LGBTI solidarity in Africa was the topic of a forum focused on advocacy, support and accompaniment at the Episcopal Church Center June 14.
About 40 people attended the event that activist Brent Holman-Gomez moderated. Holman-Gomez works within the welcoming church movement, immigration equality and the Gay Liberation Network.
Speakers included Rev. Judith Kotze, lesbian minister and director of Inclusive and Affirming Ministries ( IAM ) South Africa; John Adewoye, a gay Nigerian-American, founder of Courage Nigeria and the Center for Integration and Courageous Living, co-founder of Chicago LGBT Asylum Support Program ( CLASP ), and a former Catholic priest; and Victor Charles Aweke, a bisexual Nigerian-American currently working with the Center for Integration and Courageous Living and CLASP.
Kotze remarks focused on what is happening regarding LGBTI discrimination and anti-LGBTI laws in Africa. She explained that since we live in a global village that is connected via social media governments in African can't get away with enacting anti-LGBT laws in a vacuum. This has given LGBTI people in Africa a safe virtual space to share their stories with each other and that has led to education, encouragement, and a way to find hope, noted Kotze.
The recent anti-LGBT sentiment in Africa is a direct result of evangelical Christians in the U.S. and other nations exporting their homophobia to the African continent, said Kotze. Kotze explained that although South Africa has the most liberal constitution in terms of LGBT equality there is still a persistence of corrective rape among black lesbians.
"In this global village we don't have the luxury to step aside and ignore what is happening in Africa. ... We need to stand in solidarity so we can make the journey towards LGBTI equality together," said Kotze.
Adewoye spoke about the pathways that exist for persecuted LGBTI people in Africa to find safe havens elsewhere in the world including the U.S. The reason why Adewoye said he came to the U.S. was to be free from being gay meaning his goal was to undergo "conversion therapy". Instead, Adewoye explained that his world opened up the longer he was in the U.S. and he was able to fully embrace himself and come out as gay.
"The new wave of anti-LGBT rhetoric and actions is pushing educated and skilled people out of Africa," said Adewoye. "What is happening to African LGBTI people can happen to any of us when we step outside of LGBT friendly nations and enter nations that have anti-LGBT laws."
Adewoye noted it is still difficult to get an asylum visa approved for LGBT people coming to the United States and other LGBT-friendly nations, adding that the situation needs to change.
Aweke's presentation highlighted the health concerns that persist due to persecution of LGBTI people in Africa. In 2010 Aweke along with others in his native Nigeria started an HIV positive group for gay men so they could talk about their HIV status. The lack of education surrounding HIV/AIDS and condoms in Africa is persistent, said Aweke.
Aweke explained that threats of violence due to the work he was doing on behalf of HIV positive gay men forced him to flee his country. The question Aweke posed was what can we do as individuals to help the LGBTI community in Africa.
A Q&A session and breakout discussions on worldwide/church advocacy, U.S. policy and Chicago re-settlement followed the panelist's presentations.
During the worldwide/church advocacy discussion the issue of accompaniment and its full meaning were explored by the group. They talked about the ways that US activists can link arms with LGBTI friends in Africa. The US policy group discussed immigration reform as it pertains to LGBT asylum seekers and the Chicago resettlement group spoke about the needs that CLASP has in the areas of housing, meal prep, transportation, and funding as the number of asylees increases.
A reception and screening of the documentary film Call Me Kuchuabout the last year of David Kato's ( Uganda's first openly gay man ) lifetook place after the forum. IAM and CLASP received all the proceeds from the reception and film screening.
Forum collaborators included the Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches, CLASP, Gay Liberation Network, IAM South Africa, St. Luke's Lutheran Church Logan Square and Truth Wins Out.
See www.lgbtiafricachicago.blogspot.com and www.facebook.com/LGBTIAfricaChicago for more information.
Also eee: Africa-focused forum
examines theology, queer reality, by Jason Carson Wilson.