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The arm of imperialism: The church’s anti-gender and anti-SOGIE rhetoric

Anti-rights agenda in Africa has weaponized LGBTQ, intersex rights

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(Photo by Sasirin Pamai/Bigstock)

By ANNA MMOLA-CHALMERS | Recently, in Botswana, Namibia, Uganda, Kenya and Malawi, the church has thrown the public into a moral panic with its anti-rights agenda that weaponizes LGBTQI+ human rights paddling the same narrative that homosexuality is a Western agenda intended to destroy African values, family, culture and procreation. These anti-gender movements have spread across Europe and the U.S. in recent years. They focused on what they themed “gender ideology,” framing gender as destructive and unnatural

The main characteristics of the movement are that they lean towards a more conservative understanding of religion, are aligned with politicians, mainly the right-wingers, are anti-choice, emphasize the traditional family value and attack comprehensive sex education in schools. A similar modus operandi manifested in Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia and Botswana, where they have infiltrated Parliaments to support anti-homosexuality laws in Uganda, undermine judicial decisions by introducing new laws to contradict judgements in Namibia, and manipulated Parliament to ignore the decriminalization judgement in Botswana. 

The movement masquerades as representatives of public morality for the public good, but what is also clear is that these anti-LGBTQI+ groups are also anti-human rights and anti-women’s rights, and intent on keeping the status quo of inequalities, separation, and oppression of minorities, the poor and vulnerable. 

On the surface, the narratives that the movement paddles are seemingly pro-African and care about African culture and norms. They frame homosexuality as un-African, and part of the Western culture intended to erode African values and cultural norms. They embrace anti-homosexuality legislation in Uganda and nod at African leaders who denounce efforts by civil society to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct and pronounce these laws as part of the African culture. In their hypocrisy, they purposefully ignore the historical fact that laws against homosexuality are a colonial relic inherited from colonial masters in the 17th and 20th centuries. The buggery laws are part of the vagrancy laws introduced by the colonialists to separate the local communities from the colonialists, slaves from masters — to keep lives in the colonies separate so that colonialists can exercise control over the natives, contain them in their territories and keep the streets clean. This form of oppression was characteristic of all the colonies in Africa. 

Today, once again, history repeats itself, the modern imperialists in the form of church groups such as Family Watch International, a U.S.-based NGO, replicating similar tactics through an intense global campaign that uses homosexuality as an entry point to thwart equal rights and influence African leaders to oppress the most marginalized citizens through misinformation, trickery and pseudo-scientific research. This sounds familiar because it is the same colonial masters’ tactics used in the 17th century. These are the same far-right ideas of white supremacists, with anti-gender and anti-rights agenda. 

Just like the colonialists, organizations and groups like Family Watch International are deliberately using family and children, ideals that are cherished in Africa, to reject LGBTQI+ members of the family and encourage governments to put in place the harshest penalties, including death, towards individuals identifying as LGBTQI+, and promote the most harmful practices such as conversion therapy, to “rehabilitate” homosexuals. A dangerous church culture of stigma, discrimination and hate has been cultivated and sanctioned. Botswana experienced this harmful practice during the Evangelical Fellowship of Botswana protest march, shaping negativity and hatred towards another human being in the public space. And here we are again, as Africans, centuries later, ambushed, manipulated and pitted against one another, and once again, the church is at the helm of yet another atrocity. 

We have also seen that the anti-SOGIE (sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression) movement is anti-rights and seeks to influence and destroy any structure that represents human rights and attempts to protect the rights of marginalized groups, traditionally at the bottom of the family unit, women, children and the disabled. Recently in Africa, including Botswana, the courts have defended LGBTQI+ by making favorable decisions to protect their rights. Because of that, the judiciary is under attack, as we witnessed with the Namibia Parliament passing a bill that contradicts the Supreme Court judgement to undermine the judiciary. The legislators in all these countries where there is a religious backlash — Kenya, Ghana, Namibia, Botswana and Uganda — are responding to the influence and uncertainty raised by these groups, in the process undermining the rule of law, a trait characteristic of far-right conservatives who are intent on maintaining the status quo of inequalities and oppression.  

The African public is tricked into believing that laws against homosexuality represent African cultural norms and beliefs, a fallacy engineered to convince Africans that colonial laws are our ideas. Our African values and norms are reflected in our post-colonial and post-apartheid constitutions, which embrace tolerance, dignity, compassion, nondiscrimination and inclusivity. Africa does not possess social norms that promote harm, hate, discrimination and indignity, those are the imperialist ideals, past and present, intent on wiping out the indigenous Africans. Unfortunately for the new imperialists, Africa has wised up and amassed new human rights jurisprudence in many African nations, including the African Court. In 2021, the African Court wrote an advisory opinion urging African governments to abolish colonial criminal laws, explicitly focusing on vagrancy laws, which treat the most marginalized in our society with contempt.  

In conclusion, the African leaders are alerted not to fall into the same trap their forefathers found themselves in and allowed colonial masters to enforce laws that treat the most marginalized in their societies with contempt. The African leaders of then had no lessons to learn from, the current politicians should keep history from repeating itself. 

Anna Mmola-Chalmers is the LGBTQI+ programs manager at the Southern Africa Litigation Center.

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Commentary

Fly the Rainbow Flag in honor of Laura Ann Carleton, an LGBTQ ally

Murder in Cedar Glen, Calif., has sparked outrage around the country

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Laura Ann Carleton (Family photo shared on social media)

The Gilbert Baker Foundation mourns the Aug. 18 murder of Laura Ann Carleton, a gift shop owner in Cedar Glen, Calif. A longtime LGBTQ+ ally, Lauri was shot dead by a man who complained about the Pride flag displayed at her store. Carleton leaves behind a husband and nine children.

The world has reacted with anger to this shocking hate crime. But people should not be surprised. This is the inevitable conclusion of mounting Republican Party and conservative attacks on the LGBTQ+ community. They label us as groomers, they lie that we are recruiting children. They ban our books, halt trans care, censor our school curricula. And all this hatred creates more hatred. Now it has led to the brutal and senseless murder of a straight woman whose only crime was to support her LGBTQ+ friends by flying a Pride flag.

The blood of Lauri Carleton is on the hands of every conservative politician who makes verbal and legislative attacks on the LGBTQ+ community. Make no mistake; this horrendous crime is no isolated incident. Across the country the Rainbow Flag has been banned in 40 cities. Right-wing legislators have also tried to ban the flag nationally — over 30 members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted for such a proposal earlier this year. This wave of censorship and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment has created a climate ripe for hate crimes, and now a brutal murder in Cedar Glen.

The Gilbert Baker Foundation unequivocally condemns the rhetoric of hatred promoted by conservative and homophobic politicians. Words have consequences. Words of hate have even greater consequences. In memory of Lauri Carleton, the foundation asks every American to display a Rainbow Flag — at their homes, at their businesses — to let the haters across America.

Charles Beal is the president of the Gilbert Baker Foundation.

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Legal registration of NGOs is vital for advancing human rights of LGBTQ, intersex rights in Africa

Kenya and Eswatini groups have won legal victories this year

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(Photo by NASA)

By MULESA LUMINA, KAAJAL RAMJATHAN-KEOGH AND TANYA LALLMON | Upholding the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, nonbinary, other gender diverse and intersex (LGBTQI+) people remains a pivotal human rights concern across Africa. In recent years, despite significant but sporadic victories in several African courts affirming the human rights of individual members of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working to uphold LGBTQI+ rights, including their members’ right to freedom of association, many obstacles hinder such organizations’ ability to register with appropriate authorities in order to operate legally. 

As unpacked in a webinar organized by the International Commission of Jurists, such obstacles include bureaucratic red tape, a dearth of domestic laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics (SOGIESC) and the existence of criminal laws targeting and perpetuating discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals. The severe anti-LGBTQI+ backlash from community and religious groups exacerbates the situation and compounds these obstacles, further undermining advocacy efforts. 

The Kenyan Supreme Court in February 2023 ordered that the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission be allowed to register because the authorities’ initial decision to refuse registration was discriminatory and unconstitutional, violating the right to freedom of association solely because of the sexual orientation of the organization’s members. In June this year, the Supreme Court of Eswatini became the latest African apex court to rule in favor of registering a LGBTQI+ human rights NGO, directing the minister responsible for registering companies to reconsider his initial refusal because, procedurally, it violated the Constitution. While the Swazi Supreme Court’s ruling in the case did not necessarily rely on a clear statement upholding the human rights of LGBTQI+ people in Eswatini, this remains a welcome decision. Seven years prior, the Botswana Court of Appeal ordered the Registrar of Societies to register Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) on the grounds that the refusal to register LEGABIBO as an organization was unlawful and a violation of the right to freely associate. 

Still, across Africa, civil society organizations continue to oppose the denial of registration and seek redress for violations of the right to freedom of association of their members. Nyasa Rainbow Alliance (NRA), for instance, is one such organization with a pending decision in their legal quest for registration. NRA’s case is still awaiting hearing and determination by three judges of the Malawian Constitutional Court.   

The right to freedom of association is a fundamental foundation of any democratic society. Exercising this right by forming and legally registering NGOs is essential for enhanced advocacy since it allows organizations to apply for funding, operate bank accounts that hold these funds, employ staff, work with international partners, and access global and regional human rights mechanisms and fora. 

As noted by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (African Commission) in its Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa, the rights to freedom of association and assembly under the African Charter “are inextricably intertwined with other rights”. Further, in the matter mentioned above the Supreme Court of Kenya also emphatically stated, “[g]iven that the right to freedom of association is a human right, vital to the functioning of any democratic society as well as an essential prerequisite [for the] enjoyment of other fundamental rights and freedoms, we hold that this is inherent in everyone irrespective of whether the views they are seeking to promote are popular or not.” 

It goes without saying that human rights NGOs play a critical role in upholding democratic principles and safeguarding human rights by mobilizing collective action, holding governments accountable, offering direct assistance to victims of human rights violations, challenging discriminatory laws and policies and more. The Triangle Project, for example, is a South African NGO that has been instrumental in amplifying awareness of anti-LGTBQI+ hate crimes, influencing policy change and supporting victims. 

NGOs advocating for the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons, in particular, empower and protect these oft-marginalized individuals by offering awareness-raising platforms, connecting them with key stakeholders, and providing access to resources and services that might otherwise be denied to them. During the COVID-19 lockdowns, many LGBTQI+ Africans were abruptly cut off from the NGOs that were their safe havens and sources of social and economic support. Additionally, amid increasing hostility towards LGBTQI+ persons in many African countries, including Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda, NGOs like the Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs) and LGBT+ Rights Ghana provide crucial protective spaces. 

Having legal status is also a prerequisite for holding observer status and participation in the sessions of bodies like the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. However, the withdrawal of the Coalition of African Lesbians’ observer status by the African Commission and recent denials of such status to Alternative Côte d’Ivoire, Human Rights First Rwanda, and Synergía – Initiatives for Human Rights undermine the right to freedom of association and represent missed opportunities to ensure that the human rights of marginalized groups, including LGBTQI+ persons, are placed on the African human rights agenda.

Registration of LGBTQI+ human rights organizations in Africa is more than a matter of legal formality. It can be a significant step towards bolstering advocacy and promoting human rights for all. It is truly unconscionable that, in 2023, LGBTQI+ people continue to endure violence, persecution, discrimination and bigotry amid the reignited backlash against their human rights in multiple African countries. It is essential for governments to protect the right to freedom of association by dismantling barriers to registration and working closely with these groups to realize the human rights of all people. Only through collective efforts can we build an inclusive society that is able to guarantee the right to dignity of all persons and offer protection and non-discrimination to all.

Mulesa Lumina is the Legal and Communications Associate Officer for the International Commission of Jurists’ (ICJ’s) Africa Regional Program, Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh is ICJ Africa’s Director and Tanya Lallmon is a former ICJ Africa intern. 

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Queer parenthood explored: A transparent dive into surrogacy and hope

Matthew Schueller hosts ‘Who’s Your Daddy?’ podcast with husband

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Husbands Michael Lindsay and Matthew Schueller have embarked on a surrogacy journey. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Schueller)

This is a guest commentary by Matthew Schueller for News is Out. 

I feel extraordinarily lucky. As a kid, I never imagined my life could look like this. Growing up in the closet in the mid-Willamette Valley of Oregon, an area many consider to be the conservative Bible Belt of the Pacific Northwest, I didn’t think it was possible for me to find love, let alone get married. It’s humbling to see now that I’ve proved myself wrong. It is truly contrary to what I thought my life would be like 10 years ago, so to be here now in the process of starting a family is absolutely ridiculous to me. It already feels like a miracle, so the fact that we can even attempt to bring life into this world as a gay couple blows my mind.

I’ve always wanted to have kids, but I didn’t start seriously considering the possibility of surrogacy until I met Michael and our relationship became more serious. As I learned more about it and started looking into it more, I realized that it was the best path for us at the time. We started looking for an egg donor and surrogate mother at the beginning of 2021 when we officially made the decision to start the process.

That being said, we know it’s still not that easy. While it’s been around for a while, surrogacy is still riddled with mystery, inaccessibility, and unpredictability. What we quickly realized when we started to look at our options was that we didn’t know the first thing about starting a family as a queer couple, and neither did most of our friends and family! When we started researching online, we found a ton of different information (often conflicting) from a variety of sources. We didn’t even know where to start, so we began calling up IVF clinics and surrogacy agencies.

We spent months researching the process and figuring out what exactly this might look like for us, how much it would cost, and how we should mentally prepare. I think that’s what inspired us to start sharing. We saw a lot of couples online sharing their stories after the fact — after the babies had arrived and everything looked fantastic — but we didn’t see many couples sharing their stories as it was happening. To us, the process of surrogacy looked like a mysterious black curtain where most of the details were not quite clear.

Our goal is to share the process of having kids as a gay couple as it’s happening, the good and the difficult. We believe alternative paths to parenthood should be accessible to all queer couples, and we think that starts with shedding light on how these processes actually work. With knowledge, there’s power. And since many of us in the LGBTQ+ community don’t know the options available for family planning, we don’t know where to start to enact change.

Many paths to parenthood are largely considered to only be attainable by the extremely privileged and wealthy — but we know that gender, sexuality, and income level should not determine whether or not someone can have a family, so why is that not considered true for queer couples? There are a lot of big questions that have come up, so my husband, Michael, actually encouraged me to start a podcast with him to interview individuals who’ve experienced alternative paths to parenthood and experts who can provide insight and education. Thus, the birth of the “Who’s Your Daddy?” podcast.

The “Who’s Your Daddy?” podcast is available wherever you get your podcasts. (Photo courtesy of Maria Orlatov)

Over the last 19 months, we’ve found our egg donor, created embryos and actively sought our gestational carrier. While there have been many ups and downs, we are really excited for the next steps in hopefully finding our surrogate soon. The first difficult decision was trying to figure out where we would undergo the process. We interviewed quite a few surrogacy agencies and IVF clinics, and we connected well with a doctor in Texas. We just had a good feeling about it, so we went with our gut. At the time, we didn’t think much of where our egg donor or surrogate could be located: We thought it didn’t really matter if they were far away from us. We were under the impression that pursuing surrogacy in Texas might be significantly cheaper than on the West Coast, and perhaps lead to a quicker matching time since there are just way more people in the Dallas area than in the entire state of Oregon.

Our minds changed. As the clinic progressed through egg donation and embryo creation, we started to feel the distance weighing on us. Not only did the importance of being physically close to where our surrogate would be located but also we began reflecting on how the state laws could impact us. Just over the last year, Texas has taken sweeping action against access to abortion. So what does that mean for all those in the state considering being a surrogate? If pregnancy complications were to occur, how difficult would it be for a surrogate to access the needed medical care? It’s unclear. It’s understandable that the change in state law could cause concern for many considering becoming a gestational carrier and therefore limit the pool of people willing to carry in the state. 

Legal implications aside, we want to be there for the ultrasounds, doctor’s appointments and of course the childbirth. Being far away from where our surrogate lives makes that difficult. Now, we recommend those considering surrogacy to look into your local laws, determine how those might impact you and then consider the closest reputable IVF clinics in your area before searching far away.

Our embryos were created last December. While 30 eggs were harvested, only five embryos made it to viability. I’m the genetic half of four of the embryos, while Michael is the genetic half to one. It was a difficult experience. On one hand, we were incredibly happy that we were able to produce five viable embryos. On the other hand, we’re extremely nervous. Our goal starting out was to have twins, each of us the genetic father of one. With only having one embryo on Michael’s side, that means there’s just one chance at a transfer. If it were to fail, we’re just not sure it’s financially feasible to repeat the IVF process and try for more embryos. So, we’re hopeful. Optimism can be powerful here, so we look at this as having five embryos–five wonderful chances to have a baby. We might not end up with twins like we first sought to do, but if we’ve learned one thing from this entire journey, it’s that we cannot control what we cannot control. Surrogacy and IVF are seriously unpredictable processes, and we’re just hopeful to see what miracle biology will bring.

Michael, a dentist, and Matthew, a nurse, have become popular on social media for their relatable content, travel adventures and candid conversations about wanting to become parents. (Photo courtesy of Maria Orlatov)

Matthew Schueller is a content creator and registered nurse. He hosts the “Who’s Your Daddy” podcast along with his husband, Dr. Michael Lindsay. You can follow @MichaelandMatt on InstagramTikTok and YouTube

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