The hazardous state of LGBT rights in many parts of the world was illustrated last month when Rebecca Kadaga, Uganda’s viciously homophobic Speaker of Parliament, threatened to withdraw from the Inter-Parliamentary Union after some nations tried to amend a declaration on migrants and refugees to include LGBT people.
Edwin Sesange of the African Equality Foundation criticized Kadaga and pointed out “that the west introduced homophobia, not homosexuality, to Africa and Asia.” This is a point that many anti-colonialists refuse to grasp. The criminalization of “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” between two males, as you may surmise from the phrasing, derives not from Ugandan tradition but from the old British Penal Code.
In a desperate situation, the lifesaver, if not careful, can be pulled under. Like intensive care nurses, those of us who wish to help must steel ourselves to avoid being overwhelmed, or we will be of no use to those in need. And the need is certainly there.
I remembered this last week as I was flooded by appeals from gay Ugandan refugees. The Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014 was blocked in court on a technicality, but the campaign for the bill stirred up violence that caused many LGBT people to flee to Nairobi, Kenya for their lives. There they registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. UNHCR works with HIAS, an American nonprofit organization that provides humanitarian aid to refugees.
The refugees did receive aid. But a growing caseload has forced a cutoff of the monthly stipends many depended on to sustain themselves during a process that can drag on for years. The xenophobia, homophobia, and transphobia they face are barriers to employment.
Here are several examples of what the refugees are going through. I have changed their names.
Nat’s case has been pending with UNHCR for two years. Badly beaten during a protest, he was taken to the Kakuma Refugee Camp where he did not receive care. Problems with his back caused him to return to Nairobi. Pain medications are expensive. People he doesn’t know are calling him using private numbers threatening to kill him. He verges on despair.
Hassan found help with rent, but last week people broke into his place and stole his clothes, shoes, laptop, and the gas he used for cooking. He made a crime report to police, but there is little prospect of getting his belongings back. In a chat over WhatsApp, he said several times in his quiet, elegant voice that he might as well die. I urged him not to lose hope.
Seven transgender protesters outside the Kakuma Camp were attacked, leaving one in a coma.
Stan was attacked while walking home and hospitalized with head trauma. Andrew needed a dentist to extract a painful tooth. Ras was put out on the street, but was taken in by another refugee. Amid hunger and fear, the despised help one another.
We can do more than watch in anguish. We can raise funds and voices for our displaced Ugandan brothers and sisters. I began my involvement with two refugee leaders I knew. Aside from modest monetary assistance, I have drafted letters of inquiry to UNHCR and RSC Africa (Resettlement Support Center) and offered moral support, which requires resisting hopelessness. We are stronger together.
There have been arguments over whether LGBT people should flee Uganda. I will not second-guess decisions made in extremis. Unlike those languishing in Kenya, I have not received anonymous death threats nor been disowned by my family. The Ugandans are less visible than other displaced people like the Syrians whom Trump, ignoring Christ, refuses to welcome, though last week he eagerly joined another attack in their devastated land. Yet our folk are standing up for themselves, like the gay Kenyans fighting their persecutors in court.
Nairobi’s LGBT refugees need shelter, food, and medication. Their gentle spirits and varied talents will enhance any community in which they find a home. But right now they need our help. You can donate via the African Human Rights Coalition’s relief fund at tinyurl.com/lgbtrel7 or the refugees’ GoFundMe page at tinyurl.com/nairobirel. Let us extend a hand and uplift them.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2018 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.