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'Too little international outcry when LGBT champions are killed'

Will the murder of LGBT activist Eric Lembembe in Cameroon be forgotten, or will the world respond with support that leads to change in countries that persecute gay people, asks the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle. An excerpt from his Sept. 13 column in the San Diego Gay and Lesbian News:

David Kato (Photo courtesy of "Call Me Kuchu"
David Kato (Photo courtesy of “Call Me Kuchu”

We are not seeing enough public international outcry when LGBT champions go out on a limb and demand something better and simply get killed.

In recent years, I can see the difference in the public reaction to the brutal and untimely murder of David Kato. He has become a household name, uttered by presidents and even has a film made about him.

When Eric Lembembe was killed in Cameroon, his story barely made the news and he was still buried without any significant investigation.

Eric’s story, like David’s, combines the struggle for HIV resources with security, human rights and fighting the religious establishment all at the same time. Kato was an HIV activist long before he became a spokesperson for LGBT rights.

Eric Lembembe (Photo courtesy of Camfaids)
Eric Lembembe (Photo courtesy of Camfaids)

David was killed instantly. Eric was tortured slowly. His limbs and neck were broken, and he was burned by an electric iron. Whoever killed him wanted information, a confession, names and addresses, and to terrify this little Cameroonian community that others would be next. Yet, we have not remembered Eric rightly. Until now.

Ensuring Cameroonian activists can record their experiences

On Oct. 18, there will be an important gathering of African civil society organizations to plan for the next meeting of the African Human Rights Commission to be held in the Gambia in West Africa. A report, compiled by a group of concerned citizens and international partners from the faith and human rights community, needs to become part of the public record around the brutal murder of Eric Lembembe and its symbolic message to all African LGBT people and their allies.

Mgr. Victor Tonye Bakot, archbishop of Yaoundé
Mgr. Victor Tonye Bakot, former archbishop of Yaoundé

The report also documents the violence and intimidation directed toward straight allies working with HIV and LGBT groups in Cameroon. We also have documentation about the negative role of the Cameroonian churches, particularly Catholic Archbishop Tonye Bakot’s Christmas message claiming that gays were committing “crimes against humanity.” Bakot has since been removed from office, but it would be easy to forget the impact these kinds of statements made towards the climate of hatred and hostility organized by the faith community. If these kinds of realities are not documented, they will simply be written out of history.

The Cameroonian LGBT community is once again stepping out in courage and is asking for our support to ensure they can tell their stories. The hope is to not only document Eric’s work and witness, but to demand closure through a full-scale investigation. We hope to have three or four leaders from the LGBT community present for the week-long meetings costing $2,500 each. We are appalled the cause of death has not even been written on the death certificate three months following Eric’s murder.

It will be important for other African nations to hold Cameroon accountable for its international commitments to human rights and an investigation needs to begin in earnest. A fundraising campaign started Thursday so readers can make a difference by donating online through an Indiegogo account supervised by St. Paul’s Foundation. $800 were raised in the first eight hours!

We coordinated the efforts to raise money for Eric’s funeral, so it is an honor for us to stand in solidarity with our African brothers and sisters. Details of how you can be part of history can be found HERE.

We can remember rightly. Amnesia gets us all in trouble and only leads to more suffering and loss. We look forward to reporting on this two-week campaign and see how each one of us can make a difference not only to the present situation in places like Cameroon, but all over the world.

For more information, read the full column in the San Diego Gay and Lesbian News:  “RGOD2: Remembering rightly.”

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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