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Cameroon group works to protect, empower LGBTQ community

Working For Our Wellbeing operates throughout country

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Nkwain Hamlet (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

DOUALA, Cameroon — Nkwain Hamlet is the president and executive director of of Working For Our Wellbeing, an LGBTQ advocacy organization in Douala, Cameroon’s bustling economic capital, that works toward providing queer Cameroonians with access to safety and a chance to live confident, fully self-actualized lives in a society that is nothing but vilely queerphobic. Hamlet recently spoke with the Los Angeles Blade about his LGBTQ advocacy and future representation in the country’s government. 

“Cameroon, at all stages, is in a transition point. Whether it’s the presidency, ministerial roles, or different members of parliament, or even the Senate. We even have one of the oldest members of parliament in Africa,” he says about the possibility of an LGBTQ politician emerging in the country. “So, I think that in upcoming years, it will be a moment!”

Pushing Cameroon towards acceptance

Cameroon, like many African countries, has a culture of queerphobia that colonialism brought. Before Germany, and later France and the U.K, seized Cameroonian land and resources — wiping away any sense of freedom, agency and culture that existed in opposition to eurocentrism — queerness in what is now Cameroon was the norm.

Native Cameroonians practiced homoeroticism, with men being allowed to have consensual sex with other men. Women could also marry other women and establish same-sex households. 

“Among the Pangwe people of present-day Cameroon and Gabon, homosexual intercourse was practiced between males of all ages,” reports Bernadine Evaristo for The Guardian

Nankiti Nofuru for the Global Press Journal also reports about the Balong ethnic group.

“The Balong tradition allows women to marry to other women in cases where women are barren or have no children. Even women who want additional children but are unable to conceive them may marry other women,” reported Nofaru 

So, for Hamlet, whose goal is to advocate for all queer people in Cameroon by affording them the space to confidently inhabit their queerness, one of his organization’s focal points is to participate in politics and make queerness a national conversation that will encourage the government to establish wholly-protected human rights for LGBTQ individuals. 

“We currently don’t have any representation at the parliamentary level,” says Hamlet. “And because of this, we want to make sure that [LGBTQ people] are reflected and have role models in [this country’s] political positions.”

Cameroon’s future elections are on Hamlet’s mind, and he has famliarized himself with conversations surrounding the necessity to make sure that queer people are not only acknowledged in politics, but involved in decision-making processes. He emphasizes that there is a need for someone queer to step out, penetrate the politics scene and engage with the government.

Carrying this out, however, does not come without its hindrances. Hamlet recognizes one has to negotiate two realities in order to be a successful out LGBTQ politician in a predominantly queerphobic Cameroon.

“[To be a politician], you have to come out and embrace the political question of who is for you and who isn’t. And also, you have to think about who will support your candidacy and political agenda financially,” says Hamlet. 

He notes that financial support can exist through entrepreneurs and other influential figures who support the LGBTQ movement. Attaining it can nevertheless be exacting as many of them fear the public backlash that ensues after standing in favor of what Cameroonian nationals consider controversial identity issues.

“[Entrepreneurs] may not want to give their position regarding identity issues, and because of the backlash, you see them deleting their messages whether on Twitter or Facebook. So, you just have to identify who these people are and know that they’re open-minded and [will work in your favor],” says Hamlet. 

Working For Our Wellbeing members (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Making sure no one is left behind

Cameroon for years has been embroiled in the Anglophone Crisis, a civil war that stems from a conflict between Anglophone and Francophone Cameroonians, and their fight to maintain their respective colonial legacies, especially with regards to law and education.

BBC reports eight out of Cameroon’s 10 semi-autonomous administrative regions are Francophone, while the other two are Anglophone. English-speaking Cameroonians consequently face discrmination because they are excluded from lucrative employment opportunities and a chance at significant political representation as “government documents are often only published in French, even though English is also an official language.” Cameroon’s education system is also Francophone-centric, and it has created disparities because English-speaking areas are subjected to French standards, even though they inherited the British education system.

Reuters reports the Anglophone Crisis as recently as 2020 has killed approximately 3,500 people. The violence has displaced 700,000 people from their homes as English-speaking groups fight to break away from the predominantly French-speaking government.

The crisis has quickly become an LGBTQ human rights issue for Hamlet and Working For Our Wellbeing because a queer population exists in the two Anglophone regions: Northwest and Southwest. Hamlet describes the situation as “catastrophic” when speaking about how the conflict has affected his organization’s work.

“A lot of the work we do involves educating heterosexual people in the Francophone zones on tolerance and acceptance. Now that this conflict exists, our work becomes challenging because we are not able to reach the Anglophone zones as effectively as we are able to reach the Francophone zones,” says Hamlet.

He also notes LGBTQ people in the area are “in a death trap.” It therefore feels to him when he tackles national advocacy work that there is a gap because his organization is unable to reach Anglophone LGBTQ individuals without encountering diffculties. 

Working For Our Wellbeing is nevertheless redefining their strategies to better equip themselves to reach out to LGBTQ Cameroonians in the country’s English-speaking areas. Part of this includes the development of a stringent security plan and analyzing the day-to-day situation to ensure that Anglophone LGBTQ individuals can be fiercely advocated for without the organization facing any repercussions. The aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and Cameroon’s general political crisis have made it imperative to advocate on behalf queer Anglophones with the utmost care and sensitivity.

Imparting hope and joy to the LGBTQ community

As this month nears the end and many countries around the world conclude their Pride celebrations, Working For Our Wellbeing’s festivities are in full force, with preparations for a poetry competition fully underway. There will also be a round-table conversation that will welcome open-minded members of the general public interested in discussing and learning more about LGBTQ issues in Cameroon. 

“We’ve been hit hard by the law, and with everything, so we want to celebrate ourselves,” says Hamlet. “We are ready.” 

Working For Our Wellbeing after Pride will continue to do what it knows best: Caring for LGBTQ Cameroonians. Whether it’s providing  temporary shelter for queer people who have been rejected by their families or empowering them to be financially independent, one thing that is certain is that Hamlet and his organization will put LGBTQ Cameroonians first, normalize queerness and establish a culture akin to that which existed pre-colonialism. 

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Eastern Europe

Polish House passes bill echoing Russian “gay propaganda” law

“There’s no doubt, that LGBT+ ideology grew out of… the same root as Germany’s Hitlerian National Socialism […]”

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The Polish parliament's lower House, the Sejm (Screenshot via Polish government Sejm RP YouTube)

WARSZAWA – A measure that would give school administrators and superintendents the power to remove books, lessons, and ban student participation in events or clubs that are LGBTQ+ affirming passed the lower house of Poland’s parliament, known as the Sejm, this past Thursday, January 13, in a 227-214 vote.

The measure, dubbed “Lex Czarnek,” or “Czarnek’s Law,” after minister of education Przemysław Czarnek,  who has been vehemently opposed to the LGBTQ+ rights and the country’s equality movement, now moves on to the upper house, the Senate where it faces opposition and likely will be rejected Polish broadcast media outlet RMF 24 reported.

According to RMF24, “The Sejm adopted the amendment to the Educational Law, prepared by the Ministry of Education and Science. The project is commonly known as “lex Czarnek”. The role of school superintendents will be strengthened, and the rules governing the functioning of non-governmental organizations in schools and educational institutions will be changed.”

Opposition to LGBTQ+ rights has an ally in the Education Minister whose role would determine the outcome of implementation of the measure:

Pursuant to the amendment, the headmaster of the school or facility will be required – no later than two months before the commencement of classes conducted by associations or organizations – to obtain detailed information about the action plan in the school, the outline of classes and materials used in the offered classes, as well as obtain a positive the opinion of the education superintendent for the activities of such an organization at school or in an institution. The curator has 30 days to issue an opinion.”

The law also contains a stipulation that “if the head of the school or educational institution fails to comply with the recommendations issued by the school superintendent, he will be able to summon him to explain why he did not do so . If the principal still does not follow the recommendations, the probation officer may apply to the governing body of the school or facility with a request to dismiss the principal during the school year, without notice.

A member of the Sejm, Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bąk, a progressive leftist politician who in addition to protesting against abortion laws, has also been active in protests for LGBTQ+ rights, tweeted her outrage; “The voice of the curator Nowak, as if it were not stupid and dangerous to health and life, is more important for PiS deputies than the voice of students, parents and teachers.”

The MP and Education Minister Czarnek, target of Dziemianowicz-Bąk’s anger, has staked out several public vitriolic anti-LGBTQ+ positions that has included an attack on the LGBTQ+ community in West Hollywood.

Speaking with a reporter on Serwis Info Poranek with the national state-run TVP Info (TVP3 Polska) last June, the newly appointed Education Minister said- (translated from Polish):

“Let’s end the discussion about these LGBT abominations, homosexuality, bisexuality, parades of equality. Let us defend the family, because failure to defend the family leads to what you see.

As he spoke these words, he was holding a phone in his hand, on the display of which he showed a picture of several people. – These are the Los Angeles guys in downtown last June. I was on a delegation there, I was passing through, there was a so-called gay pride parade there – he added. – We are at an earlier stage, there are no such things with us yet, but such chaps shamelessly (shamelessly – ed.) Walk the streets of the western city of Los Angeles – he added.

Przemysław Czarnek (Screenshot via Serwis Info Poranek)

Serwis Info Poranek also noted that according to MP Czarnek, “Europe is also heading for this, Poland is heading for this- […] These people are not equal to normal people, let’s end this discussion.”

During the ongoing battles over the so-called LGBTQ+ ‘Free Zones’ with the European Commission Czarnek weighed in comparing the LGBTQ+ community to the Nazi’s.

There’s no doubt, that LGBT+ ideology grew out of… the same root as Germany’s Hitlerian National Socialism, which was responsible for all the evil of World War II,” Czarnek said PinkNewsUK reported.

Renew Europe, the liberal, pro-European political group of the European Parliament tweeted its outrage over the actions by the Sejm:

Observers think that the law will be rejected by the senate although under the Polish constitution there is still a possibility it could be signed off on by the anti-LGBTQ+ Polish President Andzej Duda.

PinkNewsUK reports:

Although it seems that Lex Czarnek is on track to becoming law, Rémy Bonny, executive director of pan-EU LGBT+ rights organisation Forbidden Colours, insists that all is not lost.

With pressure from politicians both in the EU and around the world, Poland could be forced to backtrack.

He told PinkNewsUK: “In September, after threats by the European Commission to take away funding, four out five provinces that declared themselves ‘LGBT+ free zones’ withdrew their anti-LGBT+ resolutions… International pressure on Poland works.”

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Central America

Murdered Honduran Trans activist buried

Thalía Rodríguez shot outside her home on Monday

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The funeral of Thalía Rodríguez in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Jan. 11, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Reportar sin Miedo)

The Los Angeles Blade on Thursday published a Spanish-language version of this story from Reportar sin Miedo, the Blade’s media partner in Honduras.

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — A prominent Transgender activist in Honduras who was murdered on Monday has been buried.

Reportar sin Miedo reported activists are among those who attended Thalía Rodríguez’s funeral that took place in Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital, on Tuesday.

Rodríguez led Asociación Cozumel Trans, a Honduran trans rights group.

The U.S. Embassy in Honduras, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras and the U.N. Refugee Agency have all condemned Rodríguez’s murder. U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power in a tweet said she was “horrified” by the murders of Rodríguez and Pablo Hernández, a leader in Honduras’ indigenous Lenca community who was killed on Sunday near San Marcos de Caiquín, a municipality in the country’s Lempira department, while he was on his way to church.

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Europe

France, Greece end restrictions for MSM blood donors

Calls for U.S. to remove abstinence requirement grow

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gay blood ban, gay news, Washington Blade
(Bigstock photo)

PARIS — France and Greece this week announced they will allow gay and bisexual men to donate blood without restrictions.

Têtu, a French LGBTQ magazine, noted men who have sex with men previously had to remain abstinent for four months before they could donate blood in France.

French Health Minister Olivier Véran on Tuesday announced this requirement would no longer be in place as of March 16. Têtu also noted officials will no longer ask potential blood donors about their sexual orientation.

“It’s a whole new relationship with the blood donor that we want,” said Véran.

Greece on Monday also said it would allow MSM to donate blood without restrictions.

Greek Health Minister Thanos Plevris and Deputy Health Minister Mina Gaga issued a decree that will become official once the Government Gazette publishes it.

Greece and France are the latest countries to lift restrictions for MSM who want to donate blood.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration currently allows MSM to donate blood if they have not had sex with another man for three months.

The American Red Cross this week declared a blood crisis because of the surge in COVID-19 omicron variant cases. The declaration sparked renewed calls for the U.S. to allow MSM to donate blood without restrictions.

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