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Queer eye for the WSF
Maanit, New Internationalist
January 25, 2007
For me, one
of the real achievements of this WSF has been the wonderful turnout
of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) activists
here (particularly from Africa). The Q-Spot, a venue setup by GALCK
(the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya), was one of the most popular
hangouts in the stadium. Numerous workshops, trainings, debates,
film screenings, exhibits, and poetry readings were well attended
and there was a real buzz about the place. ‘Sexual rights’ as a
concept has really captured people’s imaginations as both straight
and gay alike were able to connect with and rally behind the simple
yet powerful assertion that all human beings have the fundamental
right to express their own sexuality and be free from persecution.
There was also
a two-day forum within the forum, (officially titled the Fourth
Social Forum on Sexual Diversity) which seeks to position sexual
diversity: ‘broadly within social movements’ debates and actions
within the WSF, asserting the right to self determination, and inviting
all social movements to make this struggle and this vision of diversity
their own, not only because of an affinity among our causes and
ideas, but because respect for diversity is and should always be
a guiding principle as we search for the political, social and economic
alternatives to the exclusionary models.’ If that’s not what the
WSF is all about, I don’t know what is!
The Q-Spot also
gave people a chance to learn about a range of issues from human
rights law in different countries to HIV/AIDS treatment campaigns
and cultural and social change work. Even Bible/Koran-quoting yet
inquisitive WSF participants could be found there engaged in discussion
with LGBTI activists. ‘At least people were talking to us even if
we didn’t see eye-to-eye,’ Sokari Ekine, a Nigerian activist and
editor of Pambazuka News told me. ‘That’s a rare thing, and important,
even if sometimes it feels like you’re talking to a brick wall.’
A number of
excellent sessions dealt with a range of issues, including sexuality
and the law, strategies for dealing with religious fundamentalism,
sexual orientation and gender, class consciousness, social justice
and more. Southern representation was refreshingly robust with a
majority of participants in most workshops coming from Africa, Asia
and Latin America.
All this buzz
of activity is remarkable given that same sex relationships are
prisonable offences in Kenya and can, in some cases, prompt a jail
sentence of up to 14 years. Homophobia in the country is also said
to be widespread according the LGBTI activists here. Perhaps this
may explain some of the reception one activist received when she
spoke about sexual rights and diversity at the closing ceremony
of the WSF, a public event in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park. Kasha Jacqueline,
a Ugandan human rights activist, is reported to have been abusively
heckled and booed by some members of the audience. Jacqueline, of
the group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), is also said to have
been temporarily denied access to the stage by WSF officials as
she sought to speak about sexual rights and diversity, even as other
speakers were apparently speaking vaguely about ‘rights for all’.
no stranger to harassment and intimidation. The Chair of her organization,
Juliet Victor Mukasa, had her home raided and a friend of hers from
Kenya was imprisoned. Mukasa told IPS News: ‘They raided my house
and arrested my friend. They manhandled her and undressed her to
confirm her gender, and detained her for hours. This was humiliating.
In addition, they took the organization's documents which have all
the information about our activities.’ The police threatened to
broadcast the information they obtained on radio and television
which could have jeopardized the safety of many LGBTI persons in
Uganda. Mukasa was forced to go into hiding for fear of her life
and is now suing the Ugandan Government over the incident. Homosexuality
is punishable by life imprisonment in the country. But even though
Jacqueline may have been accustomed to such extremely difficult
and homophobic environments at home, she probably did not expect
to see such a display at a WSF event.
It is unfortunate
that the WSF should end on such a sour note, as most LGBTI activists
I spoke with have been very positive about the way things have gone
for them this week. Still, perhaps we need to be reminded that there
is still some way to go before the notion of sexual rights can be
fully realized. It also remains to be seen to what degree the treatment
of Jacqueline was representative of WSF organizers and participants’
I hope to speak
with Jacqueline directly in the next few days to find out more.
Until then, here’s an inspiring quote of hers: ‘When Ugandans hear
that we are advocating for gay rights they imagine we want more
or extra rights, but NO; we want what belongs to us which was robbed
from us; EQUAL RIGHTS which we are entitled to just like any other
more information on LGBTI issues in Africa check out:
and the wealth of information at Behind
have also produced two podcast interviews with African LGBTI activists.
one is an interview with Fadzai Muparutsu from Gay
and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ).
one is a conversation with activsts Fikele Vilakazi and Vanesha
Chitty about their work on sexual rights in Africa.
About the author:
Ma’anit is a New Internationalist Co-Editor.
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