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OutRight Action International formerly known as International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

Human Rights For Everyone. Everywhere.

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Beyond Uganda: Global Solidarity for Africa Should be Louder

val kalende

By Val Kalende

Last week, Ugandan gay activists announced February 10 as a Global Day of Action against the Anti Homosexuality Bill. In phenomenal world-wide outrage, the draconian proposed law has almost equaled Idi Amin and Joseph Kony in tainting Uganda’s image. So much that in 2012, the Ugandan government paid over $1 million to an Ireland-based public relations firm in a campaign to “whitewash” the country’s image abroad. While I still meet people who think Africa is a country, I meet many more who know about an East African country where “gays are killed.” While people may have flawed assumptions about Africa or what it means to be gay in Africa, these responses point to an undeniable fact: global solidarity is becoming one of the most powerful weapons against Africa’s homophobia.

I believe, as Dr. King believed, that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Solidarity is not a sympathy-seeking, charity-seeking project calling for White messiahs to save the world. Solidarity, as I understand it, speaks to a hidden desire in every human being to be human. Simply stated, solidarity is the African concept Ubuntu. To stand in solidarity with a cause for which one is not directly affected takes more than recognizing it as a problem of the other.

At Kuchu Diaspora Alliance, a network of Ugandan LGBT people in the Diaspora, we are “amplifying the collective voice of our movement,” a slogan that is representative of the collective power of solidarity. With an African LGBT Diaspora beginning to emerge, we are organizing—in partnership with activists on the ground—for global action.

In the United States, the campaign against Uganda’s anti-gay bill has redefined what it means to stand in solidarity with LGBT struggles abroad. When Hilary Clinton made a historic statement in support of LGBT people everywhere, “LGBT rights are human rights and human rights are LGBT rights,” the importance of global solidarity began to resonate with most activists. In fact, there had been discussions on how to diminish harm should similar laws be proposed in other countries. And, as witnessed in the past four years, gay rights have come under attack in Malawi, Zambia, Cameroun, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, and Russia.

In Cameroun, activists are under attack, and some have been killed. In Nigeria, the outcry of LGBT people is loud. And yet, only a handful of cases are reported. From current trends of events, backlash against HIV/AIDS interventions can be predictable. Witch-hunts, blackmail, arrests, and murder will continue to rise. One thing all these countries seem to have in common is the influence of religion and the pushback against Western imperialism.

In Russia, global solidarity and the Olympics have shed light on the country’s anti-gay “propaganda” law. In Uganda, politicians are beginning to respond to international criticism over the right-wing sponsored “Jail all gays” bill and are now turning to the Church to be at the forefront of the campaign against homosexuality. The church in Africa has become a safety net for homophobia mainly because it is safer to bash gays with the bible than it is to bash gays with politics.

Clergy in Uganda are mobilizing for a 2016 ballot on homosexuality whereby winning an election will be determined by a candidate’s stand on homosexuality. There is likelihood of growing fractions in the Anglican Church as African Archbishops move to respond to Canterbury’s recent communiqué on its stand on homosexuality.

But while Uganda’s upsurge of homophobia has provided reasons to investigate anti-gay laws elsewhere in Africa, I believe it is time for global solidarity against homophobia to move beyond Uganda. As a community organizer who has worked on the ground, I understand that words of encouragement from afar bring hope, even in hopeless situations.

Uganda’s anti-gay bill has galvanized global solidarity for gay rights on the continent. That is not a bad thing. Because while conservative evangelicals hail Uganda for “showing leadership” for its anti-gay law, Uganda has become the spin of Africa’s new gay rights civil rights movement because of its unique situation. My fear is that we seem to be using one country’s story to understand a continental problem. In the process, not much is known about the situation in other countries. The “global day for action” campaign can be applied to other countries where anti-gay laws are being debated or have been sanctioned. It should become a worldwide campaign with activists protesting anti-gay laws at embassies around the world. These actions can be coordinated with activists in African countries affected by such laws such that meaningful outcomes can be achieved.

Change is happening albeit not ostensibly. It is those small ripples of change that can be harnessed to long-term gains. A global day of action beyond Uganda might be just what needs to happen.

There is a Voice that is Silent from Africa

By Leigh Ann van der Merwe, Director, S.H.E.

There is a voice that is silent from Africa… a voice no one hears, despite its loud scream. There is a faceless person, despite standing in a crowd of millions. That person has a name, a face, and an identity. These are the transgender women in South Africa. Strides have been made for the rights of transgender people in South Africa, yet many of the issues affecting black, impoverished transgender women go unattended. This is where the idea of a feminist collective dedicated to addressing the issues of transgender women in South Africa originated and S.H.E. (Social, Health and Empowerment feminist collective of transgender and intersex women of Africa) was established.

Leigh-AnnSmUnlike our white privileged counterparts who may navigate and transition due to their economic statues, Black Transgender women are often poor and marginalised. Access to hormone treatment is generally perceived as a privilege instead of a human right to treatment. There are many barriers to gender affirming services in the public health service in South Africa. Only two public facilities provide care of this nature. Both currently have a 26-year waiting list. Private medical practitioners only treat on a pay-for services basis.

Knowing your rights are intrinsically linked to privilege is painful for us and divisive for our movement. We can’t hide or choose a particular type of privacy as we endure stares, harassment and violence within the public systems of South Africa. In post-colonial, post-apartheid South Africa, we must talk about these differences across race and class divides.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that transgender people of colour in South Africa are at heightened risk of experiencing violence and hate crimes. The violence transgender woman of colour experience in South Africa is broad and varied. We’ve read articles and seen videos documenting physical violence. But, systemic violence is silent, invisible, and violates transgender women as they try to access services. Often, transgender women are categorised as men and included in MSM/ HIV research and services. This prevents many transgender women from accessing health services. Transgender women face increased barriers to finding employment, which often leads them to sex work. There they are subject to arbitrary arrests from police. It is within this vicious circle that they become vulnerable to sexual violence and rape. And, it is heightened when, in police custody, they are locked up with cis-gender men (i.e. individuals assigned as male at birth and identify as male).

As we advocate for recognition, we face both internal and external challenges. S.H.E has chosen a feminist framework in which to organise. Our struggle plays against the backdrop of a racially challenged South Africa, and, as underprivileged South Africans, we fight many isms (classism, racism, chauvinism, patriarchy). The feminist maxim of equality in substance and process is of paramount importance to our work. Yet, still we must justify using a feminist framework for our analysis. We must justify a womanist approach2 to our work, and we have to explain why we want to advocate for our rights within mainstream women’s efforts. Some argue that transgender women cannot use a feminist approach to organising, based on the notion that we enjoy male privilege. But the violence and discrimination that we suffer is based, precisely, on the gender stereotypes we transcend. These conceptual difficulties are part of why it is not easy for projects such as ours to raise the resources to function effectively. S.H.E runs programs informed and led by transgender women. The leadership of the organisation is comprised mostly of transgender women from the continent. We strive to make our employment policies transgender women specific. These ideals support a mission and vision, underpinned by human rights, equality and freedom for the very people we wish to serve. To implement this mission requires adequate resources.

Well-meaning researchers, and scholars who take for granted that transgender women can be producers of knowledge, but not subjects of our own struggle, compound the challenges of South African transgender women. Many come to South Africa to research and document the experience of transgender women, but do not link these studies to advocacy strategies or for change rooted in our communities. When they leave, nothing is altered in advancing the rights of transgender women. I am that transgender woman featured in so many Ph.D dissertations, HIV research, and documentation of violent experiences. I have a face, I have a name, and I have an identity. There needs to be a better effort at forging relations between activists and those supporting our efforts from the West, based on the understanding that African problems have to be solved by African people, with African solutions. We transgender women must be seen in our racial, class, and other diversities. Ultimately, it is we who are the relevant stakeholders in our struggle for equality and rights.


S.H.E Coordinator and Founder Leigh Ann van der Merwe was born in Ugie, Eastern Cape of South Africa. Growing up as a gender questioning person, she struggled to conform to typical male gender codes and as a result always felt left out both in family life and at school. Leigh Ann’s first gender challenge was attempting to play on the Ugie High School Netball team. Netball is a female sport code in South Africa. She struggled through high school and graduated from Blackhealth High School in 2000. She enrolled for an LL.B degree with the University of the Western Cape in 2001 but did not complete due to financial difficulty.

Through another trans woman that Leigh Ann was introduced to trans activism in 2007. Her experience of activism includes being a candidate in the Transitioning Africa Exchange Program from 2010 to 2011; She was a fellow in the Open Society/Austrian American Foundation/Transgender Centre of Excellence program in Salzburg, Austria, October 2011 and presented at a transgender consultation at UNAids in Geneva, November 2011. She holds a seat on the United Nations steering committee for transgender people in the Global South.

Leigh Ann reviewed a number of gender literature resources produced by other NGO’s and was part of the study team on a UNFPA report on the challenges of sex workers in the East London area. She is actively involved with NGO’s dealing with gender & women’s issues, HIV and public health. She is the secretary of the board of an East London based NGO working with orphans and vulnerable children. She presented two papers at the first ever IGLHRC sponsored, Gender Dynamix Transgender Health and Research Conference  November 2011. In 2012, Leigh Ann received an award from the Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre in recognition of her work as a Women’s Rights Defender. She holds a certificate in Community Journalism from the University of South Africa. She is passionate about feminism and women’s rights.

“Securing a Safe Place for All Liberians”

By Stephanie Horton and Cary Alan Johnson

This blog post first appearing in the Huffington Post »

When Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, recently expressed in an interview opposition to LGBT rights — specifically decriminalization — and was vague about support for increased criminal penalties for LGBT people, a shockwave was felt around the world. LGBT Liberians everywhere and all who have great respect for Sirleaf — a former political prisoner herself — were appalled and saddened. Such a narrow and discriminatory view from a revered and world-honored leader is unfathomable.

Continue reading ““Securing a Safe Place for All Liberians””

Trans Day of Remembrance: Advancing the Human Rights of Trans People across the Globe

From Latin America, to the Middle East, from Africa to Asia, we remember….

“The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) today honors the memory of the many trans men and women whom we have lost across the globe. From Latin America, to the Middle East, from Africa to Asia discrimination, ignorance, transphobia and violence have unduly taken the lives of innocent trans men and women who sought to live with dignity and respect. In remembering their lives and their sacrifice, we also honor the courageous work activists and allies around the world do each day to advance the human rights of all trans people.”

Cary Alan Johnson, Executive Director, IGLHRC

Trans Day of Remembrance: Africa · Indonesia · Latin America · Turkey

Trans Day of Remembrance: Focus on Africa

Honoring the Health Needs of Trans Men and Women

Africa Regional Trans Health and Advocacy Conference November 26th to 28th, Capetown, South Africa

In South Africa, IGLHRC has partnered with Gender DynamiX, the first African organization solely for the transgender community. In 2008, IGLHRC and Gender DynamiX together held a Strategy Workshop for transgender activists, the first of its kind on the continent. Held in Cape Town, South Africa, the historic workshop brought together 15 activists from 9 East and Southern African countries—Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe—to address the very specific needs of transgender people on the African continent. It marked a key step in the process of defining and building the African transgender movement by African transgender people.

Continue reading “Trans Day of Remembrance: Focus on Africa”

Larry Misedah, Kenyan Gay Rights Activist, Tells His Story

Larry Misedah and Cary Alan Johnson traveled to San Francisco to attend a reception hosted by our friend John Newmeyer. It was a wonderful opportunity to connect IGLHRC friends old and new. While they were in the area, Larry and Cary were interviewed by the Bay Area Reporter, Salon.com, and the radio show Out in the Bay.

Bay Area Reporter

Kenyan ex-pat aims to help gay countrymen

KALW-FM, San Francisco

Out in the Bay – Africa LGBT Rights

Salon.com

Gay Africans flee persecution

Photos from the event are also available in our Picasa Web Album

Fore more about Larry’s story, continue reading…

MALAWI: 18 protestors killed by security forces, IGLHRC joins human rights organizations’ call for investigation

Read the letter to Malawi President Mutharika below, or download a PDF.

Queer Malawi: Untold Stories

By Cary Alan Johnson, IGLHRC Executive Director

In South Africa, Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA) has been doing tremendous work documenting and celebrating the lives of LGBT South Africans and is now starting to bring its considerable talents to work in the Southern African region. On a recent trip, I visited with the folks at GALA and brought back a copy of Queer Malawi: Untold Stories. Queer Malawi is a collaboration between GALA and Malawi’s Center for Development of People (CEDEP). The book “offers vivid portraits of the lives of homosexual men and women in Malawi and speaks to the concerns of lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and intersex people on the African continent” (from the back cover).

Here’s more about the book from CEDEP’s website:

CEDEP in association with South Africa’s ‘Gay And Lesbian Memory in Action’ has published a groundbreaking new book entitled Queer Malawi: Untold Stories.

Collecting the stories of twelve gay and lesbian Malawians, interviewed anonymously, Queer Malawi aims to inspire compassion and support for the rights of African LGBTI people to live freely and harmoniously alongside their heterosexual counterparts in Malawi and beyond her borders.

The book arrives just as the Malawian parliament has criminalised sex between women and a majority of UN members, many African, voted to remove LGBT people from among the vulnerable populations they seek to protect.

At a time when LGBT people across Southern Africa are facing tremendous challenges, CEDEP is working to give voice to this underrepresented and misunderstood population.

To order a copy of Queer Malawi: Untold Stories, contact GALA at info@gala.co.za

Documenting LGBT Discrimination in Namibia

by Chivuli Ukwimi
Chivuli Ukwimi was a program officer in the IGLHRC Africa Program at the time of this training. He is now a sexual diversity consultant working with LGBT groups in southern Africa.

As part of its commitment to helping to strengthen human rights movements internationally IGLHRC has been involved in trainings for community members, activists and allies at the country level. In the latest training IGLHRC partnered with Outright Namibia, an organization working for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) human rights in Namibia, to develop and execute a two-day training at their offices in Windhoek in February. In 2010 IGLHRC conducted a similar workshop with activists in Zambia.

Participants at IGLHRC and OutRight Namibia's Training

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Namibians live and work in difficult circumstances. Sodomy remains illegal in Namibia and rather than fulfilling its duty to protect LGBT people, the government has helped fuel anti-LGBT violence. In 1996, former President Sam Nujoma stated at the opening of a SWAPO (ruling party) Women’s Congress that, “Homosexuals must be condemned and rejected in our society.” In a 2001 speech at the University of Namibia, his attacks went further. Nujoma said, “The Republic of Namibia does not allow homosexuality [or] lesbianism here. Police are ordered to arrest you and deport you and imprison you.” To this day, the Namibian LGBTI community experiences widespread social exclusion and rejection. As one member of the community told us, “When we walk down the street, people call us names. One transwoman was even beaten by seven people but the police dismissed the case as a general attack and not a hate crime.”

Although for many years, there was a strong LGBT movement in Namibia responding to such attacks, a gap formed as the organizations then leading the movement folded or shifted their focus. In response, community members and activists came together in March 2010 to form Outright Namibia (ORN) – headquartered in Windhoek with a network of regional leaders and support groups. As the one-year organization works to rebuild the LGBT movement in Namibia, ORN decided to partner with IGLHRC in designing and delivering a two-day training focused on human rights documentation. ORN and Executive Director Linda Baumann rightly reasoned that if they have strong documentation about what LGBT people experience in their daily lives, they will be in a better position to understand those challenges and identify avenues for change.

Continue reading “Documenting LGBT Discrimination in Namibia”

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