Outright International, in collaboration with the Harlem-based African Services Committee, recently co-hosted a groundbreaking event on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. With the theme of "Accelerating Civil Society Responses to LGBTIQ Human Rights in Africa, the US, & Globally," the event brought together activists, policymakers, and civil society representatives from the Global North and the Global South. The discussions exposed the challenges facing LGBTIQ individuals in various African countries where convening such events would be illegal. The presence of prominent figures like Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Jessica Stern, U.S. Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons, underscored the importance of solidarity and international collaboration.
Activists from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Ghana took center stage on the main panel, sharing their lived experiences and those of their community members. Unfortunately, their identities cannot be disclosed due to the fear of reprisals. However, their powerful testimonies shed light on the urgent need for increased protection and advocacy for LGBTIQ rights.
Kenya's Supreme Court Ruling and Increased Protection
One Kenyan activist highlighted the landmark Supreme Court ruling expanding the country's constitution to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected grounds. This ruling has significantly enhanced the protection of fundamental human rights for LGBTIQ individuals, limiting the ability of religious actors to bully and suppress their rights. The success of challenging discriminatory laws in the penal code and securing legal recognition for intersex and trans communities has contributed to a backlash from anti-gay groups. However, the activist emphasized that their activism is rooted in the rule of law, giving them a voice so they will no longer be silenced.
Njeri Gateru from Kenya talks resilience, LGBTQ+ victories, and challenges.
Tanzania's Hostility and Advocacy Challenges
A Tanzanian activist described the increasingly hostile environment for the LGBTIQ community. The government has resorted to homophobic speeches that endanger the lives of LGBTIQ individuals. Despite implementing laws like the 1974 Marriage Law Act, which criminalizes homosexuality, there is a lack of awareness and understanding among high-level government officials. The activist highlighted the contradictory actions of the government, such as participating in global meetings on HIV prevention while suppressing the rights of the LGBTIQ community. The implementation of guidelines and support for marginalized communities is lacking, making advocacy efforts challenging.
The Need for International Support and Awareness
Both activists emphasized the critical need for international support and awareness to challenge the limited understanding and promote acceptance of LGBTIQ individuals in their respective countries. They highlighted the importance of collaboration, especially with global organizations like Outright International and the African Services Committee, to address human rights violations against marginalized communities. However, they also acknowledged the complexities and challenges in advocating for change in societies where human rights discussions are met with resistance.
People attending the event also heard from an activist from Ghana who spoke about increased attacks on LGBTIQ community members, human rights defenders and organizations since the proposal of a bill that would criminalize LGBTIQ individuals. The activist highlighted how human rights defenders have been speaking out while constantly changing their strategies due to the fear of attacks from community members. Families and schools seem to believe that the bill has passed, leading to the suspension or dismissal of students suspected of being LGBTIQ. The activist's organization has documented around 70 cases, observing emerging trends of safety concerns, including online harassment and threats. The proposed bill also aims to shut down organizations like theirs and prevent them from receiving funding, making supporting the communities in need even more challenging. The activist urged people within and outside of Ghana to raise concerns about the bill, protest, and advocate against its passage. They emphasized the importance of international support, as well as supporting local organizations overwhelmed with emergency cases and the lack of shelter for those in need.
Wisdom Bebli from Solace Initiative talks about issues facing LGBTIQ people in Ghana.
While amplifying the voices of activists from various African countries, the event shed light on the urgent need for global solidarity and support to accelerate civil society responses to LGBTIQ human rights issues. Through collaboration, awareness-raising, and advocacy, progress can be made toward equality and justice for all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The event, co-hosted by Outright International and the African Services Committee, served as a platform to amplify the voices of LGBTIQ activists and shed light on the urgent need for accelerated civil society responses to LGBTIQ human rights in Africa and beyond. The testimonies of the Kenyan and Tanzanian activists highlighted both progress and setbacks, underlining the importance of continued advocacy and international collaboration while raising awareness to promote understanding and acceptance of the LGBTIQ community. With the support of global organizations and individuals, the journey toward equality and justice for all can be accelerated.