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

In homophobic Iran, a policy that bans homophobia?

Image from Press TV website. Readers posted homophobic comments about this story, despite the website's policy against such comments. (Click the image to read the article and the comments.)

Readers posted homophobic comments about this story on the Press TV website, despite its policy against such comments. (Click the image to read the article and the comments.)

On the heels of a short-lived LGBT-friendly commentary on Iran’s popular Nameh News website, an Iranian government-supported website has published rules against its readers posting comments that are homophobic.

It’s not clear how long the Press TV comment policy has been online. The policy states, “Do not post any content which could be construed as hate speech – this includes racism, sexism, homophobia, and other such content which may advocate bigotry.”

Press TV quoted former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke's opinions about Israel -- and misidentified him as a former Congressman.

Press TV quoted former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke’s opinions about Israel — and misidentified him as a former Congressman.

One of this blog’s readers speculated, “Iran accidentally plagiarised a comment policy forbidding homophobia.”  That interpretation makes sense, since similar or identical policies appear on a variety of websites, including those of the New Jersey Tea Party, Veterans News Now, and the Canadian financial website MunKNEE.

There’s no evidence that  Press TV has become a supporter of human rights for LGBT people. The Tehran-based news organization service presents “basically the Islamic Republic of Iran’s worldview,” having been established “to counter the news coverage that appears on broadcasts such those of BBC World News, CNN International and Al Jazeera English,” in the words of Wikipedia.

Recent articles on Press TV have included:

Press TV has not yet responded to an email asking whether they intend to enforce the anti-homophobia policy, especially in light of recently published comments on an article about an investigation of whether the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom misused public funds for a function that was advertised on a gay dating website. Those comments included:

  • “Gay means someone with mental illness and should be cured NOT spread.”
  • “Go back in the closet and lock the door. Tired of your antics.”
  • “The gay mafia that makes up UK and USA tv is behind the destruction of a mans right to a private and family life.”
  • “When two are more Tories are together it IS a gay party.”
  • “If they haven’t got their hands in the till they’ve got them on some poor kid’s privates.”
Iran's Revolutionary Guards arrested dozens of "homosexuals and devil-worshippers" in October 2013. (Photo courtesy of Mehr News Agency)

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards arrested dozens of “homosexuals and devil-worshippers” in October 2013. (Photo courtesy of Mehr News Agency)

Press TV’s own description of itself is that it heeds “the often neglected voices and perspectives of a great portion of the world” while “embracing and building bridges of cultural understanding.”

In Iran, same-sex intimacy is punishable by death, and many gay men and lesbians have pursued sex-change surgery in order to shield themselves from the country’s harsh anti-gay laws. This year and last year in Iran:

Posted in Harassment / murders, International pressure for LGBT rights, Middle East / North Africa | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

It’s official: No more Malawi arrests under anti-gay laws

Malawi Justice Minister Janet Chikaya-Banda (Photo courtesy of AfricaResearchInstitute.org)Malawi

Malawi Justice Minister Janet Chikaya-Banda (Photo courtesy of AfricaResearchInstitute.org)Malawi

Malawi has stopped arresting people for same-sex intimacy pending a review of the country’s anti-gay laws, Malawi’s justice minister told the U.N. Human Rights Committee last week.

The latest moratorium is related to last fall’s move by the country’s High Court to review the constitutionality of Malawi’s anti-gay laws.  The court invited government agencies, religious bodies and civil society organizations to take part in that review.

In response to questions from the U.N. committee about the status of the deliberations, Justice Minister Janet Chikaya-Banda said a review by the country’s Law Commission was stalled because of a lack of financial resources, even though the country has the  political will to deal with the matter, the Nyasa Times reported.

In the meantime, Malawi is not arresting people for same-sex acts,  Banda said.

High Court building in Blantyre, Malawi.

High Court building in Blantyre, Malawi.

Under Malawian law, sexual intimacy between men is punishable by 14 years in prison; for women, the punishment is five years. But the constitutionality of those laws is currently in question. Human rights activists argue that the laws violate Malawi’s constitutional protections for citizens regardless of their sex, race, tribe or religion.

The High Court is focused on a review of the case of three men — Amon Champyuni, Mathews Bello and Musa Chiwisi — who were convicted in 2011 and are serving sentences ranging from 10 to 14 years for practicing homosexuality.

In January, the court’s deliberations on the issue were delayed pending a determination by the Supreme Court on whether the High Court can proceed to review an issue of constitutionality, the Southern Africa Litigation Centre reported.

Arrests under Malawi’s anti-gay laws have actually been on hold since November 2012, when then Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara declared a moratorium on arrests and prosecutions.  He later denied making that decision, but the latest Nyasa Times article confirmed that in 2012 the government issued “a moratorium where it ordered police not to arrest people for same-sex acts until the anti-gay laws are reviewed by parliament.”

Former Malawi President Joyce Banda

Former Malawi President Joyce Banda

Earlier in 2012, then President Joyce Banda called for the repeal of the law, but she later announced that Malawian legislators were not ready to go along with her on that plan.

Several religious groups have been vocal in their support of the existing anti-gay laws. In February, the Malawi Muslim Association proposed imposing the death penalty on homosexuals, but the country’s then justice minister, Fahad Assani, a Muslim, spoke against that suggestion.

Opponents of the anti-gay laws include Malawi’s Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP), the Malawi Law Society,  the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), the University of Malawi’s Faculty of Law, and the Malawi Network of Religious Leaders living with or affected by HIV.

In May’s national election, opposition candidate Peter Mutharika, a widower, won the presidency, ousting Joyce Banda. During the campaign, Mutharika denied reports that he is gay. Since his election, CEPED has urged him to support moves to repeal the anti-gay laws.

Gift Trapence, executive director of the Centre for the Development of People, or CEDEP (Photo courtesy of Abcnyheter.no

Gift Trapence, executive director of the Centre for the Development of People, or CEDEP (Photo courtesy of Abcnyheter.no

Gift Trapence, executive director of CEDEP,  told the U.N. committee that homophobia is on the increase in Malawi.

In response, in a report to the committee, Justice Minister Banda said:

“Malawi has not set up a mechanism to specifically monitor cases of violence based on sexual orientation nor has it set up awareness-raising campaigns on the same. … All cases of violence are handled in the same way regardless of the cause or alleged basis of the violence.”

Homosexuality has been a contentious issue in Malawi since at least 2009, when two men were arrested and charged with public indecency for getting married in a traditional ceremony. They were later pardoned by then President Bingu wa Mutharika under pressure from international aid donors and the United Nations.

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Anti-LGBT laws and legislation, International pressure for LGBT rights, Positive steps | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dominica leader: No enforcement of anti-gay law

Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit (Photo courtesy of CaribbeanTrakker.com)

Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit (Photo courtesy of CaribbeanTrakker.com)

Dominica does not enforce its law against homosexual activity, at least in private homes, and has no plans to do so, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit says.

In a recent statement to the Caribbean Media Corporation, the Dominica leader denied reports that police have threatened to arrest people at home during  same-sex intercourse.

“This has never happened in Dominica and I don’t think that will be happening any time now or later,” he said.

On paper, same-sex intimacy is illegal both for men and women in the Caribbean island nation. Dominican law provides for a 10-year prison sentence for anal intercourse whether involving heterosexual or homosexual couples.

Skerrit says that law is not enforced in private homes, and will not be.

In 2012, a gay couple from Palm Springs, California, were arrested in Dominica after police said they were seen having sex on the balcony of their cabin during a gay cruise that was in port in Dominica. They were released from jail after pleading guilty to indecent exposure.

Location of Dominica in the eastern Caribbean.

Location of Dominica in the eastern Caribbean.

In addition, Pink News reports as recently as 2001, 15 women were arrested for same-sex sexual acts, charged with the crime of gross indecency, and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. That same year, 10 men were sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for engaging in same-sex activity, Pink News said.

The CMC reported that the local activist group, Minority Rights Dominica, or MiriDom, is seeking repeal of Dominica’s buggery law as a form of discrimination against people because of their sexual preferences.

Skerrit said he would meet with the group to discuss its recommendations.

“We are prepared to meet with MiriDom at any time. We will seek to contact them again and arrange for the Minister for Social Services and myself to meet and discuss with them,” he said.

Also in the interview, Skerrit said his government is opposed to same-sex marriage.

“We will never allow for the state to recognise same-sex marriage in our country. If other countries want to do it, that’s a matter for them but there are certain guiding principles that we must follow,” he said.

 

Posted in Americas, Anti-LGBT laws and legislation | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Activists demand new probe of Eric Lembembe murder

LGBT rights activist and Journalist Eric Lembembe of Cameroon was murdered in July 2013.

Eric Lembembe

A year after the murder of journalist/activist Eric Lembembe in Cameroon, human rights activists in Cameroon and abroad are calling for a renewed investigation into his death.

Cameroonian authorities’ mishandling of the investigation has been so incompetent and disrespectful that it might lead to new homophobic attacks on innocent LGBT people by those who conclude that such crimes would not be punished, the activists said.

They cited irregularities and sloppy procedures, including the lack of any official photograph of the crime scene, failure to take any fingerprints there, and a death certificate that does not mention the apparent burns and other injuries on the body.

The investigation has also been disrupted by being transferred among different departments. It was initially assigned to the Commission of the first district of Yaoundé, then was transferred to the Central Administration of National Security, and then to an investigating judge who called for testimony from Lembembe’s mother, sister and brother.

Investigators have also intimidated Lembembe’s friends and family, the activists said. Several of his friends were placed in custody by the police at the beginning of the investigation. In addition, relatives and witnesses were summoned by the investigating judge but were never called to testify.

Karim Lahidji, président de la FIDH (Photo de DiarioLaVoz.net)

Karim Lahidji, president of FIDH (Photo courtesy of DiarioLaVoz.net)

“This is a particularly heinous and violent crime that targeted a man committed to defending the rights of a vulnerable category of the population of Cameroon. We repeat: justice must be particularly exemplary in the case of hate crimes,” stated Karim Lahidji, president of the International Federation for Human Rights, or FIDH, and Gerald Staberock, secretary general of the World Organization Against Torture, or OMCT.

The call for a renewed investigation came from the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights (a joint program of FIDH and OMCT); the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS, or Camfaids; the House of Human Rights in Cameroon, or MDHC; and the Human Rights Defenders’ Network in Central Africa, or REDHAC; the Association for the Defense of Homosexuals, or ADEFHO; and Alternatives Cameroon.

“The inertia of Cameroonian authorities in this case is disturbing because it may encourage a sense of impunity for crimes and persecutions of LGBTI people and fuel stigma and discrimination against them and their advocates,” said Michel Togue, a lawyer in Cameroon and counsel to Camfaids.

Cover From Wrongs to Gay Rights

Eric Lembembe was a co-author of the book “From Wrongs to Gay Rights.” (Click on the image for information about how to buy it.)

In January, the Observatory led an international mission to investigate the situation of LGBTI rights defenders in Cameroon, who have reported acts of intimidation against them and LGBTI health-care advocates. The mission also focused on the status of the official investigation into Lembembe’s murder. A report on the mission’s findings is scheduled soon.

Lembembe was the executive director of Camfaids. He worked in collaboration with several Cameroonian human rights and anti-AIDS organizations such as Alternatives Cameroon and the Association for the Defense of Homosexuals (ADEFHO). He contributed to a Human Rights Watch report on Cameroon in March 2013 and to recommendations made in May 2013 during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Cameroon before the U.N. Human Rights Council. He was also a reporter for the blog Erasing 76 Crimes and one of the authors of the book “From Wrongs to Gay Rights.”

He was found beaten to death at home in Yaoundé on July 15, 2013.

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