Yesterday evening in the House of Commons, Kaleidoscope International Diversity Trust hosted a discussion with three leading figures from the LGB&T movement in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia.
Maurice Tomlinson is a lawyer and has been involved in LGBT and HIV and AIDS activism in Jamaica and the Caribbean for over 12 years. He is leading the legal campaign to overturn Jamaica’s anti-sodomy laws and on Sunday evening, received the David Kato Vision and Voice award for LGBT leadership. Maurice is now living in Canada with his husband because death threats against him became more violent. In Jamaica he’s known as the battyman lawyer.
Maurice recounted how he had asked his mother where homophobia came from, after he’d started as an individual to write to the editors of Jamaican papers reporting homophobic attacks and asking questions. His mother told him it hadn’t always been like this. It had been okay back in the 60s and 70s. Something changed in the 80s, and that something was the influence of evangelical Christians from North America who brought a vile, hate-mongering against LGB&T people to Jamaica. They proclaimed that AIDS was God’s judgement against homosexuals – they were the source of homophobia.
The Jamaican law against homosexuality needs to be repealed. There needs to be a dialogue with MPs and religious leaders to help them understand that the law which causes irreparable damage to many people’s lives is a British-imposed law dating from the colonial era.
Frank Mugisha is the Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and the founder of Icebreakers Uganda and he and I have been in contact for some years. Frank came out to his family, friends, and at school, when he was 14. He has been involved in activism since leaving university, writing and submitting articles to the press and told that they would never be published.
Later, his writings were gathered together and presented at a press conference. Eleven of them were present, 6 wearing masks. They had no script, no press release, but a simple message – let us live in peace. The result was the reverse of what they hoped for – a campaign by religious leaders accusing homosexuals of being bought by American dollars and of recruiting people to homosexuality. Various American evangelical groups began to infiltrate Uganda, telling Ugandans about the evils of homosexuality.
Pang Khee Teik an openly gay human rights activists from Malaysia. He is the co-founder of the annual sexuality rights festival Seksualiti Merdeka (Sexuality Independence), which was banned in November 2011. He campaigns against the censorship of LGBT issues in the media.
Malaya is constitutionally a Muslim country, with two states threatening to introduce Sharia law. Men who have sex with men are targeted with arrest and transgender and transsexual people are abused by the religious authorities, beaten up and sexually abused in holding cells. As in Africa and the Caribbean, western missionaries are also responsible for infecting Malaysia with homophobic and transphobic attitudes.
I asked how LGB&T Christians and groups, such as Changing Attitude in Nigeria and Kenya, can work for change while maintaining security and protection for individuals, and of Frank, how he survives and protects himself as a very openly gay man in Uganda. He maintains a constant, daily, high level visibility, he said, which ensures that the state and others are inhibited from attacking him, knowing that it would create an instant international diplomatic incident. For LGB&T Christians, this is not possible and they have to remain discrete, which means the hundreds of thousands across Africa remain invisible.