry; later, Shepherd ran Pat Robertson’s 1988 presidential campaign. They took on AIDS as their mission in the 1980s, fashioning what they saw as a love-the-sinner, hate-the-sin approach that focused on ministering to the sick, particularly children. Over time, they would articulate a more fulsome conservative evangelical approach to AIDS centered around praying people out of homosexuality, abstinence-only education, virginity pledges and robust criticism of condoms, laid out in their 1990 book Christians in the Age of AIDS. Even in recent years, Shepherd has pounced on modest failure rates to denounce condom efficacy against HIV.

Anita Smith, president of the Children's AIDS Fund

Anita Smith, president of the Children’s AIDS Fund

“The first evangelical ministries to see AIDS and respond were those already in place in the gay community, helping heal sexual brokenness and bring gays out of their lifestyles,” the book reads. The Smiths go on to caution Christians against buying into “society’s attempts to make homosexuality an acceptable alternative lifestyle.” …

In a memo to USAID officials, Representative Henry Waxman, then ranking minority member of the Government Reform Committee, wrote that the funding of CAF was so out of bounds that it “raises serious concerns about the integrity of the PEPFAR [U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] grant review process.”

Yet CAF has received at least $45 million since then through direct PEPFAR grants, and still more as a third-party grantee, subcontracting with Catholic Relief Services, for example. As recently as February of this year, CAF received $1 million for its New Hope clinic in Kampala.

A Christian anti-AIDS clinic with no condoms

Bulletin board at New Hope Clinic in Uganda promotes a combination of Jesus, Mary and "HIV meds" in the battle against HIV. (Andy Kopsa photo courtesy of The Nation)

Bulletin board at New Hope Clinic in Uganda promotes a combination of Jesus, Mary and “HIV meds” in the battle against HIV. (Andy Kopsa photo courtesy of The Nation)

On a hot but breezy day in August 2012, I visited New Hope. The clinic is located in Kampala’s Naguru district, on the northern shore of Lake Victoria, and is funded by PEPFAR to provide care and treatment for people with HIV and AIDS. The clinic is also tasked with implementing an HIV prevention program to include comprehensive sexual education and access to condoms.

There were very few patients the day I visited, and the clinic’s administrator ushered me into a counseling room with several posters on the wall. One depicted HIV as a gang of scowling green blobs being attacked by anti-retroviral drugs, represented by smiling cells in crisp white lab coats; another was an image of Jesus, his hand raised, light spilling from his opened chest and Jesus I trust you! written below. Below Jesus was a portrait of the Virgin Mary and on the opposite wall, an image of St. Jude, patron saint of lost causes.

A poster at the Children’s AIDS Fund clinic in New Hope reads “Jesus, I trust you!”

A few minutes into our chat, I asked the clinic administrator about condoms. She paused. Finally, she said, “We are very suspicious of those.” When I asked whether the clinic provided comprehensive sex education—including instruction on the correct and consistent use of condoms—she said she didn’t know for sure and left to find a more senior clinic employee.

That employee arrived, but was no more able to answer my questions. All she could do was show me was a spot in a three-ring binder where she swore sex-ed materials were supposed to be and a big empty cardboard box labeled “CONDOMS,” which was relegated to a back hallway of the clinic. PEPFAR guidelines stipulate that grantees make condoms available and distribute them as part of a comprehensive prevention strategy. …

Abstinence-only programs: “no beneficial impact”

Public service advertisement from Condoms4Life.org

Public service advertisement from Condoms4Life.org

Public health experts have long discounted abstinence-only programs as ineffective. While there is scattered evidence that the approach, used with very young adolescents, can delay adolescents’ first sexual experience, there’s no reliable evidence that it reduces either teen pregnancies or sexual transmitted diseases. A 2005 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that virginity pledges, a staple of religious abstinence-only programming, did not decrease the occurrence of teen sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and resulted in pledge-takers not seeking medical attention once infected. And in 2011, a definitive nine-year study by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found that “these programs have no beneficial impact on young people’s sexual behavior.”

Adolescent health advocacy groups have pushed the Obama administration to stop funding these ineffective, ideological programs, asking that such funds be redirected toward comprehensive sex ed instead. …  Yet the funding for such programs has continued.

Read the full article for more information, including details about direct and indirect Obama administration funding for these programs, at home and in Africa:

  • He Intends Victory, an “ex-gay” ministry in Uganda, praised by Pastor Rick Warren, which bills itself as a Christian HIV/AIDS education and support group. It is funded by CAF, which in turn is federally funded.
  • Franklin Graham (Photo by Paul M. Walsh via Wikimedia Commons)

    Franklin Graham (Photo by Paul M. Walsh via Wikimedia Commons)

    Samaritan’s Purse, led by Franklin Graham, the son of televangelist  Billy Graham, which includes Bibles in “hygiene kits” delivered to African countries devastated by wars or natural disasters and runs a “Families Matter” prevention program. Samaritan’s Purse has received $23.3 million from the U.S. since Obama took office in 2009.

  • Truth in Action Ministries, running an abstinence-only program in Mississippi, which received a portion of $739,000 in federal funds, including $67,000 to oversee it.
  • The Evansville Christian Life Center in Indiana, which won a federal abstinence-only grant for $244,110.
  • The Center for Relationship Education, which produces abstinence-only programs and received more than $1 million in federal funds for its work.
  • The Indiana Family Institute, which ushered a same-sex marriage ban through the state legislature and was chosen as the state’s partner in implementing a $1.5 million federally funded “healthy marriage” program.
  • The Family Leader program in Iowa, which received $3 million in federal funds for “healthy marriage workshops” while campaigned for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
  • And many more.

Kopsa concludes:

Faith-based groups like Children’s AIDS Fund and IRCU aren’t the only ones equipped to deliver life-saving care and prevention in sub-Saharan Africa. Smaller, home-based healthcare organizations with no religious agenda are operating in Uganda with little funding but huge potential. That’s true in the United States too. Proven programs that reduce the risk of teen pregnancy and STIs could be getting the millions of dollars in government funding now allocated to CPCs.

The evidence is in that federal tax dollars are being used to support conservative, faith-based organizations that stigmatize young women, foster anti-gay sentiment and harm public health. Whether this funding is an expression of Obama’s ideology or a cynical attempt at political pandering is ultimately immaterial.

“Obama’s Evangelical Gravy Train” appeared in The Nation on July 8, 2014.

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Americas, Faith and religion, HIV / AIDS, International pressure for LGBT rights | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Uganda drops charges against trans woman

Luzira Prison (Photo courtesy of Monitor.ug)

Luzira Prison, where Emma Bbosa was held. (Photo courtesy of Monitor.ug)

Charges have been dropped against Emma Bbosa, a Ugandan trans woman.

Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum — Uganda (HRAPF), reports:

“Emma Bossa’s case was today dismissed for want of prosecution by the Grade ! Magistrate of Mwanga II Court. The state had for five consecutive times failed to produce witness is the malicious damage to property case.

“Today, the case came up and the prosecutor asked for a further adjournment. Ms. Fridah Mutesi, the HRAPF lawyer handling the case, argued against the adjournment on the basis that further adjournments were prejudicial to her client who has charges pending over her and yet the state does not present any witness. The magistrate agreed with Ms. Mutesi and the case was dismissed.”

Our previous report in May: The legal advocacy group HRAPF has won release from prison for a Ugandan transgender woman who is facing criminal charges related to the passage of the country’s harsh anti-gay law.

Emma Bbosa had been detained in Luzira Prison awaiting trial on charges of arson and malicious damage to property, which she says were fabricated by the landlord of her partner.

Many landlords in Uganda have ousted LGBT tenants this year, both because of the country’s increasingly hateful attitude to LGBT people and for fear of running afoul of the provision in the Anti-Homosexuality Law that penalizes anyone who “offers premises and other related fixed or movable assets for purposes of homosexuality or promoting homosexuality.” The penalty for violating that provision is a prison sentence of five to seven years.

Bbosa’s case is being handled by the advocacy group Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum — Uganda (HRAPF), which is provided legal representation for several LGBT defendants in Uganda.

Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of HRAPF, said she was arrested on April 15, released on police bond on April 16, and re-arrested on April 17.  Supporters were needed who were willing to guarantee that she would return to court for her trial, Jjuuko said.

Today she was released. “We managed to get the sureties and all is fine, at least for now,” he said.

Also today, the arson charge against Bbosa was dismissed, leaving only the charge of malicious damage to property, Jjuuko said.

Bbosa is due back in court on May 26, at which point the prosecution may proceed with her trial.

Related articles

 

 

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

Kyrgyzstan plea: Please help oppose anti-gay bill

As reported in June, Kyrgyzstan has moved to the verge of aligning itself more closely with Russia by making it a crime to say anything positive about homosexuality. The Kyrgyz bill is harsher than Russia’s law, because it would apply to all types of communication, not just statements made in the presence of minors.

Now, activists from Kyrgyzstan have launched a call to action.  They ask international LGBTI communities to mobilize support for their efforts to defeat the proposed homophobic propaganda law.  In a recent communiqué to the global community, they propose five ways to support these efforts. These are the means proposed by the Kyrgyz activists:

Anti-LGBT protest at Kyrgyz parliament (Photo courtesy of Dastanik.Juk.com)

Anti-LGBT protest at Kyrgyz parliament (Photo courtesy of Dastanik.Juk.com)

Five ways the global community can support efforts by the LGBTIQ activists in Kyrgyzstan to stop the proposed homophobic propaganda law.

1. Get the word out on the Kyrgyz propaganda law

Use all means to contact international organizations, foreign ministries and mass media to inform them about the propaganda law bill in Kyrgyzstan.

Use social media to speak up against the law bill. You can receive more information about the situation from local LGBTI activists in Kyrgyzstan. Here’s the list of English-speaking activists and their contacts (this is public information and can be shared):

Focus on the following issues:

  • Negative effects of the bill on the LGBTI communities, their health, rights and freedoms, as well as on the general political and social situation in Kyrgyzstan.
  • The bill is one of many other anti human rights legislative initiatives that contribute to a shrinking space for civil society.
  • Relate the propaganda bill to other draconian laws, e.g. on foreign agents, espionage, etc.
  •  The bill is part of a legislative package imported from Putin’s Russia. Mention pressure and intrusion by Russia into the political life of Kyrgyzstan and the possible threat to independence of the country.

2. Speak up and act up

Activists ask you to organize, join and participate in all offline and online campaigns/flashmobs/demonstrations against the bill .  They also ask you to organize meetings in front of Kyrgyz embassies and consulates to create international pressure on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan as well as on Parliament. You may also want to meet with and discuss the bill with diplomats in your area, or with officials in your home country’s Ministries of Foreign Affairs.

Kyrgyzstan is located between Kazakstan and China (Map courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Kyrgyzstan is located between Kazakstan and China (Map courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Activists say they have “exhausted almost all domestic means to stop the bill”, including internal procedures by Jogorku Kenesh, the Parliament. Now there’s a need for strong international pressure. They are calling for public statements to be issued particularly by officials from “non-Western” countries in Asia and in Latin American. Outreach to friendly Imams and Islamic religious leaders to openly condemn the law bill would also be very helpful.

Messages must be well articulated and evidence-based. They should always mention the progress achieved by the Kyrgyz Government and Parliament in achieving parliamentary democracy, fighting corruption and devoted to universal human rights standards.

They call for all to demand that multinational corporations present in Kyrgyzstan speak up against the bill, to express their concerns for the safety of their own employees.  This includes Coca Cola, Nokia Tietoliikenne Oy, Apple, and Kumtor Gold Company.

For any action taken, please, let LGBTIQ activists in Kyrgyzstan know by informing them and sending them copies.  They will insure that all statements are translated and delivered to decision-makers.

3. Ask donors to review their policies and programs in Kyrgyzstan 

Kyrgyz activists demand donors carefully assess their programs in Kyrgyzstan and make sure that their local partners do not support homophobia and transphobia. We demand donor organizations review their funding to organizations that fail to respect human rights and/or support the bill, propagate hate or encourage violence against LGBTI.

They also oppose any cuts in general funding for crucial services; instead we prefer reviewing and re-structuring policies to make sure that they are human rights based and prioritize the most vulnerable communities. If donors support service providers, they must demand the service providers address the needs of LGBTI communities. Donors also must prioritize funding urgent advocacy, community mobilization and politicization, movement building, forming public opinion, security for LGBTI human rights defenders, and alternative mass media that focus on human rights.

4. International organizations and governments must impose sanctions on public homophobes

Narynbek Moldobaev (Photo courtesy of Dastanik.Juk.com)

Narynbek Moldobaev, member of the Kyrgyz parliament, who said he would like to shoot LGBT people. (Photo courtesy of Dastanik.Juk.com)

They demand sanctions such as visa restrictions, denied entry, and freezing the financial assets of public homophobes, who have expressed hate speech in local media and incite violence and hatred against LGBTI. Many of these homophobes travel a lot as part of various developmental programs and even programs on human rights.

The Kyrgyz activists ask international organizations not to support these public homophobes financially and avoid inviting them to meetings and conferences until they overcome their homophobia and publicly condemn the bill.  The updated list of public homophobes is on this link.

5. Advocate for better asylum policies for LGBTI from Kyrgyzstan

We ask you to advocate for more transparent, as well as abuse and violence-free asylum procedures and for your countries to prioritize the granting of asylum to LGBTI from Kyrgyzstan.

Links to support and resource materials:

Posted in Asia, International pressure for LGBT rights, Uncategorized | Tagged | 4 Comments

Seeking to save the eyesight of battered trans Ugandan

Hush ("Mich") Ainebyona

Hush (“Mich”) Ainebyona

A group of friends, activists and journalists is seeking contributions to help save the eyesight of a Ugandan trans woman whose eyes have been failing since she suffered a transphobic attack two years ago in Kampala, Uganda.

The story of that attack on Hush (also known as Mich or Mish) appeared in this blog in 2012 in the article “For assaulted LGBT, Uganda medical care must be anonymous.” It also appeared in the longer article “A Day In Kampala” by journalist Andy Kopsa and human rights activist Clare Byarugaba.  Last year, it appeared in the book “From Wrongs to Gay Rights.”

Contributed funds will be processed through Health GAP, a US-based 501(c)3 organization.

To read Hush’s story, including her personal background, difficult family life, self-discovery, rape, assault, life on the streets and sex work, see below.

For more information or to donate, visit the “Save Hush’s Vision” page on YouCaring.com.

HUSH’S STORY

Personal Background

Clare and Mich outside the bar where Mich was beaten (Photo courtesy of Andy Kapsa)

Clare Byarugaba and Mich outside the bar where Mich was beaten (Photo courtesy of Andy Kopsa)

My name is Hush aka Mish [or "Mich"]. I was born in 1989 by a Mukiga from Kabale and a Munyarwanda from Ruhengere. I was born in a family of three, two boys and one girl.

My relationship with my siblings was good. I however was closer to my brother than I was to my sister. My relationship with my parents was good. I resembled a girl as I grew up and my mother always referred to me as “daughter.” I was very hard working and always impressed her. My dad, however didn’t like being close to me and would often leave me home while he took my brother away for treats. As I learnt later, it was because I resembled and acted like a girl. My dad was away most of the time because of his occupation which required him to work long distances from home.

The culture of my father is a tough one. The Bakiga [of the Kabale area], as most cultures from Western Uganda, believe deeply in heterosexual relationships and in men acting as men.

My dad always complained about the way I behaved as a boy. The way I moved, talked and presented myself always disturbed my parents.

My brother sometimes would not want to associate with me in public areas. He would move away if I was approaching or even walk away when his friends were around. We were best of friends at home though.

My sister didn’t live with us much but when she was at home we had good relations.

Discovering Myself

During primary education I was made two friends who had similar characteristics. We were referred to as the “maria” group.

We all looked like girls. We would dress up as girls in the dormitory at night and model, we wore make up stolen from home and would entertain everyone, we performed comedy and we were known to be the crazy ones. Primary school was much fun with my peers and not as fun with the grownups… (the teachers). Although, I excelled at school therefore I didn’t have much to worry about.

In secondary school however, everything changed. The first day of school caused commotion as everyone stood outside the class doors’ whispering is that a girl?

A boy came to me and demanded that I undress so that he would make love to me; he wanted to touch me to understand if I was a boy or a girl. A guy once insulted his girlfriend saying he would rather sleep with a hermaphrodite like me as opposed to her.

Teachers always treated me bad. I was never picked to respond to questions although i was eager to participate in class; the headmaster punished me more because I looked like a girl. The only people accepting of me there were a few girls who sympathised with me because they thought I was abnormal. A teacher once banned me from attending his class because he claimed I should look like a boy if I was a boy and he didn’t want to deal with people who looked like me.

During my A-Level, I was moved to 8 different schools in 2 years. No school was accommodating of me because of my girl looks and character. I was moved to my uncle’s house, he repeatedly sexually abused me every night he would come home for work in a drunken state. When I started resisting this treatment of me, he returned me home to my mother’s house claiming I was a badly behaved child. My mother had almost given up on me because of this; although she took me back she was hesitant to continue providing me with an education. I had to steal money from her to pay for my exams. When I passed my exams very well, my mother then agreed to take me to the University.

Life as a Transwoman

Kuchus' Day Out was a time for LGBTIQ community solidarity in Uganda. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Hush helped to celebrate Kuchus’ Day Out in late June — a time for LGBTIQ community solidarity in Uganda. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

My relationship with my mother at this point had deteriorated. She called me ”girl- boy”, she always said she had hopes in only one boy (my brother), and she did everything possible to see that he acquired the best education.

I was later chased from home, my relative took me in, he was married, and the only reason he paid my school fees at the university and let me stay at his home was because he wanted to have an affair with me.

When I moved in with his family, he once forced me to have sex and his wife happened to walk in at that point.

I was disowned by the entire family. A relative once released his dogs to bite me claiming he could not allow the devil in his home.

I had nowhere to go, nowhere to sleep, I approached an organisation I had previously heard about that worked to help people like me but when I got there, I was shunned, neglected and judged.

I went to a friend’s house for refuge, he raped me, I went to church to seek divine intervention, a pastor identified me, took me to his house to take care of me. He started sexually abusing me. He requested that if I was unable to do sexual favours for him, I should take him young boys who would. I had to leave this place for fear of my life if he and I were found out at church.

With church, family, friends, school and community initiative’s failure to make a positive contribution to my life, I then resorted to street life.

At this point I had dropped out of school.

I slept at taxi waiting areas as I tried to find employment in bars.

I later on quickly discovered that men were interested in buying me alcohol to sit and have conversations with them; they would then offer some money for me to spend the night with them.

I was once put at gunpoint by one of these clients who had proposed to me. This person was extremely possessive and couldn’t stand me having friends (I was in a stable relationship with him). After this very frightening experience, I went back to sex work. I believed I was safer on my own. I was thinking of committing suicide, the world had no place for someone like me.

Nothing seemed to matter anymore. It was during this time that I happened to meet another transgender sex worker, I didn’t share much with her but I could feel that we had the same issues. We soon identified a place to stay and shared the rent as we carried out our work.

The landlord somehow got wind of the fact that we were transgender sex workers and we were immediately evicted from her house amidst laughter from our neighbours. This set us back hugely seeing as we had stabilised and had even started a hair salon business that was doing fairly well.

Mich two days after she was beaten, on left, and four days afterward, at right. (Photos courtesy of Andy Kopsa)

Mich two days after she was beaten, on left, and four days afterward, at right. (Photos courtesy of Andy Kopsa)

At this point we sold all we had accumulated and briefly moved back to the village. The situation there was not any better so I returned to do sex work.
One day, while at work I was invited to attend a party by one of my clients. During the party I was brutally assaulted. [See the article "A Day in Kampala."]

It has been almost two years since the attack on me was made, as a friend of mine helps me write my story, we are using Arial black 36pt font and even then, my face is 1 inch away from the laptop because I find it hard to read what is being written. I have gradually but steadily lost my vision.

Every attempt to receive the help I require leads me into sex work so that I am able to provide documentation, treatment records etc… I require surgery for my eyes to normally function.

The cost for this surgery is very high.

For more information or to donate, visit the “Save Hush’s Vision” page on YouCaring.com.

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

Appeal to Cameroon: Stop anti-LGBTI violence

Logo of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Logo of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Activists in Cameroon are preparing an appeal to the government of Cameroon, seeking an end to violence against LGBTI people and those who defend their human rights.

That appeal, which follows an investigation of anti-gay repression in Cameroon, is scheduled to be presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council in September.

The activists urge the government of Cameroon to:

  • Protect freedom of assembly, association and expression for all. No one should be prevented from holding a meeting or organizing an event based on the fact that it implies the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity;
  • State publicly through the Interior Ministry that attacks against LGBTI gatherings will not be tolerated.
Issa Tchiroma Bakary, Cameroon's minister of communication (Photo courtesy of Camer.be)

In 2014, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, Cameroon’s minister of communication, repeated his false assurances of 2013 by saying, “There is no judicial harassment of homosexuals in Cameroon.” (Photo courtesy of Camer.be)

In a report, the groups say they found that, during last year’s U.N. Human Rights Council review of Cameroon, a climate of fear surrounded Cameroon’s defenders of LGBTI rights, who were described in Cameroon as agents of the West who were dishonoring their country by their actions on behalf of LGBTI people, who were seen as not deserving to live.

Yet, even while a homophobic group in Cameroon publicly harassed homosexuals and their supporters last year, the Minister of Communications insisted that homosexuals and their supporters were in no danger.

In truth, associations defending human rights in Cameroon continue to be the target of intimidation and persecution, and especially those groups that defend the human rights of LGBTI people.

Eric Lembembe

Eric Lembembe

Some examples:

  • On July 15, 2013, Eric Ohena Lembembe was found beaten to death in his home in Yaoundé. Lembembe was executive director of  the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS) and a  journalist committed to defending the rights of LGBTI people. The government conducted only a minimal investigation of his murder, which included harassment of Lembembe’s family and colleagues. (See separate article on the investigation.)
  • On April 5, 2013, unidentified assailants tried to kidnap the son of Maximilienne Ngo Mbe, executive director of the Human Rights Defenders’ Network in Central Africa (REDHAC). She was also threatened with death. In September 2012, men in Cameroonian security forces uniforms kidnapped and raped her niece.
  • On June 1, 2013, the headquarters of REDHAC in Douala were burglarized.
Michel Togué (Photo by Eric O. Lembembe)

Michel Togué (Photo by Eric O. Lembembe

  • On June 16, 2013, the offices of Michel Togué, who defends LGBTI clients, were burglarized. His laptop, passport, confidential court records and USB keys were stolen. In addition, Togué has received repeatedly death threats targeting his children.
  • On  June 26, 2013, an arsonist struck the Douala headquarters of Alternatives-Cameroon, one of the country’s oldest organizations defending the rights of LGBTI citizens. In the fire, furniture and the files of HIV-positive patients were destroyed.

The renewed appeal for protection for human rights defenders is being made in collaboration with the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) on behalf of five Cameroonian groups — the Association for the Defense of  Homosexuals (ADEFHO), CAMFAIDS, Alternatives Cameroon, REDHAC, and the House of Human Rights of  Cameroon  (MDHC).

The appeal is based on research in Cameroon from June 16, 2013, to May 31, 2014, by  Cameroonian human rights associations and a research trip in January by FIDH and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT).

The groups’ fact-finding mission concluded that inaction by Cameroonian authorities encourages acts of persecution and retaliation against defenders of LGBTI people’s rights.

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Harassment / murders, International pressure for LGBT rights | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Turkey: To say that gays are ‘perverts’ is hate speech

Sinem Hun

Sinem Hun

A court ruling in Turkey could buoy the spirits of human rights activists in the Third World who seek fair treatment for sexual minorities but cannot cite the examples of Western nations without being shunned as agents of Western cultural imperialism.

Today’s court ruling endorsing respectful treatment for LGBTI people comes from a largely non-European country at the continent’s crossroads with Asia.

In the ruling, reported today, the Constitutional Court of Turkey declared that referring to gays as “perverts” is a form of hate speech.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by Sinem Hun, a human rights attorney who represents LGBTI clients. Hun claimed damages for an article on the news and opinion website habervaktim.com that called her “the lawyer of the association of the perverts called Kaos GL.”

The court ruled that the reference was indeed hate speech, but said that Hun was not entitled to damages in this case, because the hate speech was directed at the Turkish LGBT rights organization Kaos GL, not at her.

For more information, read the article on LGBTI News Turkey and on the Kaos GL website about the court ruling.

Posted in Europe, Harassment / murders, Human Rights, Middle East / North Africa | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment