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Ugandan activists travel to D.C.

MPs last month passed Anti-Homosexuality Act

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Four LGBTQ and intersex activists from Uganda traveled to D.C. this week (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Kasha

A group of LGBTQ and intersex activists from Uganda traveled to D.C. this week.

Sexual Minorities Uganda Executive Director Frank Mugisha, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders Senior Manager of Organizational Culture and Community Partnerships Quin Mbabazi and Chapter Four Uganda Executive Director Nicholas Opiyo on Monday spoke about the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in D.C. Maria Burnett, senior associate of CSIS’ Africa Program, moderated the panel discussion in which Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights rights, also participated.

Mugisha, Mbabazi, Opiyo and Jacqueline Kasha Nabagesara while in D.C. met officials from the White House, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development and representatives from the Council for Global Equality. The activists also briefed the Congressional Equality Caucus.

Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine, a four-star admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service who is the first openly transgender person confirmed by the U.S. Senate, on Thursday tweeted a picture of her with Mugisha.

“It was such an honor to meet (Frank Mugisha.) His courage gives me strength, but no one should have to be brave just to be their authentic self,” tweeted Levine. “Progress is not real unless it means progress for all.”

The activists came to D.C. less than a month after Ugandan MPs passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

Opiyo notes the measure would impose a “mandatory” death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” and “anybody who is convicted of being engaged in same-sex relations” would face life in prison.

The bill would also punish the “promotion, recruitment and funding” of LGBTQ-specific activities in Uganda with up to 10 years in prison. Any “person who ‘holds out as a lesbian, gay, transgender, a queer or any other sexual or gender identity that is contrary to the binary categories of male and female'” would also face up to 10 years in prison. Opiyo also noted the measure’s provision that would require Ugandans to report LGBTQ-specific activities to authorities would create “a moral police force.”

Uganda is among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations are criminalized.

President Yoweri Museveni in 2014 signed that year’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, which imposed a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. The law was known as the “Kill the Gays” bill because it previously contained a death penalty provision.

The U.S. subsequently cut aid to Uganda and imposed a travel ban against officials who carried out human rights abuses. Uganda’s Constitutional Court later struck down the 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act on a technicality.

Museveni has said he supports the current bill for which MPs with close ties to anti-LGBTQ American evangelical groups have championed.

“Anti-gay groups and anti-gender groups (are) radicalizing the Ugandan society against the LGBTQ community,” said Mugisha during the CSIS panel. “We’re seeing a lot of hatred. We’re seeing a lot of fear of LGBTQ persons.”

Mugisha noted there has been an increase in violence against LGBTQ and intersex Ugandans over the last year. Uganda’s National Bureau for Non-Government Organizations last August forced Sexual Minorities Uganda to shut down.

“We’re seeing a very systematic, targeted, group that is targeting the LGBTQ community and we’ve seen that Ugandans have sort of been prepared for this legislation,” said Mugisha. 

US ‘has significant concerns about the Anti-Homosexuality Act’

Stern during the CSIS panel reiterated the Biden-Harris administration’s criticisms of the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

“The U.S. has significant concerns about the Anti-Homosexuality Act that the Parliament of Uganda passed on March 21,” said Stern. “If the Anti-Homosexuality Act is signed into law and enacted, it would threaten the human rights of Ugandan citizens, jeopardize progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, deter tourism and investment in Uganda and damage Uganda’s international reputation.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre during her March 22 press briefing reiterated many of the same points that Stern did. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby that day also noted the U.S. provides substantial aid to Uganda through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and other programs.

“If this bill passes as it is now, the work that PEPFAR currently funds would be criminalized,” said Burnett. “We’re talking about people who are implementing U.S.-funded programs who could not do their jobs without potentially running afoul of the law and losing their liberty.”

Stern said the U.S. “continues to raise issues around the Anti-Homosexuality Act with the government of Uganda at all levels” and is “coordinating with diplomatic partners, with the private sector and with human rights organizations directly.” Stern also noted she and her colleagues are in “daily communication” with Mugisha and the other activists who were on the CSIS panel.

“We’re in constant contact with the community because they know how severe this issue is, how high the stakes are, how to push, what messages to use and what consequences the threat of the bill is already having on the community,” said Stern. “LGBTQI human rights defenders and human rights defenders of all stripes in Uganda are some of our greatest partners in this work. We are working with partners to engage at the multilateral level to address this issue.”

Stern also warned the U.S. would reconsider foreign assistance to Uganda if Museveni signs the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

“We are investing the potential impact of the Anti-Homosexuality Act on U.S. foreign assistance,” said Stern. “If this bill is signed into law, it will be an action-forcing event.”

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Africa

Protesters vandalize Zimbabwean LGBTQ rights group’s offices

GALZ has reported the incident to the police

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Protesters vandalized GALZ's offices in Harare, Zimbabwe, with homophobic graffiti. (Photos courtesy of GALZ)

A handful of protesters over this past weekend vandalized the offices of Zimbabwe’s largest LGBTQ rights organization.

Although they did not enter GALZ (an Association of LGBTI People in Zimbabwe)’s building in Harare, the country’s capital, they did gather at the gate and sang homophobic songs. The protesters also left anti-gay graffiti on the gate and walls.

Several people after the incident started to question the authenticity of the protesters, arguing GALZ itself organized the protest in order to get funding. They said some of the protesters “looked gay” and even argued the organization had yet to approach the police.

GALZ has sought to discredit some of the reports, while calling the protest disrespectful and uncalled for.

“We categorically condemn the acts of vandalism and intimidation that occurred on Sunday afternoon,” said GALZ in a statement. “A group of individuals claiming to represent various Christian churches descended at our offices. They proceeded to vandalize the property, painting hateful graffiti on the walls. While we respect differences in values, it is utterly unacceptable to deploy acts of vandalism and intimidation against communities who hold different values.”

GALZ said it has filed an official police report, and is “cooperating fully with the ongoing investigations.” 

“We call on the authorities to hold the perpetrators accountable for these criminal actions,” said the organization. 

GALZ also said it remains steadfast in its commitment to LGBTQ rights, and urged religious and political leaders to be at the forefront of fostering unity in Zimbabwe.

“This act of violence has not been committed in isolation, it is a stark reminder of the ongoing discrimination and hostility that our community faces,” said GALZ.

“We urge religious and political leaders to condemn such acts of hate and to uphold the  constitutional rights and freedoms for all citizens to be protected by law regardless of their diverse backgrounds including sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. We encourage Zimbabweans to resort to open and respectful dialogue to address indifferences,” added the organization.

Several United Methodist Church parishioners last month held a protest in Harare during which they protested the church’s recent decision to allow LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriages. James Kawadza, one of the protest organizers, said it was un-African to engage in same-sex relations.

“Homosexuality is unlawful in Zimbabwe and marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said. “The church has aligned with the rainbow movement, and this is also a threat to our African traditions and human existence at large. Homosexuality is not contextual, it is an abomination where Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire.”

Section 73 of Zimbabwe’s Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act on sexual crimes and crimes against morality says any “male person who, with the consent of another male person, knowingly performs with that other person anal sexual intercourse, or any act involving physical contact other than anal sexual intercourse that would be regarded by a reasonable person to be an indecent act, shall be guilty of sodomy and liable to” a fine, up to a year in prison or both.

Cases of people being arrested under this provision are rare.

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What’s next for LGBTQ rights in South Africa after the country’s elections?

African National Congress lost parliamentary majority on May 29

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Pretoria and Cape Town are the first cities in Africa to install Pride crosswalks. Activists are wondering what the outcome of South Africa's May 29 elections will mean for LGBTQ rights. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Walker/Pretoria Pride)

More than 50 independent candidates and political parties participated in South Africa’s national and provincial elections that took place on May 29. The Electoral Commission of South Africa declared the results on June 2.

No independent candidate or political party managed to secure the outright parliamentary majority of more than 50 percent of the votes, which prompts the creation of a coalition government. None of the 18 political parties that managed to win at least one seat in the National Assembly wholly represented the LGBTQ community.

Although South Africa is the only African country that constitutionally recognizes the rights of the LGBTQ community, some of the political parties that managed to secure seats in the National Assembly had signaled they would reserve these gains.

Former President Jacob Zuma, who leads the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party, during a January debate said the thought of dating within the same gender was unpalatable and un-African. The MK is now the country’s third largest political party after it won 14.58 percent of the vote, making it a pivotal player in the formation of a coalition government.

Dawie Nel, the executive director of OUT LGBT Well-being, said undermining the constitution is “a dangerous, misguided, and populist strategy to avoid acknowledging the failures of governance and the lack of implementation of constitutional values that are meant to improve the lives of South Africans.”

“South Africa’s constitution is celebrated as one of the most significant achievements of our transition to democracy, ensuring that all citizens are treated with dignity and respect, and that their rights are protected in all aspects of life,” said Nell. 

There now seems to be an impasse on who becomes the government’s next leader because of some of the demands that political parties made before they entered into any negotiations.

Bruce Walker of Pretoria Pride said the best possible outcome for the preservation of LGBTQ rights in South Africa would be if the former governing political party, the African National Congress (ANC), which garnered the most support with 40.18 percent of the vote, partners with the Democratic Alliance (DA), which finished second with 21.81 percent of the votes, to form a coalition government.

“I think it will be a good outcome for the community if the DA has some power in a coalition government,” said Walker.

Rise Mzansi, which managed to secure 0.42 percent of the votes with two seats in the National Assembly, said it will continue protecting the rights of the LGBTQ community.

“Rise Mzansi reaffirms its commitment in protecting LGBTQ+ rights in South Africa, as outlined in Section 9 of our constitution,” said the party.

Zubenathi Daca, program coordinator for student employability and entrepreneurship development in Nelson Mandela University’s Department of Student Governance and Development said the fight for LGBTQ rights in South Africa will continue.

“The battle has not yet been won,” said Daca. “Queer people are still being killed and homophobic remarks are still being made towards us daily, and we need people who have found the confidence to voice out their dissatisfactions against how they are treated and also speak out for the voiceless.” 

“This society is ours just as it is everyone else’s,” added Daca. “We are in corporate spaces, leadership positions, and political spaces to show that we belong here, and that we are here to stay.” 

The constitution says National Assembly members should be sworn in within two weeks of the elections. They will then meet for the first time and elect a new speaker, deputy speaker and president.

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo who will preside over the entire process, on Monday said the National Assembly will meet for the first time since the elections on Friday.

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Queer Nigerians still struggle with housing discrimination and homelessness

Transphobia forced Fola Francis to flee her Ibadan home

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Fola Francis (Photo via Instagram)

In Nigeria, the pursuit to secure a safe and comfortable home is often fraught with challenges for many, but for the LGBTQ community — especially those who are openly gay — these challenges are often insurmountable. 

Some two years ago, Fola Francis, a popular transgender woman who has since passed away, had to leave her home in Ibadan and fled to Lagos due to transphobia. A now deleted video of her had gone viral on TikTok, and it got to the hands of her transphobic landlord and neighbors. They held a rally to make her leave the house, breaking into it many times. 

“I got death threats from my neighbors due to them finding out I’m a trans woman on social media when my videos went viral,” she said to the BBC. 

Francis’s experience doesn’t exist in isolation. 

“For me, all I had to do was be visibly effeminate before my neighbors began to clamp down on and force me to move out,” Damian Okpara, a student at the University of Nigeria, told the Washington Blade. 

Despite the global movement towards acceptance and equality, Nigerian society remains deeply rooted in conservative values that stigmatize and marginalize queer people; and this systemic discrimination is starkly evident in the housing sector, where visibly queer people face significant barriers and prejudices that deny them the fundamental right to safe and secure housing.

“It is nowhere in the constitution that a person should be discriminated against housing of their choice due to their sexuality,” Chizelu Emejuju, a human rights lawyer, told the Blade.

Emejuju founded Minority Watch, which is an organization that focuses on fighting for the rights of minorities, including the queer community, in Nigeria. That said, Nigeria’s legal framework is one of the most hostile in the world towards the LGBTQ community. 

The Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, passed in 2014, not only criminalizes same-sex relationships but also any public display of affection between same-sex couples. This law has legitimized widespread discrimination and has given rise to an environment where queer individuals are systematically marginalized and ostracized.

According to many, homosexuality is often viewed as a Western import, incompatible with the Nigerian values and traditions. Homophobia therefore translates into severe consequences for LGBTQ individuals, particularly in the realm of people. 

For Okpara, he’s had to leave his former home to live with a friend, even though it may mean putting both of them at risk of homelessness. 

“Although my friend’s place is more accepting of femme-boys like me, there is still the constant fear that they may switch up on us,” he said. “It’s so hard to be an effeminate man in Nigeria.” 

Okpara’s experience is a stark reminder that for many LGBTQ Nigerians, the search for housing is a journey marked by rejection and prejudice. Landlords and housing agents frequently deny rentals to openly queer people or those they suspect are queer. 

A common experience shared by many queer people is being evicted without notice once their sexual orientation or gender identity becomes known. Stories like that of Francis and Okpara are common — tenants, who after months of living peacefully, find themselves suddenly homeless, their belongings discarded, and their safety threatened. This precarious existence forces many into substandard living conditions, or in some cases, into homelessness.

The impact of housing discrimination on queer Nigerians is profound, extending far beyond the physical realm into deep psychological and emotional suffering. 

“Although I am introverted and need friends, I have decided to not even bring anyone into my space anymore,” Valentina Ikpazu, an entrepreneur in Lagos, told the Blade. “At this point, I would rather find other ways to be happy than be homeless.” 

The constant fear of eviction and the relentless search for a safe space create a state of perpetual anxiety and insecurity. This unstable housing situation often leads to chronic stress, depression, and other mental health issues.

The plight of LGBTQ people in Nigeria’s housing market exemplifies the broader struggles they face in a society that often rejects their very existence. 

“Queer people need to understand that they have a legal right to stay in a place of choice, especially if the landowners do not include clauses that are discriminatory in the earlier stages of apartment acquisition,” Emejuju said. “Even if they include clauses that are outrightly discriminatory to queer people, it can be challenged in court, as there’s no law [backing up the clauses.]”

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