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Jamaican gay rights advocate visits D.C.

J-FLAG Executive Director Dane Lewis attended mixer at Larry’s Lounge in Dupont Circle.

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Dane Lewis, Jamaica, Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals & Gays, gay news, Washington Blade
Dane Lewis, Jamaica, Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals & Gays, gay news, Washington Blade

Dane Lewis (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Dane Lewis, executive director of Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, was visiting a gay friend in Kingston, the country’s capital, on a Sunday night in the late 1990s when a group of men slashed three of his car’s tires.

A mob had already formed when he told his friends who were inside the house that they needed to leave. The men eventually stoned Lewis’ car — and a friend who was sitting in the backseat still has shards of glass in his arm after they broke a window.

“We took a girlfriend with us, which we thought would have been a good cover, but that clearly didn’t work,” Lewis told the Washington Blade on Sunday before he attended a D.C. Center-organized mixer at Larry’s Lounge in Dupont Circle. “The community already had an issue with the guy that we went to see and obviously reacted because he had friends that the others thought were gay coming to visit.”

Lewis, who has been with J-FLAG since Feb. 2008, spoke with the Blade roughly two months after he appeared in a public awareness campaign designed to promote greater acceptance of LGBT Jamaicans.

He said reaction to the “We Are Jamaicans” campaign has been “thankfully very positive,” but he has received some negative feedback. This includes a threatening note left on his car outside his Kingston home that read “Batty man for dead” or “Gay man should be murdered” in Jamaican slang.

“We are claiming space in a way that they think we really should keep our lives private and behind closed doors,” Lewis said. “That sadly has been just the way that LGBT people are expected to play to survive in a culture like ours. They would obviously find it offensive that people are being so comfortable with their orientation and the need to speak openly about their realities.”

J-FLAG has faced a number of challenges since its 1998 founding.

A man stabbed Brian Williamson, the organization’s co-founder, to death inside his Kingston home in 2004. Former J-FLAG executive director Gareth Henry sought asylum in Canada in 2008 after he received death threats.

A J-FLAG report said the organization knows of at least 30 gay men who have been murdered in Jamaica between 1997 and 2004. Authorities found honorary British consul John Terry strangled to death inside his home near Montego Bay in 2009 — they found a note left next to his body that referred to him as “batty boy.”

The State Department, Human Rights Watch and other groups have criticized the Jamaican government for not doing enough to curb anti-LGBT violence on the island. J-FLAG is among the organizations that have blasted Buju Banton, Elephant Man, Sizzla and other reggae and dancehall for lyrics they contend incite anti-gay violence.

In spite of these challenges, Lewis notes the country’s LGBT rights movement has seen some advances in recent years.

Jamaican singer Diana King came out as a lesbian last summer in a post to her Facebook page. Beenie Man in the same year apologized for his anti-gay song lyrics.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson said shortly before her Dec. 2011 election her government would review the country’s anti-sodomy law. It has yet to do so, but the Jamaica Supreme Court in June will hear a case that challenges the colonial-era statute on grounds it violates a constitutionally-guaranteed right to privacy.

“It will be a very interesting case to watch,” Lewis said. “It will give a better sense of where the courts are at in terms of protecting the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.”

Lewis spoke with the Blade a day before Queen Elizabeth II signed a Commonwealth charter with an anti-discrimination statement that reportedly includes an implicit reference to gay men and lesbians. He said President Obama’s statements in support of LGBT rights and same-sex marriage have had a positive effect in Jamaica.

“What it has done has opened up a debate for us around the issue of rights and whether same-sex marriage needs to be on the table,” Lewis said.

Lewis remains optimistic this progress will continue in the years to come.

Health Minister Dr. Fenton Ferguson in December said lawmakers should repeal the country’s anti-sodomy law. A January sexuality symposium included LGBT-specific information, but a recent J-FLAG report found only 17 percent of Jamaicans tolerate gay men and lesbians.

A video showing a mob at a Jamaican university attacking a student whom they reportedly caught in a “compromising position” with another man in a bathroom went viral last November. The clip captures two security officers beating the man while the crowd calls him “batty boy.”

J-FLAG statistics note one third of Jamaicans feel the government has not done enough to protect their LGBT countrymen. Lewis said the Nov. 2012 incident and others like it help “generate the conversation” about gay and lesbian rights in the country.

“We need to capitalize on that energy and begin to have some public discourse,” he said.

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Africa

Pan Africa ILGA urges authorities to investigate anti-LGBTQ, anti-intersex murders

Sheila Lumumba’s death in Kenya in April among cases cited

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Pan Africa ILGA once again urged authorities across the continent to investigate the murders of LGBTQ and intersex people and to work to reduce violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The organization — which comprises 268 groups that work for LGBTQ and intersex rights across Africa — in a report it issued in July noted a number of high profile murders that have taken place this year. They include Sheila Lumumba, a 25-year-old Kenyan woman who was murdered in April, Pinky Shongwe, a 32-year-old South African who was stabbed to death in March, and Obisike Donald Ibe, a 31-year-old doctor in Nigeria who was slain in January.

Lumumba, a lesbian who was reportedly targeted because of her sexual orientation, was raped before her murder. A South African court in April sentenced two men to life in prison for raping a 19-year-old lesbian woman in 2020

“LGBTIQ+ persons deserve to thrive without fear of being persecuted,” said Pan Africa ILGA Executive Director Nate Brown. “The recent murder of Sheila in Kenya reflects the realities of the LGBTIQ+ community in Africa. It bears mentioning that unfortunately, these are not isolated incidents. They are part of a pattern of attacks, violence and murders against LGBTIQ+ persons across the continent.” 

Pan Africa ILGA board co-chairs Star Rugori and Barbra Wangere at the same time said the organization is in the process of developing a crisis reporting center that will document human rights violations against LGBTQ and intersex people in Africa and advocate for increased protections and respect for them.

“The inhumane violations and slaughter of LGBTIQ+ persons should prompt thorough investigations, aimed at prosecuting those responsible,” said Rugori and Wangere in a joint statement. “Government needs to protect activists and the greater LGBTIQ+ community and to call a halt to the impunity that links this chain of vicious murders. LGBTIQ+ lives matter and should be protected at all costs just like the rest of our African citizens.”

Bishop Sithembele Sipuka of the Catholic Diocese of Mthatha in South Africa during an interview with the Catholic Information Service for Africa said people who identify as LGBTQ or intersex should be treated with dignity.

“The most we can do, for now, is to grapple with it, to try and understand, and to see how to continue treating these people with the dignity that they have because, despite their sexual orientation, they are still children of God, they have the same dignity,” said Sipuka. “I have known people, credible people, authentic people who are gay or lesbian, very intelligent, very integral people, very committed people, very loving people, and so it is difficult to say that there’s something wrong with this one, you know because some of them really are in terms of integrity full of admiration, the way they are as a person that is difficult for me to condemn them, and say that there is something wrong with them.”

Sipuka also touched the issue of marriage equality, which is usually a catalyst for homophobic statements.

“The process and teaching of the church so far is still that marriage is between a man and a woman, but on the other hand, it does not mean at all that we should despise or think of people who are gay and lesbian as any less than heterosexual people,” said Sipuka. 

I cannot say you can go ahead and get married because I don’t have the mandate to do that. I do things on the mandate of the church. I am open to hearing more on how pastorally to deal with this matter. I am also open for it to be discussed theologically. In the end, the teachings about the church are always about love even exactly everything that they touch is about love,” added Sipuka.

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South America

Colombia’s first leftist president takes office

Gustavo Petro has pledged to support LGBTQ, intersex rights

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Gustavo Petro took office as Colombia's first leftist president on Aug. 7, 2022. (Photo courtesy of the Colombian government)

Former Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro on Sunday took office as Colombia’s first leftist president.

The former Colombian senator who was once a member of the M-19 guerrilla movement that disbanded in the 1990s, in June defeated former Bucaramanga Mayor Rodolfo Hernández in the second round of the country’s presidential election. Petro’s running mate, Francia Márquez, on Sunday took office as Colombia’s first female vice president of African descent.

Colombian Vice President Francia Márquez. (Photo courtesy of Márquez’s Twitter page)

Petro before his inauguration named Néstor Osuna, an openly gay man, as the country’s new justice minister.

“I am honored and thankful to President Gustavo Petro for the appointment as Colombia’s justice minister,” tweeted Osuna on Sunday. “I commit myself to working with your team to achieve the change for which so many of our compatriots yearn.”

Petro in his inaugural speech did not specifically reference LGBTQ and intersex Colombians, but OrgulloLGBT.co, the Washington Blade’s media partner in the country, published pictures that show LGBTQ and intersex people were among those who attended the inauguration.

Petro during the campaign pledged to fight violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and to implement policies “for the reaffirmation of gender and sexual orientation identities without barriers for all nonbinary and transgender people in Colombia.” Márquez noted LGBTQ and intersex Colombians after she and Petro won the election.

Wilson Castañeda, director of Caribe Afirmativo, an LGBTQ and intersex rights group in northern Colombia, told the Blade after Petro and Márquez won the election that the campaign held “various meetings” with advocacy groups. Castañeda also noted that Petro, among other things, named Tatiana Piñeros, a transgender woman, to run Bogotá’s social welfare and tourism office when he was mayor.

Castañeda and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power are among those who attended Sunday’s inauguration that took place in Bogotá’s Bolívar Square.

“Full squares; happy faces; the flags of Colombia, Bogotá; rural, indigenous and LGBTI communities received the president and the vice president in an emotive and historic act that inaugurated the first popular and leftist Colombian government,” tweeted Bogotá Mayor Claudia López on Sunday.

López is married to Angélica Lózano, a bisexual woman who in 2018 became the first LGBTQ and intersex person elected to the Colombian Senate.

Lozano in March won re-election in the country’s national elections. Colombians also elected five openly LGBTQ and intersex people to the country’s House of Representatives.

Tamara Argote in March became the first non-binary person elected to the Colombian Congress.

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Africa

Landmark intersex rights law takes effect in Kenya

Activists praise Children Act 2022

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(Photo courtesy of Rarrarorro via Bigstock)

A new law that took effect late last month in Kenya has granted equal rights and recognition to intersex people 

Intersex people are now recognized as Kenya’s third gender with an ‘I’ gender marker in response to the Children Act 2022. Kenya is the first African country that has granted the intersex community this universal right.

The new law requires intersex children to be treated with dignity and have equal access to basic services like medical treatment and education, in addition to social protection services as a special need. It also requires the accomodation of intersex children in child protection centers and other facilities.

Courts are also required to consider the needs of intersex children who are on trial — including the calling of an expert witness — before they issue any ruling. The law further stipulates that anyone can be a foster parent without restrictions of gender, age or marital status.

It also protects intersex children from so-called sex normalization surgeries, and such procedures will only be done with a doctor’s recommendation. Those who violate the law will face at least three years in jail and a fine of at least $5,000.

“This is a great and major milestone globally for Kenya. We are now way ahead and can teach our neighbors and the whole globe good practices,” said Jedidah Wakonyo, a human rights lawyer and former chair of the Intersex Persons Society of Kenya

The long journey for recognition started dramatically in 2006 when some human rights organizations petitioned courts about a detainee who had been accused of a violent robbery.

Authorities perceived the suspect was a man after police strip-searched him before he entered prison.

This followed numerous court battles by intersex people who demanded the right to recognition as another gender in their birth certificates.

Being denied birth certificates from the discriminatiory law that only recognized male and female genders further limited their access to national identity cards, passports and other crucial documents and government services.      

The Births and Deaths Registration Act under the new law’s Section 7 (3) “shall take measures to ensure correct documentation and registration of intersex children at birth.” 

Intersex people commonly have a combination of male and female gonads (ovaries or testicles) or ambiguous genitalia. 

Wakonyo, who also chaired the Intersex Persons Implementation Coordination Committee and was named the International Court of Justice’s 2020 jurist of the year, describes the law’s enactment as a historic moment because of its comprehensive definition of an intersex person.

It defines an intersex child as “a child with a congenital condition in which the biological sex characteristics cannot be exclusively categorized in the common binary of female or male due to inherent and mixed anatomical, hormonal, gonadal or chromosomal patterns which could be apparent before, at birth, in childhood, puberty or adulthood.”

Kenyan law considers anyone under 17 to be a child.

“Defining an intersex from a child’s perspective while taking care of many aspects and not just the physical notion of being intersex is the best practice because in future they don’t find themselves in the state of gender confusion between males and females like the current situation,” stated Wakonyo. 

This provision essentially protects intersex persons from being deprived of their constitutional rights of gender recognition under the country’s Bill of Rights.

Veronica Mwangi, the deputy director at Kenya’s National Commission on Human Rights, that helped secure the law’s implementation, said it addresses issues for which the intersex community has been fighting for years.    

“It is very progressive and we are glad about the gains because it provides for the existence of the intersex which all state actors have to accept. Full implementation is what we now need to focus on,” she said.

The law took effect roughly five years after Kenya became the first African nation and the second country in the world after Australia to count intersex people in a Census. The 2019 survey showed 1,524 Kenyans were intersex.

Intersex rights groups had initially petitioned the courts for a total ban of surgeries on intersex children unless they were a medical emergency.

Wakonyo backs the provision for a doctor’s approval on grounds that the surgeries will only be done “in the best interest of the intersex child, informed consent of the parents and the participation of the child depending on the age.” Wakonyo and other activists say the relaxation of the requirements for adopting intersex children not only seeks to end the problem of neglect and abandonment but also the stigma that has left some to die by suicide.

The law safeguards adoptive parents’ rights and parental responsibility and intersex children from child labor, online expuse and other forms of exploitation.

“Intersex children who are just like other children will no longer be killed at birth because of their gender ambiguity,” said Wakonyo.   

Despite the law’s huge benefits for the intersex community, Wakonyo notes it is a “very significant foundation” for the group because gender-specific accommodations in social gatherings and facilities remain needed.

Another historic win for intersex Kenyans this year was the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights’ decision to hire an intersex commissioner.

“Dr. Dennis Wamalwa applied as an intersex (person), interviewed as an intersex (person), and the shortlist comprised male, female, and ‘I’ gender for intersex. He emerged (at the) top and his intersex friends and associates came to witness his swearing,” stated Wakonyo, who also served as a Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights commissioner.

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