Opinion: I refuse your label – a human rights activist is a SOGI activist

Joseph Sewedo Akoro is Behind the Mask’s Arcus correspondent in Lagos, Nigeria

Human Rights advocacy in Africa can be a challenging task for anyone to engage in. My six years experience, from the age 18, has brought me closer to the reality of advocacy than the ideals.

During my initiation in the human rights advocacy community, I was of the impression that my advocacy for human rights should be for all human being regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, creed, and gender identity/expression etc.

The bottom line was human rights were for all human beings, no more no less.

The impression I had, stuck and went with me everywhere. I always conceived the belief that everyone that talked human rights has a good understanding of what it means and will promote it to the last.

Unfortunately, as I have found, this is not the case.

This article was inspired by my participation at the NGO forum preceding the 51st session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights. It was not the first time I participated at this forum; in fact, I cannot count how many of these fora I have attended.

I was provoked by the fact that, there always has to be a fight at the NGO forum – presumably occupied by “Human rights activists” – when it comes to resolution on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI).

Once upon a time, the thematic group now referred to SOGI, was called “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT).” This changed because “LGBT” was considered less strategic and was thought to confirm the myth that some activists “promote same-sex relationships” because they themselves are LGBT and that there is nothing about “LGBT” other than the quest for the freedom to have sex (seriously why not?). But I don’t think this is the focus.

I remember that some of us found the thematic group called “LGBT” repugnant and not strategic at all for human rights advocacy, especially on SOGI issues. I believe that the third generation rights are about “group rights” but in my opinion it promotes labels than the real issue of focus.

Eventually, there was a consensus that the thematic group be called “SOGI” instead of “LGBT”.

This is very strategic for human rights advocacy.

If we argue that human rights are for all human beings, I think SOGI rights advocacy is the real human rights advocacy. Every human being possess sexual orientations and gender identities, they should be free to express their orientations and identities without fear.

When I advocate for SOGI, I don’t just think of people with homosexual orientations but also think of heterosexuals. Isn’t heterosexuality a sexual orientation? Are heterosexuals absolutely immune from being discriminated on the grounds of their sexual orientation and gender identity?

I recognise the peculiarity of homosexuals, being in the minority and the stigma and discrimination suffered everywhere in the world. I acknowledge the need for emphasis on the rights of homosexuals, bisexuals and trans-diverse people to live and enjoy the environment just as heterosexuals.

Nonetheless, this is not to say that SOGI is all about people labelled as “LGBT”. My understanding is that sexual orientation is about ones emotional and sexual attractions, which may or may not correspond with ones sexual practices or behaviour.

The argument about the criminalisation of sexual practices and behaviours is another ball game. My position on this is clear – what is my business? Why do I have to picture you in your bedroom before I advocate for your rights, when you appear HUMAN before me?

I am perturbed about the common trend of arrest and detention that is occurring in some parts of Africa these days.

Studying the account of arrests, I see no difference per country. It is simply, people who have gathered together in felicitation who get arrested because they are seen to be different and perceived to be homosexuals. What is this? Absolutely nonsense!

I understand that in the recent arrests and detentions in Ghana and The Gambia, heterosexuals are involved, which points to the irrationality of these actions.

Human rights activists- especially in Africa should be careful of being driven into the promotion of label. It causes more harm than good. Let’s continue to be human rights activists and not “label” activist. I refuse your label; I am a human rights activist, a SOGI rights activist.

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