Reflections from the other side of the world

International convenings are important for connecting and exploring different or similar ideas. As a youth activist, it has taken quite a lot of work and effort in getting the opportunity to attend these. This is common for many that do not have institutional backing that can allow access, eligibility or selection. I was lucky to attend the Pan African ILGA conference as a virtue of it being in my home country and under the auspices of AQYI membership. This allowed me to learn more about ILGA and its work. Getting the chance to go to Wellington one of the best ever opportunities in my journey of activism. One of the most beautiful, enabling and accommodating environments; from arriving with the visibility of the rainbow colours everywhere I went, a visit to parliament and overall kindness amongst its people. This could also have been due to the unfortunate events that occurred in nearby Churchhill a few days before arrival.

Dumiso Gatsha AQYI member at the 2019 ILGA World Convention

The youth pre-conference was a first in ILGA world conference history, starting off promising but eventually I observed a notable number of people of colour leaving the room. What was on paper in terms of agenda, was not completely what we experienced. Youth representatives were presenting their issues and reasons for running for some governance mechanism, and there was some orientation around ILGA membership processes. My personal expectation was to share experiences, learn from other youth activists and explore ways of collaboration. Unfortunately, this was not the case. It made sense to transfer to other pre-conferences where one can learn or have the chance to engage. Many who left were either new, like myself, or not really interested in the elections/working relations issues. One thing that came to mind is how representation is an issue in many planning committees, and that the elite will always determine what is on the agenda; inclusive of those who might have not had privilege at some point in their journey of activism. This was a takeaway from me for the entire week.

The main highlight for me was the reflections panel on ILGA’s journey. Insight on different country, regional and representation issues (i.e. gay, lesbian and eventually trans) and the underlying dynamics. More notably is the events and relations with the United Nations. The rescinding of observer status is something I did not know previously. This reminded me of the situation with the Coalition of African Lesbians and the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. It was interesting to see how its important to consistently remind ourselves of previous work, developments and achievements in order to progress in our own work. One glaring observation is how relationships are strengthened on the margins of these, spaces are strengthened or safeguarded. These are the kinds that could be influential in perpetuating gate keeping and exclusivity for young people’s organizing and mobilization. There was a bit of campaigning on the elections, this was interesting, along with sessions on how members can participate. What was unclear for me is how to secure membership at a conference, particularly with people referring to regional processes and how one can vote if their term has not started or is expiring at a conference.

I also loved the LGBTI in the workplace/business session. There was a lot of insight in work happening at the Commonwealth front and in select regions. I contributed to highlighting the need to create synergies around established corporate governance mechanisms such as the King III, UK combined code, Global Reporting Initiative, US Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the LGBTI standards for business. Furthermore, I delivered a Rainbow Talk, a ‘TED’ style session on self-care and understanding, manifesting and carrying the pain and harm that surrounds us as family. Weirdly enough, this is the talk that was omniscient of my abrupt departure from private sector work and 18-hour workdays managing different jobs. The latter remains albeit within the realm of my life’s purpose for changing the world.

By Dumiso Gatsha – AQYI Member (Botswana)

To read more about ILGA WORLD CONFERENCE Click on the links below:

https://ilga.org/world-conferences

https://www.wellington2019.nz/

To Her, With Pride

I dedicate my pride to her; the girl on the phone a few steps away from me, exclaiming. A girl for all appearances who is like every other girl, her legs dangling off a chair, a tired Nigerian speaking about her with a familiar tone of amusement. A girl who rises and squeals when she learns that she has won something in a raffle and asks to hang up so she can check her social media to confirm. A girl who affectionately refers to the girl on the other end, her girlfriend, as “my wife” before ending the call. I hope this girl wins, and I hope the world gives her as much succor, protection and joy that it can wrangle because this girl, who I may not know much about, lives in a body that is in constant danger.

This girl and her body, with the firm brown skin and beady black eyes, short locked hair and sharp cheekbones parallel to her jawline, exists within the borders of a country that has declared her to be a problem, a pesky anomaly. She lives in a country that has weaponized its hate into a legal system that carries no regard or sympathy for her kind. This girl who I have only known for a few days, works for an organization that has to keep its address a secret, only utters directions to its headquarters offline and password posts no public photos of its employees. This girl for the past few hours has been calling queer girls from all over our country to check on their mental and emotional states, asking follow up questions of compassion and learning about their progress in securing financial independence. This girl is a part of a collection of girls, in a building located in the country’s geographical and political center. She and the other girls come in everyday to advocate, and rally against all the pain that their country has decided is valid towards them. I hope she always wins, I hope she never stops finding reasons to squeal. I hope she and her wife last.

I think of the other girls, in other countries. This pride, I also think about the pastor’s child who willingly submitted herself for electroshock therapy. A girl whose father believed the gay could be treated out of her. A queer child who believed him because girls are supposed to trust and believe their fathers before trusting and believing the bigger world. This girl, who became my friend after one meeting, wears her hair shaved on two sides, and lets the rest do what it wants. This girl, who broke free, but took pain as a compensation. Now she makes art in whatever forms they manifest to her; in words, in clothes, in activities. She is a proud queer woman, but she is also a woman without a father. I hope she never loses her new family.

I dedicate my pride to these girls, and to more. To the hordes of women whose skin I have encountered, in brief bits of greetings, in passing unaware, or in more intimate forms where I learnt the kind of sounds I could elicit from another woman by pushing myself as close to her as possible. I devote the pride to all the kinship they have fostered, the help they have provided, the joy they have felt and the pain they carry. A person is conglomerate of identities and experiences, but this month, our queerness stand at the forefront, on the backs of those before us, soon to be holding up those after us. This month, we reaffirm our beliefs in the right to live, to work, to thrive and to love whom we choose despite the institutional and personal shackles.

We are Queer and We are Here.

By Ali Program Manager, African Queer Youth Initiative (Abuja, Nigeria)

Botswana continues to set example in the rule of Law for LGBT persons in Africa

Today marked the beginning of a progressive new era in the rights of LGBTIQ+ individuals in Botswana. The High Court ruled to decriminalise same-sex intercourse, interpreted in our colonial era penal code under ‘carnal knowledge’, ‘unnatural acts’ and ‘immoral acts’. The beauty of the judgement lies in its scope, as it canvasses all possible opposition ranging from public opinion, morality, the bible, Africaness to privacy. Although the announcement started with an unsettling reference to bible passages in reviewing the history of the country’s laws which made the court room tense.

Dumiso Gatsha: Human Rights Activist and Founder  Success Capital Organisation, an emerging grass-roots, nationally operating young sexual minority led NGO in Botswana.

In addition, Kenya’s upholding of criminalisation certainly influenced expectations. As the judgement being read reached the end of the second hour, one of the lawyers requested a break further heightening my tension and those around me. We did not know what to anticipate. In hindsight, it was important for the judges to reflect and deliberate on all issues in a comprehensive manner by using foreign law, international law and soft law to build on the precedence set in previous cases in Botswana. It was an electrifying intellectual play of lawyering and thought leadership. In the third hour, I came to love how the three arms of government where referred to in Botswana’s progression; a) parliament’s role as a virtue of being elected in prohibiting the termination of employment on the basis of sexual orientation, b) previous court cases that spoke of Botswana’s readiness for accepting homosexuals and, aptly deliberating on the irrelevance of social measures for protecting a group’s rights within a democratic society and c) expanding on the role of the courts in upholding the rule or law and its scope for constitutional deliberations. The last is significant particularly because the Court of Appeal in the Rammoge v Attorney General case previously removed constitutional declarations of the High Court due to the scope of the petition. It is a new era for the entire community because despite its diversity, the discarded laws have often been interpreted to include other aspects beyond sexual orientation. It is an exciting time to be alive. This marks a new ball game for all actors in the movement to ensure protections are built in and beyond law. Well done to all activists, enablers and allies who have done immense work towards this achievement. We hope this sets an example for reform throughout the continent.

By Dumiso Gatsha (Botswana)

For immediate release: African Queer Youth Initiative statement on the situation in Tanzania

November 6, 2018

For Immediate Release

 African Queer Youth Initiative statement on the situation in Tanzania

African Queen Youth Initiative (AQYI) is deeply concerned and saddened to hear about the current conditions in the LGBTIQ community in Tanzania. On the 29th of October, Paul Makonda, regional commissioner for Dar es Salaam, announced a crackdown on the LGBTIQ community, saying in a statement that a team would be set up to identify and arrest members of the community.

It should be recalled that in October 2017, in Dar es Salaam, a group of human rights lawyers and activists were detained, accused by the police of promoting homosexuality after they disrupted an AIDS awareness workshop organized by a duly accredited NGO.

This practice of harassment, threats of violence and arrests targeting the LGBTIQ community in Tanzania violates the freedom of expression and the right of assembly and is a direct violation of human rights.  It is unacceptable. Reckless statements by Mr. Makonda and arbitrary arrests by the Government of Tanzania are inhumane and endanger peace-loving Tanzanians who are members of the LGBTIQ community. It promotes hatred and homophobia that will result in the invasion of privacy, unfair imprisonment of LGBTIQ people and a hostile Tanzania.

We urge the Government of Tanzania to not only distance itself from the horrible statements, but to call Mr. Makonda to order. We urge the Government to respect the rights of all its citizen, including members of the LGBTIQ community, and to uphold its commitment to the universality of human rights as a signatory to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

AQYI strongly believes that all humans are born free and equal, and that they must enjoy their human rights and reach their full potential in a loving and safe society, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity/expression and religious beliefs. AQYI stands in solidarity with the Tanzanian LGBTIQ community.

Signed:

The AQYI Team

Download Statement: AQYI Tanzania Statement (PDF Version)

#ComingOutStories 4: An extended coming out

“Coming Out”, in the sense of making a grand announcement about my life feels distant to me now. I remember calling each of my close friends, about 10 years ago, to tell them I was crushing on a girl from school. Group chats didn’t exist then. It was not nerve-racking for me. Each of my friends told me to pursue it with everything I had. I lived in a lucky bubble. With my parents and siblings, it was different. My parents know but they do not accept it. Even though they are not thrilled about it, they are learning to live with it, but this is happening in a way that I do not like.

I think there are also different levels of “Coming Out”. I soon learned that even though my parents were theoretically OK with my being queer in the sense that they knew and were not threatening to disown me or place me in conversion therapy, they were not OK with it in the practical. In this sense, I cannot share news of a new relationship or a breakup in the same way that my sisters who are straight can. I still struggle with feeling that I have to compensate them for my queerness, so I better not burden them with events of my love-life, good or bad.

My partner does not get to have Skype dates with my mom nor does she receive hand-made gifts from her. In no sense is she regarded as my significant other by my parents. She only remains referred to as “my friend”, even though they know that she is way more than that. They do their best to avoid acknowledging this love. While one of my sisters is fantastic and accepts my partner in her full capacity in my life, my other sister has never asked me how my relationship is going or how my partner is. She has never asked me about any girlfriend and there have been many opportunities, trust me.

This may change over time but from what I hear from friends who are in similar situations to me, that this for them is one of the hardest parts of being in a queer relationship. Reconciling this cold acceptance from family with expectations of full acceptance –slight feelings of having failed them with gratitude that they rendered any acceptance at all – simply knowing that you deserve so much better and that they need to do better.

Some people have the energy, and put in the effort to thaw this coldness, reasserting their relationships and the importance of their significant others. Making others see that we are just as happy as hetero couples, or even happier. That we are just as normal. To carry on with this ‘extended coming out’. I don’t think it’s a fair burden on us.

Ifeatu
Nigeria

#ComingOutStories 3: We are all humans, sexuality does not count

My coming out story is one of the thing that gives me joy, though it was not as easy as it may sound.

I found out who I was at the age of six; that was the first time I had a crush on a beautiful women.. Funny as it may sound.

I grew up doing things like men, my parents never showed concern because they felt it is only like that because I grew up with twenty siblings, who were all males. They never took notice of me being different. My mother always bought me same clothes as my brothers, and her reason was that she did not have time to shop in a different shop for a girl since I am still a young child, and my clothes do not matter.

At eleven I had my first sex encounter with a girl and that made me finally discover myself. My elder brother found out at early stage but then he felt it was just a child play he said “you will surely stop this shit when you grow up,” but that never happened.

I was in my third year in school when I was caught by my mum having sex with a woman in my room, she was shocked; she cried that was all she could do at that moment. She called me for a discussion and did everything a mother could do. She never hated me rather she loved me more, she saw me as a special child and her comment was “I know this is what makes you happy and who you are, I will not stop you but keep praying to God to have His way”.

Fast forward to my graduation, I came out to everyone.The shock was high, the tension was big but I was ready to handle it…..I was ready to face the consequences.

My brothers, they all withdrew, but my Mum never did, she was my back-bone, and she gave me reasons to live. All support was taken away from me, I became the prodigal daughter, the black-sheep of the family, but I stayed true to myself.

Years went by I became someone they never thought I would be, I became an advocate for the sexual minorities, today everyone in my home wants to be closer to me… No one treats me like an outcast anymore. They boldly said to me “Be yourself and be who you are but do not paint it to our faces”.

To the ones who want to come out, I want you to understand that it is never easy coming out, neither is it hard but then there are questions you need to ask yourself.

Are you ready?

People will fail you….family will reject you….are you strong enough both physically, mentally and emotionally? Make sure you are independent before taking any step. Be true to yourself and be steadfast.

We are all humans, sexuality does not count…

#ComingOutStories 2: Lollitah and self acceptance

I am Lollitah…

Having been brought up in a strict Christian background I have always refuted me being Queer to my parents, my peers and even to myself…

But I recall one day, an acquaintance of mine told my folks, and for some reasons my refuting fell on deaf ears. My folks pinned me down by curfews and punishments, until I gave up somehow, and in tears and fear I told them.

It took me a lot of courage, but I must say, I felt like a big load had been taken off my shoulders, as I had finally accepted myself by saying it out loud… I faced a lot of rejection,mockery, betrayal (but that’s a story for another day).

Yet, I have never regretted coming out, because it really did help me value me and finally say yes to my sexual orientation not worrying about judgements in the house.

Ever since then, I have also been able to come out to five straight friends; some are supportive, others are homophobic, but either way, I am finally happy to be myself and to learn that it all starts with self acceptance…

Lollitah
Kenya

 

#ComingOutStories 1: “Some call it coming out, I call it self-affirmation”

“He looks good, she isn’t bad either” … The little straight nose, red smiling lips, wide gleaming eyes, straight hair; expressions of awe, mischief, startled… Like the slipping sands in one’s hand, memories of childhood fade with the passing time. Yet, looking back, trying to catch-up on those sweet-sour memories, the little parts of one’s existence and identity; brings in new meanings each passing day. Those are the flashbacks of a queer person, remembering the pre-schooling moments; where sexuality, queerness, definitions of sexual orientation were still much alien; yet the sexual, physical and psychological needs and desires being ever so oozing. Who could have ever imagined sexuality being so carefree, affirmative and strong at such age? Perhaps Freud; Freud Sigmund if you are still reflecting, with plausible explanations of what he would best describe as the “Id”.

Growing up with the “Id”, the pre-pubescent years, the eyes dangling between the most popular and smart girl in class to the next seater male classmate; then moving to an all-male high-school and taking cognisance of your obviously visible “un-manly” differences to others and your secret same-sex crushes and in one’s idea, “lovers”; showing emotions of appreciation and love despite the abuses, humiliations, mockery for being different; for being queer – even from your heartthrobs and eye candies. They knew you were Queer, Gay, Fag, Pansy; without you ever understanding their hate towards your true feelings and desires. Life had its share of sadism for someone who did not quite know who they were except being the madly-in-love-fools.

As life goes, I come to realise my identities, accept myself and accept that Queerness which makes me so special yet so vulnerable at times. Some would call the acceptance as Coming Out. I would call it simply an expression of self-acceptance, self-love, self-affirmation; because my story is no shame; because my past shapes my reality and because bringing forth the strength and courage to be myself enables me to command respect and move forward in life overcoming the hate and spreading the tolerance, acceptance and love.

T.E.
Mauritius

Politics and LGBTQ people of Morocco: When politically sponsored hate-speech threatens Moroccan’s sexual and gender minorities.

Is it the trend in Morocco for LGBTQ+ people to be the punching bag of politicians? Last year, after the scandalous statement made by the Moroccan Human Rights Minister, Dr. Mustapha Ramid in 2017 tagging LGBTQ+ people as “scums” in a response to a journalist’s question; former Prime Minister of Morocco, Abdelilah Benkirane has recently made frivolous and threatening statements and call for actions against the Moroccan sexual and gender minorities.

queer people exclusion

On the 6th August 2018, in a conference meeting with the youth members of his Islamist Political Party, Mr. Benkirane, taking reference out of the Koran, called the Moroccan LGBTQ+ people as “infidels” and questioned their faith and beliefs towards the Islamic religion. With the same momentum, Mr. Benkirane asked the audience to take a stand against queer Moroccans in denying equal rights and freedoms for LGBTQ+ people of Morocco. This statement from Morocco former Prime Minister, not only attempts to shun LGBTQ+ Moroccans outside of the sphere of their spirituality and religious belief; but is also an attack and threat to both the existence and safety of queer Moroccans.

Morocco’s Former Prime Minister, Mr. Abdellilah Benkirane

The politically and religiously motivated hate speech, without doubt, exposes once more the LGBTQ+ individuals of Morocco to additional risks of social rejection, prejudice and physical, emotional and verbal assaults in both private and public spheres of their life.

While the majority of local LGBTQ+ activists and individuals in Morocco condemn the politically motivated hate speech, some others tried to establish a positive perspective in the statements of Morocco former Prime Minister for the lack of visibility of LGBTQ+ Moroccans. For instance, the Moroccan gay-androgynous Hiba commented: “It was awful what he said, but it’s like that first match that would shed lights on us.”

anti-sodomy law enforced

Hate speech towards sexual and gender minorities of Morocco are frequent; more to it since the existence and enforcement of Article 489 of the Penal Code of Morocco which considers homosexual acts as a criminal offence under the term “lewd or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex” and that is punishable with 6 months to 3 years of imprisonment and a fine ranging from 200 to 1,000 Moroccan Dirhams (20 to 100 USD).

About the author

Jamal Malek is a Moroccan youth LGBTIQ+ activist and human rights advocate. He is a sexual health advisor for MSM persons at ALCS (Association de Lutte Contre le Sida) as well as ACEF’s general secretary and board member. Jamal is also a member of the African Queer Youth Initiative.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the position of the African Queer Youth Initiative.

Mauritius: A quagmire between increased acceptance of LGBTQ people and homophobia

Afrobarometer, a pan-African, non-partisan research network published its No. 225 bulletin on democracy, governance, economic conditions, and related issues in its 3rd publication for Mauritius. The two previous ones were in 2012 and 2014.

Since its independence in 1968, Mauritius has taken pride in promoting its development based on democracy, good governance, human rights and freedoms, and the rule of law. The country’s Constitution affirms that all Mauritians should benefit from the right to equal protection and assistance of the law against any form of discrimination. The country is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious one, populated during the colonial centuries with people from Europe, Africa and Asia. Roughly, the country consists of Hindus (50%), Muslims (18%), Chinese (2%), Franco-Mauritians (1%) and General Population (29% mainly of African descent and Christian faith).

Report highlights

Key findings of this report highlights:

  1. Most Mauritians report not to suffer from discrimination or harassment. Yet, substantial proportions of the population report suffering from discrimination or harassment based on their ethnicity (9%), gender (16%) and religion (17%).
  2. Afro-Mauritians (31%) and Muslims (22%) are more likely than average to say they experienced discrimination or harassment based on their ethnicity during the previous 12 months.
  3. Similarly, while two-thirds (66%) of Mauritians say their ethnic group is “never” treated unfairly by the government, more than four in 10 Afro-Mauritians (47%) and Muslims (42%) say this happens “sometimes,” “often,” or “always.”
  4. Women are more likely than men to suffer gender discrimination or harassment (11% vs. 7%), and religious discrimination or harassment is more likely to affect Christians and Muslims than Hindus.
  5. More than nine out of 10 Mauritians express tolerant attitudes toward people of a different ethnicity (94%) or religion (94%), and smaller majorities do the same with regard to immigrants/foreign workers (67%) and people in same-sex relationships (56%). Tolerance for homosexuals increased by 7 percentage points since the 2014 survey, placing Mauritius at the top among 21 African countries surveyed in 2016/2017.
  6. Most Mauritians say both genders have equal opportunities to get an education (98%), to inherit and own land (93%), and to get a paying job (92%), although they are evenly split as to whether men should be given preference when jobs are scarce.
  7. Eight out of 10 Mauritians (82%) say women should have the same chance as men to be elected to public office.

Increased tolerance for LGBTQ people

One of the salient finding of the report is around the experiences and perceptions of Mauritians as to how they are treated and their attitudes toward people who are different from themselves.

From 2014 to 2017, there has been a steady positive shift from tolerance of the population towards homosexuals. Respondents were asked: For each of the following types of people, please tell me whether you would like having people from this group as neighbors, dislike it, or not care: People from other ethnic groups? People of a different religion? Immigrants or foreign workers? Homosexuals?

Tolerance indices for Mauritius - 2014 to 2017 (Afrobarometer 2018)

It was found that 56% of Mauritians expressed their tolerance for people in same-sex relationships, an increase from 49% in 2014. 5% say they would like and 51% say they would not mind having homosexuals as neighbours. This places Mauritius at the top among 21 African countries for which Round 7 data are available.

Tolerance towards homosexuals in 21 African Countries (Afrobarometer 2018)

Behind the progress, organised homophobia

Despite the observations made by Afrobarometer, the realities of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) people in Mauritius are far from being all sunny on the tropical paradisiac Island. Legislative progress has been made in terms of Employment Rights Act (2008), Employment Relations Act (2008) and the Equal Opportunities Act (2008) as well as it is no longer an issue for homosexual and bisexual people to donate blood since 2014. However, consensual same-sex sexual relationships are still criminalised under Article 250 of the Criminal Code, marriage equality or a form of civil partnership is not recognised, Transgender people are still not recognised under law and hate crimes based on real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics are not punishable under law.

In 2016, the local media reported that while performing her HIV outreach work at night, a Transgender person by the name of Giovani was reportedly arrested, undressed and humiliated in a police station. Family rejection, conversion therapies and witchcraft have been frequently reported by young Lesbian and Gay people. Despite employment laws and the Equal Opportunities Act (2008), LGBTQ people report discrimination and harassment at workplace as well as in accessing mental and sexual health services. Death threats towards local activists are common issues and local law enforcement authorities have not acted on same and culprits are not held accountable.

Since the beginning of the Pride in Mauritius some 13 years back, the local Churches and Mosques marched against it. Again, in 2018, the annual Rainbow Pride was cancelled due to fierce and organised counter protest of nearly 500 people. The counter protest was followed again by a series of death threats to prominent activists in the country and the perpetrators of these threats have not yet been arrested. The Government has also made it clear that during its mandate, it will not decriminalise consensual sodomy between adults.

Organisational support

Local registered organisations such as the Collectif Arc-en-Ciel and the Young Queer Alliance are advocating for LGBTQ people and providing in as much safe spaces and support as they can in terms of health services, legal support, emergency shelter, activism, community support, mental health support among others.

Despite organised homophobia, the future is hopeful for LGBTQ people in Mauritius. Steady progress in the mindset of the population is felt and regional and international support in forwarding organisational efforts are present. Let us hope that one day, Mauritius will be inclusive of its LGBTQ people.

External Links:

  1. Afrobarometer Dispatch no. 225: Mauritius strong – but far from perfect – on gender equality and social tolerance: http://afrobarometer.org/sites/default/files/publications/Dispatches/ab_r7_dispatchno225_tolerance_and_equality_in_mauritius.pdf

 

About the Author

Fokeerbux Najeeb Ahmad (Thumbnail)

Fokeerbux Najeeb Ahmad is a youth activist from Mauritius, founder of the Young Queer Alliance, steering committee member of MPact (formerly MSMGF), Gay and Bisexual men representative on the Country Coordinating Mechanism against HIV and the Chairperson of the African Queer Youth Initiative.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the position of the African Queer Youth Initiative.