As an LGBTI Global Minority – We are one.
By Melanie Nathan, December 29, 2014
As LGBTI people, we are member of a global minority, and we all have a responsibility toward each other, regardless of who we are or where we come from. Here is a brief look at this past year’s state of African affairs when it comes to the anti-homosexuality milieu- (this refleciton is not exhaustive.)
In the United States of America, we are doing very little to provide direct assistance to LGBTI people in Africa, who are suffering under existing harsh anti-gay climates and state-sanctioned persecution. It is my hope as we move into 2015, that as a global LGBTI community, we can extend ourselves to do much more by way of humanitarian help through supporting safe shelters, as well as providing effective new mechanisms to help those who choose exile. While much of the focus these past years has been on human rights defenders, it is now important that we embrace all of LGBTI Africa and support their emerging urgent needs.
Seventy-seven countries around the world criminalize homosexuality, mostly through draconian penal codes, remnants of the old Colonial era. Out of 54 countries in Africa, 38 ban same-sex acts, most with severe criminal penalties. Some countries have sought to make these laws more onerous, while others have started to enforce the once sleepy laws with terrifying vigor.
Notwithstanding existing criminalization, Nigeria, Uganda, and the Gambia took advantage of the newly heightened anti-gay sentiment, and their Presidents played gays as political pawns and scapegoats for the numerous social and economic problems by signing new anti-homosexuality legislation. Cameroon enforced penal codes with arrests and torture to force confessions, while the Gambia, Namibia, and other countries conducted frequent arrests.
To make matters worse, clergy, politicians, and presidents have made homophobic comments that have served to fuel persecution. Much of the recent fervor to harshen these laws were a direct response to what is perceived as the encroaching western ideals of LGBTI equality.
The new Nigerian anti-homosexuality legislation, signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan, mandates a 14-year prison sentence for anyone entering a same-sex union and a 10-year term for “a person or group of persons who supports the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organizations, processions, or meetings.” In addition, public displays of affection by gay men and lesbians are also criminalized.
President Yoweri Museveni, in preparation for a vote that would deliver him his 30th year as Uganda’s President, patronized his NRM party with his assent to the astoundingly popular Anti-Homosexuality Act, once dubbed the “Kill The Gays Law,” which stipulates 14 years to life in prison for same-sex acts, as well as prison terms for so called “promotion” of homosexuality.
In both these countries the new legislation triggered a wave of persecution against LGBTI citizens like never before. In Nigeria we saw a spate of arrests, public whippings, and the stoning of gays. In Uganda, the most widely read East African newspaper celebrated the new law with a series of articles outing Uganda’s “Top 200 Homos.” Police arrested and paraded suspected gays in front of press and television cameras. Many LGBT people have had to flee from homes, schools and jobs, for fear of assault and death threats. Many reported being blackmailed by police and even family and friends.
After Ugandan courts nullified the law based on a technicality, 256 parliamentarians signed a petition to bring it back to Parliament, and a new and perhaps even more onerous proposed bill is now on track for possible introduction.
Several Ugandans have escaped this persecution into exile- some have made it to the U.S.A., Canada, Iceland, and Europe, while many are still stuck in Kenya, in camps or as urban refugees, awaiting UNHCR resettlement abroad.
President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia used his UN speech on 27 September to attack and threaten the LGBTI community, claiming homosexuality is one of the three biggest threats to human existence.
“Those who promote homosexuality want to put an end to human existence,” he told the gathering of world leaders in New York. “It is becoming an epidemic and we Muslims and Africans will fight to end this behavior.” “Homosexuality in all its forms and manifestations which, though very evil (and) anti-human, as well as anti-Allah, is being promoted as a human right by some powers,” said Jammeh. See here: http://reut.rs/16GyUOa
On October 09, President Jammeh signed into law new Anti-Homosexuality legislation, which provides for life in prison. Since that time there has been a targeted witch-hunt by authorities for gay people, with numerous arrests reported, and people fleeing into exile.
Amnesty International recently reported that Gambian security forces were allegedly torturing people arrested in raids, threatening them with rape and pressuring them to confess to homosexual acts.
Some Gambian exiles have made it to Europe, while others have been stuck in Senegal, awaiting recognition by the Senegalese Committee for Refugees, which seems to be purposely stalling their applications, after unconscionable and inexplicable delays.
The horrific anti-gay rhetoric by President Robert and the presence of evangelical extremists such as Pat Robertson has continued to foster a climate and culture of impunity and lawlessness against LGBTI people in Zimbabwe. Violence against gays seems to be on the increase. Recent attacks are described in the GALZ blog as follows:
“GALZ would like to express dismay and shock at the prevailing climate of violence, harassment and impunity in Zimbabwe. This “campaign of violence” has left us reeling in disbelief. Recently a woman was dehumanized at a commuter omnibus rank, and a video circulating on social media depicts a young woman being harassed by men who were attempting to pull down her dress including her undergarments.
At a private end of year GALZ event held on 19 December, three vehicles forced their way into the venue of the party demanding to join the event. One of the occupants of the vehicles produced a pistol and threatened the GALZ security team that was manning the gate for denying them access to the event. The unidentified men numbering between 12 and 15 entered the venue and started beating people using logs, iron bars, empty beer bottles, and clenched fists. The men also demanded cash and gadgets from the members present in the hall whilst attacking them.”
A Zambian court acquitted Paul Kasonkomona, a prominent gay rights activist charged with an offense against public morality over comments he made on television in support of homosexuals. Though his acquittal was hailed by LGBTI rights defenders as a boost for human rights, anti-gay sentiment in Zambia is still at a high. As Kasonkomona noted, “Today is the end of my court case but the struggle continues. I will continue to speak for the rights of all Zambians, the struggle has to continue.”
Cameroon is a hotbed for anti-LGBTI persecution. We have many reports over this past year of police arrests, torture, and forced confessions of LGBTI people.
In Cameroon, people are prosecuted for consensual same-sex conduct more than in any country in the world, and in many cases, people are charged with “homosexuality” based on extremely scant and specious evidence. For example, a Cameroonian judge convicted two transgender people in 2011 of practicing homosexuality because they were spotted drinking a particular liqueur that the judge deemed “a woman’s drink.” (Global Rights, Partners for Justice)
Following the Oct. 1 arrest of seven men in Cameroon on homosexuality-related charges, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“Freedom House strongly condemns Cameroon’s criminalization of homosexuality and the arrest of citizens on charges related to their private behavior,” said Vukasin Petrovic, director for Africa programs at Freedom House. “These arrests, which were made after neighbors involved in ‘community policing’ claimed the house was a haven for ‘effeminate men,’ is reprehensible. Such actions encourage a culture of collective violence against LGBTI individuals. Freedom House urges Cameroon to end discrimination and violence against the LGBT community.”
These new laws, underpinned by false notions and horrendous myths of what it is to be LGBTI, were exported to countries by radical right wing Christian Evangelicals such as Scott Lively and Lou Engle, who see their losses in the United States as a call to invigorate the globe with homophobia.
The American LGBTI community must do more than merely decry these laws, and truly participate by helping LGBTI people who have become victims of this horrendous persecution. With the guidance by the human rights defenders in these regions, we have a duty to provide as much help as we can. We must also advocate to change our own laws and protocols here in the United States, to create a means for LBGTI people who are living under threat of persecution to reach our shores, so they can live their lives with absolute freedom to express one of the most basic of human rights- the right to one’s sexuality.