Anti-LGBTI murders, but optimism too? Q&A with a reporter

Colin Stewart, editor/publisher of the Erasing 76 Crimes blog
Colin Stewart, editor/publisher of the Erasing 76 Crimes blog

Which country will repeal its anti-gay law next? Why do your blog’s writers use pseudonyms? Were you attacked? Here are my answers to questions posed by a Brazilian journalist writing about LGBTI rights and the Erasing 76 Crimes blog.

Do you agree with my answers? Please add answers of your own in the comments section.

Q. When you look to the 76 countries where LGBT are illegal, do you see some places where it will be easier to change these laws?

A. Predicting such changes is difficult, and impossible to do with precision, but my bet would be that change will come first in countries:

  • Where the existing laws are currently being debated (Guyana, Tunisia, Jamaica, for example);
  • Former Malawi President Joyce Banda
    Malawi’s anti-gay law is being challenged in court. It has been on hold since 2012, under former Malawi President Joyce Banda.

    Where there is court action aimed at striking them down (Jamaica, Malawi);

  • Where lower courts have ruled against the country’s anti-gay law (Lebanon); or
  • Where the country relies on tourism or has other close economic connections with the U.S. or Western Europe (former British colonies in the Caribbean).

Q. What is the best way to take down these laws in countries where congressmen and population are still majorly homophobic?

A. Courts can strike down laws that violate people’s rights. Legislators are less likely to do so, because they worry about losing the support of their homophobic constituents.

Q. Your website has writers that use pseudonyms. What risks do they run in their countries? Is it specially important to hear their stories?

LGBT rights activist Eric Lembembe of Cameroon was murdered in July 2013. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)
LGBT rights activist/journalist Eric Lembembe of Cameroon was murdered in July 2013. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

A. Those who write for the blog under pseudonyms have important stories to tell. Their societies are violently homophobic and most in need of change, which perhaps can be brought closer by shedding light on the horrors that currently occur in homophobic silence. They risk being killed if their identities are known. In Cameroon, gay journalist/activist Eric Lembembe wrote many articles for Erasing 76 Crimes before he was murdered in 2013. In Kenya, gay journalist/activist Joe Odero (a pseudonym) was tracked down and nearly killed last year after interviewing an intersex teenager who eventually died of the injuries his family inflicted on him. Joe needed a kidney transplant to survive; his brother was killed and his sister was raped by the men tracking him.

Q. Western countries have a better situation for LGBT people nowadays, but do Christian preachers from these countries play a role in the rise of homophobic laws in other countries like those in Africa?

Pastor Steven Anderson (Photo courtesy of YouTube)
Pastor Steven Anderson (Photo courtesy of YouTube)

A. Yes. Pastor Scott Lively of Massachusetts played a role in promoting the passage of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Law, which in its original form had provided the death penalty for homosexuality. Pastor Steven Anderson of Arizona is currently seeking to make a similar homophobic push in countries in southern Africa.

Q. Do you have any specific evaluation or opinion about LGBT rights and safety in Latin America and Brazil?

A. With the exception of Guyana, no Latin American country has a specific law against consensual same-sex intimacy, which is why the region isn’t part of the regular coverage area for Erasing 76 Crimes. But many Latin American societies are homophobic, sometimes even violently homophobic. I publish a tally of LGBTI people who are killed in hate crimes, which occur too often for me to keep the list up to date. It’s titled “1000s who died in anti-gay, anti-trans attacks.” Sadly, murdered LGBTI Brazilians appear in large numbers on that list. Here are two summary items from that post:

Q. Do transgender communities in these 76 countries suffer additional persecution? Are there specific laws against them?

A. In many of the 76 countries, anti-LGBT bigots don’t even understand the difference between trans people and LGB people; trans people, gay men, lesbians and bisexuals are discriminated against equally.

Dithi is the first member of the hijra third-gender community to run for public office in Bangladesh. (Photo courtesy of the Dhaka Tribune)
Dithi was the first member of the hijra third-gender community to run for public office in Bangladesh. (Photo courtesy of the Dhaka Tribune)

Historically, some countries in south Asia (India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, for example) demonstrate the most awareness of trans people, but typically still don’t treat them well. In contrast to anti-trans “bathroom laws” in the U.S., specific laws outlawing trans people don’t exist in the 76 countries to my knowledge, but it’s fair to label as “anti-trans laws” the many heartless laws that prevent trans people from living their lives fully in the gender they identify with.

Q. Do you have any personal story of persecution and violence in some of these 76 countries?

A. Personally, I have never been subjected to persecution or violence in any of those countries. My personal experience with violence there was, first of all, my grief at the murder of journalist and friend Eric Lembembe in Cameroon. More recently, I have spent a lot of  time and money trying to keep Joe Odero and his family alive in Kenya. Joe and I are putting together a book to tell that story in detail.

Q. What are the greatest threats to LGBT people nowadays in Americas and Europe?

A. In the Americas and Europe, on average, trans people of color are more likely to be murdered. As GLAAD stated late last year:

“2016 has now overtaken 2015 as the deadliest year on record for transgender people in the United States. In 2015, 21 transgender women were killed in the United States, nearly all of them transgender women of color. In 2016, the deaths of 27 transgender people were reported.”

Q. Are laws like the religious freedom bills and the Russian law against “gay propaganda” new threats to LGBT people?

A. Yes. Those are the new generation of anti-LGBT laws. They establish “tradition” and “religion” as screens behind which anti-LGBT discrimination and violence can occur.

Q. Have you ever been in these countries? Were you attacked or offended there? Do you receive threats because of the website?

A. I was in Kenya a few years ago for a meeting of African LGBTI rights activists. I had previously traveled to southern African countries as a tourist. I was never attacked and was never even offended there. But that’s really not a surprise. I’m a white straight married guy.

Logo of the International AIDS Conference
Logo of the International AIDS Conference

I got into this activism through friends and through the Episcopal Church. In that context, I was involved in raising money to allow activists from many of the 76 countries travel to the U.S. in 2012 for the International AIDS Conference to expose the problem that anti-LGBTI laws make it impossible to defeat the AIDS pandemic, because stigmatized LGBTI people are excluded from receiving health care and health information. In the process, I met and became friends/allies with activists from Uganda, Kenya, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Jamaica, Nigeria, and more. Those relationships formed the basis for the blog.

I rarely receive death threats myself, and none that was more than an online rant.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor/publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]


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  1. Thank you for what you are doing to draw attention and promote equal rights to people who desperately need it.

    • Agreed, unless you have strict laws and people who commit against another knows they will be punished severely if they break this law, then nothing will happen to make any difference. You must change and educate the masses of people in order to get positive results.

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