Growing readership for news of the worldwide struggle for LGBTQ rights. Freedom for three imprisoned victims of African homophobia. An appeal for financial support to make more such achievements possible. All that and more is contained in a year-end report from the president of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation.
Colin Stewart, the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation and editor/publisher of this blog, writes:
At the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, we work to create a world where all people are treated with respect and dignity without regard to their sexual orientation or gender identity. In particular, in countries with anti-LGBTQ laws, we help provide on-the-scene news coverage and commentary about LGBTQ people’s struggle for recognition of their human rights.
President’s report — December 2019
ACHIEVEMENTS IN 2019
Growing audience for our advocacy journalism
The St. Paul’s Foundation promotes LGBTQ rights through advocacy journalism. Our primary focus is the work of the African Human Rights Media Network, launched in April 2018.
In recent months, we added the much-smaller Rainbow Caribbean page on Facebook.
The African Human Rights Media Network’s central website is RightsAfrica.com. From there, articles flow out to the websites of network members. As the beginning of this year, the network reached a regular audience* of 12,409 on 16 sites. Currently, it reaches a regular audience* of 29,000 on 20 sites. The bulk of them are associated with the Erasing 76 Crimes blog, NoStringsNG and RightsAfrica. The greatest gain was recorded on the Facebook page of RightsAfrica, which is currently “liked” by more than 12,000 people, thanks to the efforts of our social media manager. I wish I could give him credit for his work, but he’s in Nigeria so he must remain anonymous.
(* To calculate the size of our regular audience, I add together the numbers of readers who have subscribed to or follow our blogs, Twitter accounts, etc. and of those who have “liked” our pages on Facebook.)
A different measure of our reach is the blogs’ average readership — a total of 86,000 views per month, including about 21,000 for NoStringsNG, based in Nigeria; 22,000 worldwide for Erasing 76 Crimes, primarily in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada; about 1,600 worldwide for 76 Crimes en français, primarily in France, Cameroon and the United States; and about 41,000 on the new Opera News network serving smartphones in Africa.
Freeing gay men from prison
After the conclusion of last year’s Not Alone / Pas Seul nutrition program for imprisoned victims of homophobia at Yaoundé Central Prison in Cameroon, we launched a new phase of the project. In Yaoundé, the three remaining prisoners (Albert, Olivier and Eric) held on homosexuality charges completed their sentences and were released. We then moved on to assist three different prisoners (Ismael, Ibrahim and Abdelaziz) in the Garoua area of northern Cameroon. Cameroon reporter Steeves Winner wrote articles about each of the three men; readers responded with donations, first for food, then for an eye exam and eyeglasses. We coordinated with the local LGBTQ advocacy group AJSG, which made regular deliveries to the prisoners.
Next we learned that first one prisoner, then all three prisoners, could be released early if the foundation and its donors paid their fees and court costs. First, our donors paid about $250 on behalf of Ishmael, who had served most of his three-year sentence for homosexuality. Because of that payment, Ismael was released in the early summer instead of in the fall. Ibrahim and Abdelaziz were about a year away from the end of their five-year prison sentences for homosexuality, but they believed they were serving six-year sentences. The foundation worked with the Cameroonian human rights group Défenseurs Sans Frontières (DSF), which sent lawyers to Garoua to investigate. We collected money from donors to pay for the men’s $777 worth of fines and court costs, DSF delivered the funds in person, and the two men were released in late summer.
Monthly support for journalists
The St. Paul’s Foundation continues to provide modest monthly support for LGBT rights journalism in Nigeria and Cameroon while adding monthly support to journalists in Uganda and Barbados.
In Nigeria, journalist and computer programmer Mike Daemon runs the NoStringsNG advocacy site and also is a St. Paul’s Foundation board member. He oversees all the network’s online sites and did the programming to connect the central RightsAfrica.com site with other member sites in the African Human Rights Media Network. Recently he has worked with the organization LIFFE (which technically is also a member of the network, although it is a passive one) to call the attention of local authorities in Delta State to a criminal gang targeting LGBT people. (“Nigeria: NGO takes action against blackmail and other crimes in Asaba” — March 2018. “Nigeria: Three anti-gay criminals captured, but then freed — June 2019)
In Cameroon, Steeves Winner kept busy with the Not Alone / Pas Seul project as well as with his regular coverage of LGBT issues in Cameroon. He has been involved with the new partnership between the foundation and the legal advocacy organization Défenseurs Sans Frontières.
In Uganda, Kikonyogo Kivumbi is the founder of the Uganda Health and Science Press Assn. and a former elected representative for sexual minorities and other at-risk populations on the panel the sets HIV-related policy for the Global Fund in Uganda. His well-respected, factual coverage has been important at a time when the LGBTQ community in Uganda is struggling with renewed violence, unwarranted arrests and rumors that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill will be re-introduced in parliament.
In Barbados, Alexa Hoffmann is the manager of the new Rainbow Caribbean page, which presents LGBTQ-related news and commentary from throughout the Caribbean region. A founding director of Trans Advocacy & Agitation Barbados, she was one of the original organisers of Barbados Pride in 2015 and 2017. She now is the lead petitioner in the international legal challenge against the Barbados laws against same-sex intimacy. She represents Barbados in the Latin American & Caribbean Network of Trans People (REDLACTRANS) and the United Caribbean Trans Network (UCTRANS).
Expansion in French
During the year, the AHRMN has expanded its reach and its capabilities in French.
Two expert Francophone volunteers have joined the team and have been assisting with editing and translating French-language articles, especially for the 76 Crimes en français blog (76crimesFR.com).
Moïse Manoel has a master’s degree in sociology from the University of the West Indies and is working toward a Ph.D. at the University of the Antilles in Martinique. He has been working in Suriname and French Guiana researching homophobia and neocolonialism.
Bruno Agar, Ph.D., has been a lecturer at the University of Paris-Saclay Evry-Val-d’Essonne, France. He is currently teaching in Mayotte, a French overseas department between Madagascar and the African mainland. His professional focus is on contemporary media issues, especially in the African context.
In the spring, Mike Daemon and I worked on creating an up-to-date website for the LGBTI rights group Camfaids (the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS), which has had a close relationship with the Erasing 76 Crimes blog since 2012, when Camfaids leader Eric Ohena Lembembe was the blog’s first reporter. We advanced them money (since repaid) for setting up the site (camfaids.org) and it went online in late June with feeds of AHRMN articles prominently displayed on the home page, both in French and English. They have contracted with Mike to serve as their webmaster.
2020: What’s next
In Africa, many nations need the clarity and focus on LGBTQ rights that the African Human Rights Media Network can help local LGBTQ activists to provide. We need financial support to make that possible. In the Caribbean, we will continue to work with Alexa Hoffmann and with longtime supporter Maurice Tomlinson, the energetic Jamaican/Canadian LGBTQ rights activist, to strengthen Rainbow Caribbean as a resource for in Caribbean LGBTQ people’s struggle for respect and recognition of their human rights.