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South Sudan refugee camp is ‘not a safe haven’ for LGBTQ residents

Gorom Refugee Settlement is outside country’s capital of Juba

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U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan Michael Adler visits the Gorom Refugee Settlement on Oct. 25, 2023. The camp's LGBTQ residents remain marginalized. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Embassy in South Sudan)

LGBTQ people who live at a refugee camp in South Sudan say the mistreatment they are suffering because of their sexual orientation and gender identity has left them even more marginalized.

The U.N. Refugee Agency runs the Gorom Refugee Settlement, which is roughly 16 miles from Juba, the country’s capital, in partnership with ACROSS and other South Sudanese NGOs.

UNHCR says more than 20,000 refugees live at Gorom, with the Anyuak people from Ethiopia making up the largest group. They have been there since 2011 when South Sudan became its own country after it broke away from Sudan.

Although this is not the first time the plight of LGBTQ people has been raised; the challenges seem to continue unabatedly and grow worse as each year passes. They are denied employment opportunities, with some of their children unable to access education.

Yaga Piuson, an LGBTQ activist for Gorom, says the situation has become even more dire.

“The immediate challenges faced by LGBT persons within the camp are severe and pervasive,” said Piuson. “They endure daily attacks, lack of police assistance, death threats, stoning, abuses, discrimination, bullying, denial of medical care, and the inability for their children to access education. Many are also deprived of proper shelter, leading to health risks such as pneumonia.” 

Piuson added UNHCR and ACROSS have done little to address these challenges, while the South Sudanese government has turned a blind eye.

“As of now, both the UNHCR and ACROSS have not provided a durable solution,” said Piuson. “While they have initiated interviews with LGBTQIA+ individuals, the options presented, relocation to other camps within South Sudan or urban areas, pose significant risks due to the country’s stance against homosexuality.”

“Unfortunately, the South Sudanese government and civic organizations have yet to offer any substantial assistance in alleviating these challenges,” added Piuson.

Piuson added some of the refugees have fled Gorom because of the continued persecution they face. Piuson said the settlement was no longer safe for LGBTQ refugees who include Anyuak, Darfurians from Sudan, Congolese and Burundians.

“Many of these nationalities have fled because of wars,” noted Piuson. “However, LGBTQIA+ individuals have fled solely due to persecution based on their sexual orientation.”

“Resolving the plight of LGBTQIA+ persons within the settlement requires providing them with a safe environment to freely exercise their rights, including freedom of movement and access to basic needs such as shelter and education for their children,” added Piuson. “It’s crucial to emphasize that the Gorom Refugee Settlement is currently not a safe haven for LGBTQIA+ individuals.”

ACROSS Executive Director Elisama Daniel in response to the Washington Blade’s request for comment said the organization did not have the mandate or jurisdiction to answer questions on the plight of LGBTQ people at Gorom, and directed questions to UNHCR. The agency did not respond to a request for comment.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations in South Sudan remain criminalized with up to 10 years in prison, although there is little to no evidence that anyone has been charged with homosexuality. The South Sudanese government, however, is contemplating an anti-homosexuality bill that is similar to those pending in neighboring Kenya and other countries.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in May 2023 signed his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that prompted worldwide outrage.  

South Sudanese Minister of Information, Communication, Technology and Postal Services Michael Makuei Leuth ahead of Pope Francis’s visit to the country last year said marriage is between a man and a woman and added any form of same-sex marriage violates the constitution. The government spokesperson also emphasizes there would not be any discussions around LGBTQ-specific issues. 

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Africa

Prominent South African activist elected to country’s parliament

Steve Letsike founded Access Chapter 2

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Steve Letsike (Photo courtesy of Steve Letsike)

A prominent South African LGBTQ activist has won a seat in the country’s parliament.

Steve Letsike, a lesbian woman who founded Access Chapter 2, a South African advocacy group, is a member of the African National Congress. She is also part of the ANC’s National Executive Committee that determines the party’s direction.

Letsike won a seat in the South African National Assembly in national and provincial elections that took place on May 29.

The ANC lost its parliamentary majority that it had had since Nelson Mandela in 1994 won the South African presidency in the country’s first post-apartheid elections. MPs earlier this month re-elected President Cyril Ramaphosa after the ANC invited the Democratic Alliance and other parties to form a Government of National Unity.

Letsike in a statement to the Washington Blade described her election as “a milestone for the people of South Africa, and also affirmative of our party’s posture that is inclusive and intention to transformation agenda.”

“I am not in parliament for myself but the people that trusted the ANC to send individuals that will put people first,” said Letsike. “In that cohort that includes the LGBTI people like myself. Rooted in the teaching of a just society, that seeks equality and believes in the rule of law. That demand on developmental agenda from a queer lens and clear priorities of the people is important.” 

“I am delighted by this task, trust and hope for our people,” she added.

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Namibian High Court strikes down Apartheid-era sodomy laws

Gay activist challenged statutes in 2020

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(Bigstock photo)

The Namibian High Court on Friday ruled laws that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country are unconstitutional.

Friedel Dausab, a gay activist, in 2020 challenged the Apartheid-era statute.

The Washington Blade previously reported Dausab said the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977, which listed “sodomy” as a Schedule 1 offense, and a second law that criminalized “unnatural” sexual acts, promote stigma and exclusion of LGBTQ Namibians. Equal Namibia, a Namibian LGBTQ advocacy group, on its X account praised the ruling.

“Welcome to a new Namibia. A born-free Namibia,” it said.

Dausab, who challenged the laws with the assistance of Human Dignity Trust, a British NGO, told Reuters he is “just happy.”

“It’s a great day for Namibia,” he said. “It won’t be a crime to love anymore.”

Namibia is the latest country in which consensual same-sex sexual relations have been decriminalized in recent years.

The Namibian Supreme Court in May 2023 ruled the country must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed elsewhere. The landmark decision sparked criticism among leading politicians and religious officials.

Activists say their rhetoric has contributed to increased harassment of LGBTQ Namibians and hate speech against them.

Amnesty International in a press release notes MPs last June passed two bills that “seek to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, discriminate against trans people and criminalize any support, celebration or promotion of same-sex unions with up to six years in jail and hefty fines.” Khanyo Farise, the group’s deputy regional director for East and Southern Africa, said the organization in recent weeks has “observed alarming rhetoric threatening LGBTI persons in Namibia.”

“Whatever the outcome of the High Court decision on June 21, violence and discrimination against LGBTI people has no place in Namibian society,” said Farise. “Authorities should take decisive action to prevent human rights violations against LGBTI persons and hold perpetrators accountable.”

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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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