Africa / Americas / Commentary / Faith and religion

Lesbians remain invisible globally, even to other women

Gay folk around the planet will never be free until women around the planet are free.          — The Rev. Canon Albert Ogle

Why should anyone pay attention to the upcoming meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York? Click this image, watch the short video and decide. The United Nations video, titled "The Autocomplete Truth: Kick-starting a modern conversation on gender equality," discusses what people think about women's roles, as revealed by Google's auto-complete feature, which displays frequent recent searches. It shows that, when online queries started with "Women should," popular searches included "stay at home," "be slaves," "be in the kitchen" and "not speak in church." (Google may have changed its programming since this video was made.)

Why should anyone pay attention to the upcoming meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York? Click this image, watch the short video and decide. The United Nations video discusses what people really think about women’s roles, as revealed by Google’s auto-complete feature. It shows that, when online queries started “Women should …,” popular searches included “stay at home,” “be slaves,” “be in the kitchen” and “not speak in church.” (Google may have changed its programming since this video was made.)

Lesbian, bisexual and transgender women are still globally invisible, even to other women

March 13 panel “Women of Faith. Women of Doubt.” will focus on the shared struggle for women’s rights and LGBT rights

Poster for March 13 panel. Click on the image for link to registration.

Poster for March 13 panel. Click on the image for link to registration.

Over a thousand non-governmental organizations will surround 3,000 women visitors from all over the world at the meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York from March 9 to 20. Bruce Knotts, director of the Unitarian Universalist Office at the UN, describes this important gathering as “an annual report card on how the world is treating our women and girls.”

With the support of many of our readers, the St. Paul’s Foundation will also be present with a robust panel of experts to join the dots and break open the silos that are keeping gender and LGBT equality issues apart.

Last year, at the same UN meeting, there were hundreds of side events and panels that simultaneously addressed many issues affecting women and girls but I counted only 12 that had any reference to LGBT and gender equality and fewer when the panels addressed the positive and negative role faith communities play in gender-related issues. It has become pretty obvious that LGBT equality (in many of the countries where we are criminalized) will continue to face increasing hostility until gender equality issues are addressed first.

Gay folk around the planet will never be free until women around the planet are free. There are almost as many countries where there are legal and constitutional barriers to gender equality (mainly lack of property rights for women) than countries where homosexuality is criminalized. These silos no longer make sense. So what is it we have in common and how can we work together for positive change?

Three Important Questions

These are the main questions our panelists and supporters will be asking throughout the next two weeks, peaking at a panel presentation entitled: “Women of Faith. Women of Doubt” at the Riverside Church on Friday, March 13, at 7 p.m. The focus of the panel will be:

1. How does the faith community accelerate or impede progress to equality for both populations?

2. How can we translate and reframe many of the goals and objectives that are clearly articulated for women throughout the UN Commission’s work, yet often unwittingly exclude lesbians, bisexual and transgender women?

3. Heterosexual women activists and leaders of NGO’s who also work proactively for LGBT rights can often face stigma, death threats and violence in these homophobic and sexist contexts. What can we do to support these bridge-builders and amplify their voices?

Building the case for greater co-operation

The Commission remains one of the most important UN bodies that can draw attention to many of the negative experiences that can be connected between women and LBT people including domestic violence, corrective rape, economic deprivation and exclusion from health, educational and business opportunities. Journalist Andy Kopsa recently wrote a powerful article in Fem2.0 about a lesbian from Cameroon who is seeking asylum in the United Kingdom and makes a strong case for a different approach to the issues of intersectionality.

Reinforcing Kopsa’s points, Dr. S. N. Nyeck (also a speaker on our panel) describes the way in which LGBT issues are often isolated and disconnected from the ones mentioned above:

“Our opponents want to reinforce how alien and strange we are as a means to isolate and disempower us. We need to do a better job of showing how LGBT issues include many of the issues faced by women all over the world and the enormous contribution we bring to our families and communities.”

Panelists will also be active speaking on other panels throughout the two weeks. For example, Maxensia Nakibuuka of Uganda will also be representing community health issues for women on behalf of the HUAIROU Commission on March 11 and 12. This is a direct example of intersectional co-operation.

The Riverside Coalition’s panelists on March 13 will include:

Maxensia Nakibuuka

Maxensia Nakibuuka

Maxensia Nakibuuka, a community activist living with HIV from Kampala Uganda. She has served as a local political leader and is the outgoing  secretary of the Council of the Laity in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kampala. In 2012, she was one of 500 civil society representatives at the UN to discuss the future global AIDS plan and has spoken about the effects of criminalization of people with HIV and LGBT and other vulnerable and populations.

She has spoken at panels at CSW on the importance of community health home-based care for women and at the World Bank on the need for collaboration at the grassroots level for all women – transgender, bisexual and lesbian and straight women. She is developing an important economic model involving a gay/straight alliance in Kampala.

In 2014, the Catholic Archbishop invited her to head the Archdiocesan HIV programs and she will be presenting both the positive effects of religious support for health and some of the negative effects of religious discrimination.

Andy Kopsa

Andy Kopsa

Andy Kopsa, a freelance investigative reporter based in New York City. She has written for Al Jazeera, The Atlantic, Talking Points Memo, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and many other publications. She was awarded a 2012 Society of Professional Journalists Award for investigative reporting and was a 2013 recipient of a Knight Grant for Reporting on Religion in American Public Life from USC Annenberg.

Andy has done extensive work reporting on LGBT and women’s rights issues internationally, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as throughout the United States.  Andy has done extensive research and reporting on the U.S. Government funding anti-gay and anti-women’s rights groups and has spoken at several conferences and consulted with many human rights groups on the subject.

Angeline Jackson (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Angeline Jackson (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Angeline Cecelia Jackson, executive director of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica. One of five open lesbians in the whole of Jamaica, she has spoken at the World Bank about issues affecting women and LBT women in particular — the focus of her organization. She has a strong religious background but the current attitudes of religious leaders in Jamaica have made it very difficult for her to support any particular religious tradition or denomination.

S.N. Nyeck (Photo courtesy of Twitter)

S.N. Nyeck (Photo courtesy of Twitter)

Dr. S. N. Nyeck, assistant professor at Clarkson University, Potsdam, New York. She had to seek political asylum in the United States following a legal battle in Cameroon where she was publicly outed as a lesbian and subsequently had to flee for her safety. Some of the earliest formulations of LGBT identity and news from Cameroon on the underground LGBT movement came from her writings and experience.

She is a graduate of Swarthmore College and holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California Los Angeles. She is interested in comparative analysis of government contracts, with particular focus is on theorizing and modeling the intersection of law, politics, and human agency in the public sector. Dr. Nyeck is the founder of Africa’s Public Procurement and Entrepreneurship Research Initiative (www.apperi.org) and the co-editor of Sexual Diversity in Africa: Theory, Politics, and Citizenship (McGill-Queen’s University Press 2013). She received the Ruskin Prize and many awards for highest academic achievements including the title of a Distinguished Alumna of the City University of New York, The Pat Hussain Justice Award, and The Edward Said /Audre Lorde Scholar Activism Award.

Background and registration for the March 13 panel

Given the enormous controversy surrounding the UN’s recent resolution on Traditional Values and the redefinition of “family,” the panel has a lot of material to discuss and find some common ground. The panel presentation is a result of several progressive faith organizations working together through the newly convened “Riverside Coalition” including the St Paul’s Foundation, the Presbyterian Ministry at the UN, the Unitarian Universalist UN Office, SoulForce, Muslims for Progressive Values and others. Riverside Church will be hosting the panel and a reception following in honor of CSW 2015. You can make a financial contribution in support of our presence at CSW here.

You can also register for the panel presentation and reception here. Seats are limited and will be on a first-come, first-served basis.

(This article was revised on March 6 to correct the former position of  Maxensia Nakibuuka on the Council of the Laity.)

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5 thoughts on “Lesbians remain invisible globally, even to other women

  1. Pingback: Shared plight of lesbian, straight women goes unheard? | 76 CRIMES

  2. Pingback: Why lesbian groups boycotted African LBT workshop | 76 CRIMES

  3. Pingback: Cameroon: Praise for LBT workshop, denunciation of boycott | 76 CRIMES

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