African LGBTIQ Activists Trained on Safety and Security

Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ) Africans face discrimination, persecution, violence, stigma and exclusion on a daily basis.

A 2015 report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on discrimination and violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity noted that homophobic and transphobic violence in Africa is often perpetrated both by the State and society. In most cases, the violence is driven by a desire to punish those who violate traditional norms around gender and sexuality.

The situation in Africa is not extraordinary. LGBTIQ activists and citizens in many parts of the world face similar threats and danger - either from society, from the State, or from both. In response to the challenging conditions facing LGBTIQ activists, OutRight runs security training workshops in the most affected regions of the world with the aim of providing activists with the tools to be able to handle the most complex environment. The training model is rooted in real experiences and addresses all aspects of security from digital to physical.

The most recent of these workshops took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the end of 2016 where 18 LGBTIQ activists from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region came together to discuss concepts of security, raise their security concerns and seek solutions. Participants were also able to share experiences and exchange notes on how they dealt with specific security issues. Participants came from Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mauritius, South Africa, Malawi, Botswana, Lesotho and Tanzania.

The work was funded by the Dignity for All LGBTI Assistance Program. The program provides emergency assistance, security, opportunity and advocacy rapid response grants and security assessment and training to human rights defenders and civil society organizations under threat or attack due to their work for LGBTI human rights.

In South Africa, OutRight staff conducted trainings encompassing digital security, physical security, well-being, and societal security. Participants were asked to fill in a questionnaire which assisted the facilitators in designing a curriculum relevant to their experiences prior to the workshop.

Some of the topics included best practices surrounding social media usage, specifically when faced with bullying on these platforms. Other topics included how to formulate safety and security policies, documenting human rights abuses, keeping loved ones safe, and use of UN mechanisms for security during crisis, to name a few.

Ricky Nathanson, a transgender activist from Zimbabwe, raised the issue that digital security and learning how to store documents safely was one of the major requirements of the activist community. She highlighted that police raids on LGBTIQ organizations resulted in the confiscation of computers and with them confidential information that could expose organizations,and those they work with to undue harm. She stated, “It is really critical that all activists learn how to safeguard themselves and ensure their computers are secure.”

Malawian gay activist Eric Sambisa mentioned that the fear of being outed, blackmailed or being attacked by members of the community was another major challenge faced by LGBTIQ Africans. He said, learning how to deal with societal threats was extremely useful as was the ability to share experiences with the other participants and learn how they dealt with such issues.

Shehnilla Mohamed, Africa Coordinator for OutRight, mentioned that the workshops were designed in such a way that they combine critical safety and security skills with that of cross-country exchange. She said, “Some of the most powerful moments in these workshops are when participants are able to share best practices and real solutions with one another on how to navigate difficult and often horrific situations. The empathy and experience in the room was so impressive and by the time the workshop was over there was definitely a feeling of renewed camaraderie and unity as the fight for basic human rights continues.”