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Report details anti-LGBTQ discrimination, violence in Kenya refugee camp

March 15 attack left gay man dead

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Ugandan refugees, gay news, Washington Blade
The Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya (Photo by the E.U. Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations via Flickr)

A new report released on Wednesday indicates nearly all of the LGBTQ people who live in a Kenya refugee camp have experienced discrimination and violence because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

The Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration and Rainbow Railroad in May 2021 surveyed 58 LGBTQ asylum seekers who live at the Kakuma refugee camp and the Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement that opened in 2016 to help alleviate overcrowding at Kakuma. The groups also interviewed 18 “key informants.”

More than 90 percent of the LGBTQ asylum seekers who spoke with ORAM and Rainbow Railroad said they have been “verbally assaulted.”

Eighty-three percent of them indicated they suffered “physical violence,” with 26 percent of them reporting sexual assault. All of the transgender respondents “reported having experienced physical assault,” with 67 percent of them “reporting sexual assault.”

Eighty-eight percent of respondents said they had been “denied police assistance due to their sexual identity.” Nearly half of the respondents told ORAM and Rainbow Railroad they had to be “relocated from their allocated shelters to alternative accommodation due to the constant abuses directed at them by neighbors.”

Kakuma, which is located in northwest Kenya near the country’s border with Uganda and South Sudan, is one of two refugee camps the U.N. Refugee Agency operates in the East African nation. The other, Dadaab, is located near Kenya’s border with Somalia.

The report notes upwards of 160,000 refugees from South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Ethiopia and Uganda were living in Kakuma as of January.

Those who responded to the ORAM and Rainbow Railroad survey are from Uganda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, South Sudan, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Yemen and Ethiopia and all of them have asked for asylum in Kenya. Ninety-four percent of them live in Kakuma, while the remaining six percent live in Kalobeyei.

The report also estimates there are 350 LGBTQ asylum seekers in Kakuma and Kalobeyei. UNHCR in 2020 created Block 13 in Kakuma that is specifically for LGBTQ refugees.

Gay man died after Block 13 attack

Two gay men suffered second-degree burns during an attack on Block 13 on March 15. One of the men died a few weeks later at a hospital in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.

Forty-one of the Block 13 residents who participated in the ORAM and Rainbow Railroad survey said that “relocation to a safer place as a priority.” The report also notes some respondents who live outside Block 13 “said that the activism in Block 13 was affecting the overall relationship between LGBTQI+ asylum seekers and service providers in the camp.”

“They expressed concern with some activities conducted as part of their activism,” reads the report. “For example, they alleged that some activists were conducting staged attacks on individuals and false claims of violence to attract media attention as part of their advocacy.”

The report notes “allegations of activity from activists in Block 13 have not been confirmed.” Some of the “key informants” who ORAM and Rainbow Railroad interviewed for their report, however, “observed that LGBTQI+ activists from different countries have been supporting the advocacy in Block 13 without considering the local context and potential negative or unintended consequences.”

“They allege that the advocacy has been antagonizing LGBTQI+ members with other refugees in the camp and service providers,” reads the report. “For example, some of the LGBTQI+ asylum seekers were reported to have deserted their allocated shelters, moved to Block 13 and were persistently demanding new shelters.”

An attack at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya on March 15, 2021, left two gay refugees with second-degree burns. One of these men later died. (Photo courtesy of Gilbert Kagarura)

UNHCR in a statement after the March 15 attack noted Kenya “remains the only country in the region to provide asylum to those fleeing persecution based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression,” even though consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. The ORAM and Rainbow Railroad report acknowledges both points.

“Asylum seekers and refugees in Kenya are not immune to pervasive anti-LGBTQI+ attitudes in the community,” it reads. “As the number of LGBTQI+ asylum seekers and refugees increases rapidly, it is important to understand their unique protection needs and plan for safe and dignified service delivery to meet those needs.”

The report notes more than 70 percent of respondents have gone to Kakuma’s main hospital the International Rescue Committee operates in order to receive HIV/AIDS-related services. More than 85 percent of respondents said they “preferred to seek all other health services beyond HIV and AIDS services at the main hospital, since the facility was friendly and provided a stigma-free environment for the LGBTQI+ community in the camp.”

“Respondents reported traveling long distances in order to visit the main hospital,” reads the report.

The report notes limited access to cardiologists and other specialists at the eight health facilities in the camp that UNHCR partner organizations operates. Roughly a third of respondents also said they have “been stigmatized in some of the health clinics.”

“This included being referred to as shoga (a derogatory Kiswahili term used to refer to homosexuality) either by staff members or other refugees in the waiting room while waiting to see a provider, or some providers just directing them to the main hospital with snide remarks about how they do not entertain LGBTQI+ persons in their facility,” reads the report.

The African Human Rights Coalition, the Refugee Coalition of East Africa and Upper Rift Minorities are among the other groups that work with the camp’s LGBTQ residents.

The report notes only a third of respondents “were actively engaged in economic activity at the time of the study, a majority depended on the food rations distributed in the camp.” It also contains 10 recommendations, which are below, to improve conditions for LGBTQ refugees in Kakuma.

1) The Refugee Affairs Secretariat of Kenya must fast-track refugee status determination of LGBTQ asylum seekers with further support from UNHCR and civil society organizations.

2) The Refugee Affairs Secretariat of Kenya and UNHCR must create more responsive and sensitive protection services for LGBTQ refugees in Kenya.

3) Civil society organizations and their supporters should provide livelihood support and other support to meet the immediate needs of LGBTQ refugees in Kakuma.

4) Governments of resettlement countries must resume and fast track resettlement of LGBTQ refugees from Kenya.

5) UNHCR and civil society organizations must continue to build skills development programs for employability.

6) LGBTQ civil society organizations should work more closely with refugee-led organizations and collectives to build self-protection services.

7) Donor communities should participate in more long-term development programming for LGBTQI+ refugees in Kenya.

8) LGBTQ civil society organizations providing support to refugees in Kenya must coordinate more closely.

9) LGBTQ civil society organizations and refugee-led organizations should continue to advocate for more inclusive human rights in Kenya.

10) Civil society must continue the push for LGBTQ human rights globally, including decriminalization of same sex intimacy.

“This much-needed report underscores the challenges, dangers and complexities of life that LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers face in Kakuma refugee camp,” said ORAM Executive Director Steve Roth in a press release that announced the report’s release. “The refugees themselves have spoken and they want to be heard. UNHCR, governments and civil society organizations must work together to ensure the immediate safety and well-being of this community while also addressing the longer term, durable solutions we recommend in the report.”

Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell added refugee camps cannot “become permanent solutions to crises of forced displacement.”

“The findings of this report confirm a key goal of Rainbow Railroad—to fast track resettlement of LGBTQI+ refugees,” he said. “Rainbow Railroad and civil society partners are ready to provide support to LGBTQI+ persons at risk and assist in further resettlement. Ultimately, we need the UNHCR, the government of Kenya and governments of countries that are destinations for refugees to step up an ensure that LGBTQI+ asylum seekers in the camp are resettled in safer countries.”

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Caribbean

Dominica High Court of Justice strikes down sodomy law

Gay man challenged statute in 2019

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Dominica flag (Public domain photo)

Dominica’s High Court of Justice on Monday struck down provisions of a law that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations.

A gay man who remains anonymous in 2019 challenged sections of the country’s Sexual Offenses Act that criminalized anal sex and “gross indecency” with up to 10 years and 12 years in prison respectively. The plaintiff argued the provisions violated his constitutional rights. 

The Dominica Equality and Sexual Expression Association and the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality, a group that advocates for LGBTQ and intersex rights in the region, in a press release noted the court in its ruling affirmed “the criminalization of consensual same-sex activity between adults is unconstitutional.” The groups added Justice Kimberly Cenac-Phulgence “declared that the laws commonly known as buggery and gross indecency laws, contravenes the constitution of the Commonwealth of Dominica, namely the right to liberty, freedom of expression, and protection of personal privacy.”

“It is long past time that the dignity and dreams of all Dominicans were recognized,” said DESEA Executive Director Sylvester Jno Baptiste in the press release. “We are all God’s children, and he loves us all equally. Laws that treat some Dominicans as less than others, have no place in a just society.” 

Dominica is a former British colony that is located between Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Lesser Antilles.  

Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago in recent years have decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations. 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2021 issued a decision that said Jamaica must repeal its colonial-era sodomy law. The country’s Supreme Court last year ruled against a gay man who challenged it. 

A judge on St. Vincent and the Grenadines’s top court in February dismissed two cases that challenged the country’s sodomy laws.

“Decriminalization helps create an environment where LGBTQ individuals can live openly without fear of persecution, enabling them to access health care, education, and employment without facing discrimination,” said Outright Executive Director Maria Sjödin on Monday in response to the Dominica ruling. “The repeal of these discriminatory laws is a testament to the tireless efforts of activists, advocates, and allies who have long fought for justice and equality. It is a victory for human rights and a significant milestone in the ongoing struggle for LGBTQ rights in the Caribbean.”

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Africa

Upcoming Ugandan Census will not count intersex people

Advocacy group report documents rampant discrimination, marginalization

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(Image by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

Uganda’s national Census next month will not count intersex people.

The revelation about the exclusion of intersex Ugandans in the 9-day Census exercise that will begin on May 10 has been confirmed to the Washington Blade by the head of Uganda’s Bureau of Statistics.

UBOS Executive Director Chris Mukiza in response to the Blade’s questions on the issue said the agency has “no business with intersex.”

Their counting could have made Uganda the second African country and the third globally after Australia and Kenya to collect an intersex person’s data in a Census. 

Kenya’s 2019 Census determined there were more than 1,500 intersex people in the country.

Uganda had a population of 34.8 million, according to the country’s last Census that took place in 2014.

Intersex people in Uganda are among marginalized groups, subject to stigma and discrimination. The government has yet to recognize them as the third sex and consider them among other minority groups, such as people with disabilities, who enjoy special treatment.

Intersex people cannot be exclusively categorized as male or female for having a biological congenital condition with unique sex characteristics due to inherent and mixed anatomical, hormonal, gonadal, or chromosomal patterns that could be apparent before, at birth, in childhood, puberty, or adulthood.

Mukiza’s position of excluding intersex people in the Census, however, comes amid the prime minister’s office’s demands for inclusivity and equality for all the population. (The Constitutional Court on April 3 refused to “nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act in its totality.”)

“We recognize that much work remains to be done particularly in addressing the needs of the marginalized and vulnerable communities, promoting inclusive economic growth, and combating climate change,” said Dunstan Balaba, the permanent secretary in the prime minister’s office.

Balaba spoke on April 18 during the National Population and Housing Census prayer breakfast meeting the UBOS convened. Religious leaders and other stakeholders attended it.

President Yoweri Museveni has noted that data from the country’s sixth national Census will be crucial towards achieving the nation’s Vision 2040 and help the government, non-governmental organizations, and donors in providing services to the diverse population.

“It will also provide the basis for planning the provision of social services such as education, health, and transport, among others at the national and local level,” Museveni said as he urged citizens to fully support the Census and provide accurate information.

Uganda has an intersex rights organization, “Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development (SIPD),” which activist Julius Kaggwa founded in 2008 with the support of groups that advocate for children, women, and other marginalized populations.

Some of SIPD’s work as a non-profit, grassroots organization includes community outreach and engagement, sharing reliable information with the society for the protection of intersex people’s rights, and championing the need for organized medical and psychological support.

The organization, through its numerous reports, has decried human rights violations against intersex people that include surgery without consent, discrimination in homes, schools and medical centers, parents abandoning intersex children, and stigma due to lack of legal protection by the government.

Uganda’s Registration of Births and Deaths Act allows a parent or guardian of a child under the age of 21 to change the name or sex at the local registration office. The SIPD, however, maintains this law is discriminatory to intersex people over 21 who want to change their sex characteristics, and want parliament to repeal it. 

The intersex rights organization wants the Health Ministry to establish a central registry to register intersex children after they’re born in order to receive support in terms of healthcare, social and legal by the government and other stakeholders as they grow up. 

SIPD particularly wants the government to enact a policy that would allow a gender-neutral marker on birth certificates for intersex children to ease any change of sex in the future. The organization also wants the government, through the Education Ministry, to adopt a curriculum that also considers intersex issues in schools and creates a friendly environment for intersex children to learn and graduate like their non-intersex peers.

These demands follow SIPD’s findings that disclosed many intersex children were dropping out of school because of the stigma and discrimination they suffered. The organization has further called on the public-funded Uganda Human Rights Commission to live up to its constitutional mandates of defending human rights by leading the promotion and protection of the rights of intersex people across the country.

SIPD has also challenged religious leaders, who play a key role in Ugandan society and are influential at the local and national level, to promote acceptance of intersex people and to end discrimination against them.

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World

Out in the World: LGBTQ news from Europe and Asia

Swedish lawmakers last week passed a sweeping gender-recognition law

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(Los Angeles Blade graphic)

IRAQ

Iraqi protesters set fire to a rainbow-colored flag representing the LGBTQ community in Baghdad in front of the Swedish Embassy after a Quran was burned outside a mosque in Stockholm, June 29, 2023. (Al Jazeera screenshot)

A bill is being discussed in the Iraqi parliament that would introduce the death penalty or life in prison for same-sex relations, Reuters reported this week. Western diplomats have warned Iraqi lawmakers that if passed the law could have serious consequences for Iraq’s political and economic ties.

According to Reuters the measure imposes a sentence of life imprisonment or the death penalty for anyone engaging in same-sex relations or anyone who swaps their wife with someone else’s for sexual purposes. Lawmakers postponed voting over time constraints and that some disagreements remained over proposed amendments

The law contains a provision that echoes the Russian law banning the promotion of homosexuality and violations are punishable by at least seven years in prison.

UNITED KINGDOM

Tory MP Miriam Cates speaks in the House of Commons in December 2023 (Parliament TV screenshot)

Miriam Cates, the Tory MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge in South Yorkshire, took aim this week against a proposal to set up voluntary “gender and sexual orientation alliance groups” in Scottish schools that opt in. 

Speaking to GB News, Cates said: “These are children who have not been through puberty and they don’t have sexual feelings. Asking them if they are straight or gay is not only ridiculous, it is also disturbing. Why would an adult in a school be asking a small child about their sexual feelings?” She added that the scheme is “very, very worrying” and has been “dressed up to be seen as a diversity agenda, an inclusivity agenda.”

The Tory MP has a long record of anti-LGBTQ remarks and activism. In January 2023, after the government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced its unprecedented decision to use a Section 35 order under the Scotland Act to prevent the Scottish bill from becoming law, addressing the House of Commons, Cates said she believed it was “​​absolutely right” for the Tory government to block Scotland’s gender reform law. 

PinkNewsUK reported Cates then claimed the bill would make it “vastly easier for a predator to gain access to children” and alleged it would have a “chilling effect” on single-sex spaces. 

PinkNewsUK also noted that the Tory MP said that this latest push to encourage schools to install gender-neutral bathrooms, and hold meetings about LGBTQ inclusion, among other initiatives in Scotland was little more than “adults with a particular ideology are pushing that ideology on children, with damaging effects.”

A Scottish government spokesperson told the Telegraph: “We are committed to doing everything we can to make Scotland the best place to grow up for LGBTQI+ young people.” The spokesperson added: “This includes funding LGBT Youth Scotland to deliver a range of projects, such as the LGBT Charter program.”

SWEDEN

Swedish parliament (Photo courtesy of the Swedish government)

The Swedish parliament has passed a sweeping gender-recognition law that eases the process for transgender people to update their legal gender. The law also lowers the minimum age for a gender change from 18 to 16, although minors will be required to have the consent of their parents, a doctor, and the National Board of Welfare.

The Swedish Parliament adopted the law in a 234-94 vote on April 17, following six hours of tense debate. The law will come into effect next July.

The law was supported by the Moderate Party, which is the largest party in the governing coalition, as well as several opposition parties. The bill was vehemently opposed by the Christian Democrats, which are part of the coalition, and the far-right Sweden Democrats, who are in allied with but not a part of the government.

Sweden became the first modern country to allow legal gender change back in 1972, but the process to do so was derided as cumbersome and dehumanizing. Trans people would be forced to live in their gender identity for at least two years before applying, they’d have to be single or divorce their spouse, and they’d have to first undergo sex reassignment surgery and sterilization. 

Roughly 800 trans Swedes are believed to have undergone sterilization under this regime before the law was changed to remove that requirement in 2013. In 2018, parliament approved a compensation scheme that awarded up to 225,000 Swedish krone (approximately $27,000) to people forced to undergo sterilization.

But other countries have since leapfrogged Sweden in recognizing trans people’s right to gender self-determination. All of the other Nordic countries — Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland — allow trans people to update their legal gender by simple self-declaration, as do New Zealand, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, as well as many states and provinces of Canada, Mexico, and the U.S.

The new law doesn’t give trans Swedes everything they had wanted. While the application process no longer requires a doctor’s diagnosis of gender dysphoria, a consultation with a doctor or psychologist is still required. Children under 16 are also prevented from changing their legal gender, even with parental consent.

The law also maintains a ban on gender-related surgeries on minors. 

Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson says that the bill will be a big help for trans people in Sweden, pitting the law as a reasonable compromise . 

“The vast majority of people in Sweden will never notice that the law changes. But for a number of people in an often vulnerable situation, the new law can make an important difference. Everyone should be able to respect that,” Kristersson wrote in the Expressen  newspaper

Lina Axelsson Kihlblom, a trans woman and former minister of education from 2021-2022, the change will protect trans people’s security.

“For transgender people, it makes a huge difference to one’s freedom, security, future and sense of respect from society. We who are actually affected therefore really want a modernization of the law,” she wrote in Expresssen

“I was forcibly sterilized, aged 21. I also had to wait until I was almost 24 before my legal gender was corrected. For several years, I had risked my life by having to show ID documents that did not show what others or I myself saw. Threats, hatred and fear of the uncomprehending mob were there daily. These traumas give me an ‘experience’ that I reluctantly house within me every day, even though I have passed 50. No one else should have to handle it,” Kihlblom says.

CZECH REPUBLIC

Czech President Petr Pavel speaks to the EU Parliament in October 2023 in Strasbourg, France. (Photo courtesy of Pavel’s office)

The Czech Senate ended debate on the same-sex partnership law without a vote on April 17, sending it on to President Petr Pavel, who is expected to sign it into law.

Czechia has allowed same-sex couples to enter “registered partnerships” since 2006, but these have always been seen as inferior to full marriage equality. Couples in registered partnerships were not given equal tax treatment, were not allowed to adopt children, and were not called “married” or treated as a family.

Under the new bill, “registered partnerships” will be replaced with “partnerships,” that are given all the rights of marriage except for the word “marriage,” and except for the right to jointly adopt children. The bill will come into effect in January 2025.

Going forward, couples in partnerships will have access to stepchild adoption, where one partner adopts the other’s biological child. Adopting a partner’s non-biological child will be possible but will require a court procedure.

Same-sex marriage has long been a political hot potato in Czechia. Polls consistently show the public supports same-sex marriage and adoption rights, but lawmakers are more conservative. 

This partnership bill started as a same-sex marriage bill, but the lower house of parliament amended the bill to the current version when it passed it in February. There was some concern among lawmakers that there was not enough support in either house of parliament to pass full marriage equality.

There had been some hope among activists that the Senate would amend the bill to allow same-sex marriage, but that fizzled as several committees examined the bill and failed to adopt amendments. 

“We were not afraid of the discussion in the Senate, it took place powerfully in the committees. But we didn’t want things that hurt people from the LGBTI+ community to be heard again,” Václav Láska, a senator from the Pirates party, told iDNES.cz. “There was a real risk that the law would fall under the table and the LGBTI+ community would get no rights at all. It’s a temporary compromise.”

The same-sex marriage advocacy group Jsme fér said the new partnerships bill maintains discrimination against gay people and their children.

“It does not give them the same rights as other citizens. It disadvantages children only according to the relational orientation of those who adopt them. Those children who want to be adopted by a same-sex couple will have to go through their own adoption twice,” said Jsme fér. “The dream goal of our journey together is still waiting for us.”

NEPAL

(Photo courtesy of the Nepal Tourism Board)

The Nepal Tourism Board hosted the country’s first-ever conference dedicated to promoting LGBTQ tourism in the Himalayan nation this weekend, in a sign of the growing acceptance of queer people as well as the growing interest in the spending power of queer tourists.

Nepal has swiftly expanded LGBTQ rights since the country decriminalized gay sex and cross-dressing in 2007 in the wake of the establishment of democratic government. Since then, the courts have ordered the government to take increasing steps to promote LGBTQ rights and inclusion, culminating in last year’s interim Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. A final decision on same-sex marriage is expected from the Supreme Court soon. 

Nepal is only the second country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. 

For Nepal Tourism Board director Nandini Lahe-Thapa, LGBTQ tourism represents a huge opportunity for growth in the impoverished country. 

“For Nepal’s tourism industry, the LGBTIQ conference is a triumph as this is one of the most important market segments that we have yet to tap,” Lahe-Thapa told the Kathmandu Post.

Lahe-Thapa hopes Nepal can leverage its position as one of only a few places in the region where LGBTQ people are tolerated and welcomed to provide a unique travel experience for queer visitors. 

“People might feel uncomfortable sharing their identity and choices if the place and the people are judgmental and unfriendly. Here we have an advantage as a destination,” Lahe-Thapa says.

To build on that advantage, the Nepal Tourism Board has invested in ways to make the country more welcoming to LGBTQ travelers by training queer Nepalis to work in the hospitality industry — and particularly as trekking guides to help queer visitors access Nepal’s popular mountains. Last year, the board organized trekking guide training to 25 queer Nepalis.

There are now dozens of business across the country openly owned by members of the LGBTQ community, including bars, restaurants, hotels, and travel and tour operators, particularly in the bustling capital, Kathmandu.

Participants in the conference also noted that legal same-sex marriage presents a particular opportunity for the country.

“Businesses are opening up for the queer and that’s a good sign. We can promote Nepal as a same-sex marriage and honeymoon destination,” says Sunil Babu Pant, a former legislator who was the first openly queer lawmaker elected in Asia.

Conference attendees also pointed out that Nepal’s long history and diverse culture includes many LGBTQ-related traditions, which present a unique attraction for visitors. Nepal has important ancient festivals, temples, rituals, stories, and traditional culture recognizes six genders, all of which offer a unique experience for the queer traveller.

The queer market is frequently cited as being worth trillions of dollars annual across the globe, with LGBTQ people often seen as being more likely to spend on travel and unique experiences than most buyers. 

One of the largest segments of the LGBTQ tourism market is in neighboring China, where the queer population is estimated to hold hundreds of billions of dollars in wealth. Nepal is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the Chinese market, which is only expected to grow.

“One of the things that we know from Chinese gay travelers is they are looking for places they feel safe, where they can hold hands and where they can have new experiences,” says Diane Anderson-Minshall, CEO of GO Magazine, who was one of the presenters at the conference.

NEW ZEALAND

31-year-old Ford O’Connor appeared in Auckland District Court and pleaded guilty. (Television New Zealand/TVNZ1 screenshot)

One of the men accused of defacing a Pride-flag themed crosswalk in Auckland’s central business district has pleaded guilty to the crime and was ordered to pay a huge fine in restitution, RNZ reported.

The Progress Pride Flag-themed crosswalk on Karangahape Road in the heart of Auckland’s queer neighborhood was painted over in the middle of the night on March 27, by vandals who were recorded dumping white paint over it and mopping it over the crosswalk to cover it nearly completely. Much of the white paint was subsequently washed off by rain and traffic.

Video of the vandalism was shared to the Tiktok account @aucklandcitynight00. Police quickly identified the vandals by recognizing unique markings on their truck.

It was the second rainbow crosswalk to be vandalized that week, after vandals targeted a crosswalk in Gisborne, about 300 miles southwest of Auckland, two days earlier. Police were able to apprehend several suspects in that incident.

31-year-old Ford O’Connor appeared in court April 15 to plead guilty to the Auckland vandalism and was ordered to pay NZ$16,093 (approximately $9,475) in reparations.

Both sets of vandals were affiliated with the extremist Divinity Church, a Christian cult led by Brian Tamaki with around 1,700 members, according to the latest New Zealand Census. Tamaki preaches a far-right political ideology alongside anti-LGBTQ messages.

Tamaki later told a press conference that O’Connor is married to his granddaughter. Tamaki had previously denied his Church’s involvement in the Auckland vandalism.

Tamaki has also claimed that the vandalism of the Pride crosswalks was not a hate crime, and that he supported the vandalism as an act of protest against “rainbow washing” at the taxpayer’s expense.

New Zealand does not have hate crime laws that impose stiffer penalties on hate-motivated crimes, although police do track them. The vandalism had been tracked as a hate crime.

The church has recently taken particular issue with drag queen story events at public libraries, leading at least one library to cancel an event due to security concerns raised by the threat of Divinity Church protesters.

Auckland Transport says the Pride flag crosswalk is expected to be restored within the month.

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