OutSpoken Newsletter: Spring 2011

"Under Construction": A Message from Cary Alan Johnson

Dear IGLHRC Supporter:

When my friend Julie Dorf founded IGLHRC more than 20 years ago, she had two objectives. Firstly, she was committed to ensuring that mainstream human rights organizations challenge their internal hypocrisy and start addressing directly human rights violations based on sexual orientation, gender identity and HIV status. Secondly, she was committed to founding an organization that would use human rights laws, principles and practices to address the horrible, often deadly, human rights violations being faced by LGBT people worldwide.

While the first goal has been largely achieved, the second remains as important as ever. From the criminalization of consensual same-sex acts by women in Malawi, to the murders of LGBT human rights defenders in Honduras, the last year has shown us that the need for an organization like IGLHRC is as compelling as ever.

At the same time, there are a number of capable, effective, new organizations that have entered the field. Happily, IGLHRC has some great partners, many of which have specialized capabilities and mandates for action within the global LGBT rights field that are quite specific.

This is why I have led IGLHRC through a 9-month, deeply introspective strategic planning process. We’ve looked at who we were, who we are, and who we want to be. We’ve explored our current staff capacity, the needs and gaps in the field, what our partners, friends and supporters expect from us, and how the trends in fundraising are likely to affect our ability to raise the necessary resources to work effectively. The result, is a focused new strategic plan that our Board has just this past weekend provisionally approved. We are now doing further field-testing and seeking input from some of our closest allies and partners.

Watch this space! In the next issue of this newsletter we'll be telling you all about the plan and how you can get involved.

In the meantime, I’d like to personally thank you for your continued support. And finally I’d offer a special shout out to our dear friends at Credit Suisse who recently hosted the launch of our new video on the Yogyakarta Principles and LGBT rights in Asia on a beautiful spring evening in New York.

Cary Alan Johnson
Executive Director

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Nowhere to Turn: Blackmail and Extortion of LGBT People in Sub-Saharan Africa

On June 2, 2010, the anonymous blogger at GayUganda posted a threatening letter sent by a group calling itself the National Anti-Homosexual Taskforce. The letter was written to someone who GayUganda called "Mr. Semakula Zilaba," and described just how much the Taskforce knew about him – his age, where he went to school, where he worked, details about his wife and child, and his whereabouts on certain days and times. The letter's authors then demanded a list of all the homosexuals that Semakula knew in Kampala and Jinja. They also demanded a letter denouncing homosexuality that they could use to show that they were eradicating homosexuality in Uganda. If the demands were not met, the letter stated, the Taskforce would expose Semakula to his family, friends, employer, and neighbours, would get him fired and blacklisted from future employment, and would publicize his sexuality in every neighbourhood in which he tried to live in the future. It also implied that Semakula's friends faced physical harm if they themselves failed to comply with the demands of the Taskforce.

It is difficult to overstate the terror and helplessness that these types of threats evoke for their victims. In places where it is illegal, stigmatizing, or dangerous to identify as LGBTI or to engage in same-sex activity, keeping one's sexuality a secret may be, quite literally, a matter of life or death. In 36 countries across the continent of Africa, same-sex activity is criminalized and one has only to look at the reports of human rights organizations to see evidence of the violence and discrimination unleashed on LGBTI people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The profound repercussions that would stem from the disclosure of sexual secrets and the vulnerability this creates allows people, like the authors of the letter on GayUganda, to keep LGBTI and same-sex practicing people in a debilitating state of fear and worry and to manipulate their lives for gain – even as their victims go to great lengths to protect their secrets.

The gravity of the consequences of disclosure – beyond creating vulnerability – also deters victims from seeking support, reporting these crimes and seeking justice.

The letter posted on GayUganda is not unusual. Of all of the violations that LGBTI people in sub-Saharan Africa deal with, blackmail and extortion are perhaps the most prevalent – and the least visible. A recent survey of men who have sex with men (MSM) in Malawi, Namibia, and Botswana found that blackmail was one of the most prevalent human rights abuses they faced, with 18% of those in Malawi, 21.3% of those in Namibia, and 26.5% of those in Botswana reporting incidents of blackmail.

Among those surveyed across all three countries, the 21.2% of people who had been blackmailed because of their sexuality were a larger proportion than those who, on the same basis, were afraid to walk in their community (19%), were afraid to seek health services (18.5%), had been beaten up by a government or police official (12.2%), were denied housing (6.9%), or were denied health care (5.1%). A study in Abuja, Nigeria, similarly suggested that 23.1% of respondents had been victims of blackmail.[6] Even in South Africa, where same-sex activity has been decriminalized and discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation outlawed, a worrying 10.5% of MSM respondents reported being blackmailed in peri-urban townships outside of Cape Town.

The prevalence and severity of blackmail and extortion are exacerbated by the fact that these are arguably among the most difficult violations to deal with through the legal system. Although blackmail and extortion are criminal, in practice, the law typically offers little protection for LGBTI and same-sex practicing people who are its victims – particularly in places where police are complicit or even responsible for these violations. Where same-sex activity is criminalized, victims often fear that they will be arrested if the police are alerted to the situation. Moreover, the fact that the state is not the only or not the only or even the primary perpetrator makes it difficult to employ a human rights framework.
Read the introduction »
Download the Full Report »

Download Chapters:
Because of You
A Case Study from Cameroon
Blackmail Among Gay People in Malawi
Nigerian Lesbian and Bisexual Women
Notes from a Zimbabwean Laywer
Blackmail in Zimbabwe
Responding to Blackmail and Extortion as Human Rights Violations

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A Celebration of Courage - 2011

Alan Cumming (center) with this year's recipients of the Felipa de Souza Award from the Mongolian LGBT Centre, Anaraa Nyamdorj and Munkhzaya Nergui.IGLHRC's annual gala event - Celebration of Courage - held earlier this year in New York City was hosted by award-winning actor Alan Cumming - who has since generously donated to IGLHRC proceeds from the sale of his latest fragrance. The March 7th event drew a strong crowd of supporters and was an opportunity to honor the work of those who have made significant contributions to the global movement for LGBT equality. Honorees included the Mongolian LGBT Centre and journalist and educator Jeff Sharlet.

IGLHRC's signature human rights award - the Felipe de Souza Award - was presented to the Mongolian LGBT Centre in Ulaanbaatar. Denied registration by the government and facing consistent violent threats by ultra-nationalist right wing movements, the courageous leaders, staff and volunteers at the Centre provide legal, advocacy, and social support services for LGBT Mongolians and their families. Anaraa Nyamdorj and Munkhzaya Nergui, two Centre staff members, were on hand to accept the award on the organization's behalf.

The OUTSPOKEN Award was presented to Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, which highlighted the link between conservative U.S. political and religious forces and the growing tide of homophobia in Uganda. Rachel Maddow enthusiastically introduced Jeff with a special video presentation, saluting her fellow journalist for his important contribution.

The evening was also an opportunity for guests to see a special preview of Courage Unfolds - a film produced by IGLHRC that highlights the struggle for LGBT human rights in Asia. Finally, IGLHRC paused to honor one of its own, former Executive Director Paula Ettelbrick, with the launch of the Paula Ettelbrick International LGBT Internship Fund. The fund will support future summer interns and offer students opportunities for learning with Paula and other LGBT leaders.

The evening would not have been possible without the generous support of Fred Eychaner, the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, Dorothy Sander, and IBM.

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Courage Unfolds Video Launched

IGLHRC commemorated this year's International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO)on May 17 with the launch of Courage Unfolds. This video, co-produced with Lesbian Advocates Philippines (LeAP!) highlights the struggles and triumphs of LGBT activists in Asia and promotes the use of international human rights law as a tool for social change. The trailer was released in April as part of an online campaign that allows activists to use and share the film and to pledge actions to promote LGBT rights in Asia. The video has its New York premiere on June 7 at a free public event hosted by Credit Suisse.

In Asia activists have been using the film creatively as an educational and community-building tool. It was screened in Jakarta, Indonesia in early May to an international audience attending the People's Forum of the Association of South East Asian Nations. In the Philippines, a multimedia campaign was launched and 29 awards were presented to local LGBT human rights defenders. Other screenings and community discussions took place in Cambodia, China, Hong Kong and New Zealand to mark IDAHO. More events are scheduled in the course of 2011 in India, the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand and the video is currently being translated into Bahasa Indonesian, Bengali, Burmese, Chinese, Hindi, Khmer, Mongolian, Nepali, Thai and Vietnamese.

You can track the events taking place around the world and add your own event on our Courage Unfolds Map.

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Publications & Research

IGLHRC has been engaged in several collaborative research projects and publications that came to fruition in the last six months. In January 2011, IGLHRC released the report, Nowhere to Turn: Blackmail and Extortion of LGBT People in Sub-Saharan Africa. The report, already well-received by organizations across Africa, illustrates how LGBT Africans are made doubly vulnerable by the criminalization of homosexuality and the often-violent stigmatization they face if their sexuality is revealed. Based on research from 2007 to the present, the volume features articles and research by leading African activists and academics on the prevalence, severity and impact of these human rights violations on LGBT people in Cameroon, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe.

In Haiti in the year since the devastating earthquake that struck in January 2010, violence and discrimination against LGBT people has increased significantly. This finding and other anti-LGBT human rights violations were documented in a briefing paper published In March 2011 IGLHRC and Haitian partner, SEROvie published The Impact of the Earthquake, and Relief and Recovery Programs on Haitian LGBT People. Aside from being blamed for the quake by religious leaders and attacked by other Haitians, LGBT people found themselves excluded from relief and recovery efforts. This exclusion, alongside the almost total destruction of already limited security, health and community services compounded the vulnerability of the LGBT community in Haiti. The paper has drawn a positive response - including from donors and aid agencies - and its recommendations will hopefully be developed to ensure the inclusiveness of relief and recovery efforts following such disasters.
See Other IGLHRC Reports »

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IGLHRC at Work

LGBT Recommendations included in Final Statement of 7th ASEAN People's Forum

In Asia LGBT issues have not received much attention in local and regional conferences. However, in the lead up to the May summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Jakarta Indonesia, forty LGBT activists from 8 ASEAN member countries were able to gather as a group for the first time to engage with the summit. Activists from Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam participated in the 7th ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ ASEAN Peoples' (ACSC/APF). An LGBT Regional Caucus held a day before this provided a space for activists to come together, brainstorm and present the concerns and issues faced in their countries. Recommendations from this Caucus and a workshop during the broader civil society gathering were included in the People's Forum Statement that was made public and communicated to government leaders during a face-to-face meeting.
Learn more about this meeting and view the LGBT recommendations to ASEAN member States.

Parliamentary Session Without Vote on Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Work on combating the notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill has gone on for nearly two years and has seen unprecedented international engagement. Yet in early May, activists in Uganda were again faced with its possible adoption by the Ugandan Parliament. Activists opposing the Bill were forced to once again spend already limited resources pressuring and educating lawmakers and urging international solidarity.

Fortunately, the last session of the Parliament closed without the Bill's passage. Although there was relief at this, activists urged caution and vigilance as the new session of Parliament may see the Bill's reintroduction. See our previous work on Uganda »

American Commission on Human Rights on LGBT Rights in Haiti

Following the release of the briefing paper on The Impact of the Earthquake, and Relief and Recovery Programs on Haitian LGBT People, IGLHRC and its Haitian partner organization – SEROvie – had the opportunity to present their findings at a hearing during the 141st session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The hearing, one of a series of Thematic hearings held to inform the commission of the human rights situation in the region, took place in March at the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, D.C.

Cary Alan Johnson and Marcelo Ernesto Ferreyra from IGLHRC, and Reginald Dupont and Mario LaMothe from SEROvie, presented to commission members how violence and discrimination against LGBT people has increased since the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Although there was no formal outcome document from the meeting, Haitian government representatives in attendance were engaged in a very productive dialogue with the civil society representatives and Commissioners contributed verbal recommendations to the parties.
Watch a video of the presentation »

IGLHRC Attends the Trial of Turkish Feminist, Pinar Selek

In response to a request for international solidarity by LGBT groups, an IGLHRC representative attended a court hearing in February in support of Pinar Selek at the Istanbul 12th High Criminal Court. Ms. Selek, a well-known feminist, sociologist, peace activist and scholar, has been targeted by Turkish authorities for her work on behalf of ethnic Kurdish groups. Although twice acquitted, authorities continue to push for criminal sanction of Ms. Selek - including through bringing allegations related to national security charges.

Pinar Selek, Turkish feminist, sociologist, peace activist and scholar.

IGLHRC's representative read a statement on behalf of the organization and noted its hope that "the case of Pınar Selek will show the independence, transparency and fairness of the Turkish judicial system. Selek has been unlawfully on trial for her identity as an activist and author and her work on minority groups." The statement went on to request that the govenrment drop all charges against Pınar Selek and commit to concrete steps to lawfully protect human rights defenders.

IGLHRC's statement was widely welcomed by the Turkish media, including major newspapers in Turkey which published the full statement. Although this lower court in Istanbul had reitterated its decision to acquit Ms. Selek, the Supreme Court had asked for a conviction and life sentence. The case's final decision is still pending.

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ILGHRC Staff Update

IGLHRC has had an exciting addition to its staff with Linda Schlapp joining in May 2011 as Director of Development. For Linda joining IGLHRC is an exciting step in bringing her past experience in development and social justice to work within her own community. For Linda, IGLHRC's history, experience and wealth of knowledge made it the perfect place to raise funds for global LGBT issues. She is eager to get started telling the world why she thinks IGLHRC deserves their attention - including through highlighting the organizations work in collaborative local partnerships and on capacity strengthening and regional and global advocacy efforts.

Linda brings a wealth of experience with her to IGLHRC. She started her career in the for-profit field but felt something was missing. After making the leap to non-profit work, she made her mark working on issues of peace through cultural understanding; on homelessness and at risk youth around the world; and on improving the conditions for some of society's most under-served members. IGLHRC is delighted to have Linda join the team.

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Activist Toolkit

Video is an incredibly powerful tool for human rights documentation and advocacy and is used in various ways to bring about social change. IGLHRC's recently released video Courage Unfolds, was produced as a tool for activism and advocacy on LGBT rights in Asia and to promote the use of international law to bring about change. To promote this use, IGLHRC has provided activists with tips on using the film in creative and context specific ways.

There are, however, a range of resources available for those considering creating and using video in their work. The human rights organization WITNESS provides training and support to local groups to use video in their campaigns but also provides a vast collection of resources and tools designed to help create videos for effective human rights advocacy including those that "will prompt you to weigh the benefits and challenges of working with video; others will provide practical, how-to guidance about video-making; while others will prompt you to think seriously and thoroughly about the safety and security of you and your colleagues as well as those who appear in your video."
Visit WITNESS's online Video Advocacy Resources and Tools »

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