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Report details anti-LGBTQ discrimination, violence in Kenya refugee camp

March 15 attack left gay man dead

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Ugandan refugees, gay news, Washington Blade
The Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya (Photo by the E.U. Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations via Flickr)

KAKUMA REFUGEE CAMP, Kenya — A new report released on Wednesday indicates nearly all of the LGBTQ people who live in a Kenya refugee camp have experienced discrimination and violence because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

The Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration and Rainbow Railroad in May 2021 surveyed 58 LGBTQ asylum seekers who live at the Kakuma refugee camp and the Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement that opened in 2016 to help alleviate overcrowding at Kakuma. The groups also interviewed 18 “key informants.”

More than 90 percent of the LGBTQ asylum seekers who spoke with ORAM and Rainbow Railroad said they have been “verbally assaulted.”

Eighty-three percent of them indicated they suffered “physical violence,” with 26 percent of them reporting sexual assault. All of the transgender respondents “reported having experienced physical assault,” with 67 percent of them “reporting sexual assault.”

Eighty-eight percent of respondents said they had been “denied police assistance due to their sexual identity.” Nearly half of the respondents told ORAM and Rainbow Railroad they had to be “relocated from their allocated shelters to alternative accommodation due to the constant abuses directed at them by neighbors.”

Kakuma, which is located in northwest Kenya near the country’s border with Uganda and South Sudan, is one of two refugee camps the U.N. Refugee Agency operates in the East African nation. The other, Dadaab, is located near Kenya’s border with Somalia.

The report notes upwards of 160,000 refugees from South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Ethiopia and Uganda were living in Kakuma as of January.

Those who responded to the ORAM and Rainbow Railroad survey are from Uganda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, South Sudan, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Yemen and Ethiopia and all of them have asked for asylum in Kenya. Ninety-four percent of them live in Kakuma, while the remaining six percent live in Kalobeyei.

The report also estimates there are 350 LGBTQ asylum seekers in Kakuma and Kalobeyei. UNHCR in 2020 created Block 13 in Kakuma that is specifically for LGBTQ refugees.

Gay man died after Block 13 attack

Two gay men suffered second-degree burns during an attack on Block 13 on March 15. One of the men died a few weeks later at a hospital in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.

Forty-one of the Block 13 residents who participated in the ORAM and Rainbow Railroad survey said that “relocation to a safer place as a priority.” The report also notes some respondents who live outside Block 13 “said that the activism in Block 13 was affecting the overall relationship between LGBTQI+ asylum seekers and service providers in the camp.”

“They expressed concern with some activities conducted as part of their activism,” reads the report. “For example, they alleged that some activists were conducting staged attacks on individuals and false claims of violence to attract media attention as part of their advocacy.”

The report notes “allegations of activity from activists in Block 13 have not been confirmed.” Some of the “key informants” who ORAM and Rainbow Railroad interviewed for their report, however, “observed that LGBTQI+ activists from different countries have been supporting the advocacy in Block 13 without considering the local context and potential negative or unintended consequences.”

“They allege that the advocacy has been antagonizing LGBTQI+ members with other refugees in the camp and service providers,” reads the report. “For example, some of the LGBTQI+ asylum seekers were reported to have deserted their allocated shelters, moved to Block 13 and were persistently demanding new shelters.”

An attack at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya on March 15, 2021, left two gay refugees with second-degree burns. One of these men later died. (Photo courtesy of Gilbert Kagarura)

UNHCR in a statement after the March 15 attack noted Kenya “remains the only country in the region to provide asylum to those fleeing persecution based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression,” even though consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. The ORAM and Rainbow Railroad report acknowledges both points.

“Asylum seekers and refugees in Kenya are not immune to pervasive anti-LGBTQI+ attitudes in the community,” it reads. “As the number of LGBTQI+ asylum seekers and refugees increases rapidly, it is important to understand their unique protection needs and plan for safe and dignified service delivery to meet those needs.”

The report notes more than 70 percent of respondents have gone to Kakuma’s main hospital the International Rescue Committee operates in order to receive HIV/AIDS-related services. More than 85 percent of respondents said they “preferred to seek all other health services beyond HIV and AIDS services at the main hospital, since the facility was friendly and provided a stigma-free environment for the LGBTQI+ community in the camp.”

“Respondents reported traveling long distances in order to visit the main hospital,” reads the report.

The report notes limited access to cardiologists and other specialists at the eight health facilities in the camp that UNHCR partner organizations operates. Roughly a third of respondents also said they have “been stigmatized in some of the health clinics.”

“This included being referred to as shoga (a derogatory Kiswahili term used to refer to homosexuality) either by staff members or other refugees in the waiting room while waiting to see a provider, or some providers just directing them to the main hospital with snide remarks about how they do not entertain LGBTQI+ persons in their facility,” reads the report.

The African Human Rights Coalition, the Refugee Coalition of East Africa and Upper Rift Minorities are among the other groups that work with the camp’s LGBTQ residents.

The report notes only a third of respondents “were actively engaged in economic activity at the time of the study, a majority depended on the food rations distributed in the camp.” It also contains 10 recommendations, which are below, to improve conditions for LGBTQ refugees in Kakuma.

1) The Refugee Affairs Secretariat of Kenya must fast-track refugee status determination of LGBTQ asylum seekers with further support from UNHCR and civil society organizations.

2) The Refugee Affairs Secretariat of Kenya and UNHCR must create more responsive and sensitive protection services for LGBTQ refugees in Kenya.

3) Civil society organizations and their supporters should provide livelihood support and other support to meet the immediate needs of LGBTQ refugees in Kakuma.

4) Governments of resettlement countries must resume and fast track resettlement of LGBTQ refugees from Kenya.

5) UNHCR and civil society organizations must continue to build skills development programs for employability.

6) LGBTQ civil society organizations should work more closely with refugee-led organizations and collectives to build self-protection services.

7) Donor communities should participate in more long-term development programming for LGBTQI+ refugees in Kenya.

8) LGBTQ civil society organizations providing support to refugees in Kenya must coordinate more closely.

9) LGBTQ civil society organizations and refugee-led organizations should continue to advocate for more inclusive human rights in Kenya.

10) Civil society must continue the push for LGBTQ human rights globally, including decriminalization of same sex intimacy.

“This much-needed report underscores the challenges, dangers and complexities of life that LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers face in Kakuma refugee camp,” said ORAM Executive Director Steve Roth in a press release that announced the report’s release. “The refugees themselves have spoken and they want to be heard. UNHCR, governments and civil society organizations must work together to ensure the immediate safety and well-being of this community while also addressing the longer term, durable solutions we recommend in the report.”

Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell added refugee camps cannot “become permanent solutions to crises of forced displacement.”

“The findings of this report confirm a key goal of Rainbow Railroad—to fast track resettlement of LGBTQI+ refugees,” he said. “Rainbow Railroad and civil society partners are ready to provide support to LGBTQI+ persons at risk and assist in further resettlement. Ultimately, we need the UNHCR, the government of Kenya and governments of countries that are destinations for refugees to step up an ensure that LGBTQI+ asylum seekers in the camp are resettled in safer countries.”

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Africa

Burkina Faso moves to criminalize homosexuality

Justice Minister Edasso Bayala made announcement on July 10

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Burkina Faso flag (Photo by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

Burkina Faso has become the latest African country to move to criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Justice Minister Edasso Bayala on July 10 after a Cabinet meeting said same-sex sexual acts and similar practices would now be prohibited and seen as a violation of the law.

Unlike other countries where lawmakers have to introduce and pass bills, this scenario will likely not be the case in Burkina Faso because the country is currently under military role. Captain Ibrahim Traorè in 2022 led a coup that removed President Roch Kaboré and Prime Minister Lassina Zerbo.

Although some have signaled there still needs to be a parliamentary vote, there will be “legal” ramifications for those who are found to be LGBTQ or advocating for the community.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations or identifying as LGBTQ were regarded as legal in Burkina Faso before the July 10 announcement. Same-sex marriages were — and remain — illegal.

Members of the Transitional Legislative Assembly last September met to discuss regional issues that included the prohibition of and penalization of homosexuality and restricting the creation of groups that advocate on behalf of sexual minorities. The TLA incorporated the suggestions into a report and submitted it to Burkina Faso’s leadership.

Some of the country’s LGBTQ groups and human rights organizations have called upon the current leadership to respect and acknowledge other genders.

“We are all equal in dignity and rights,” said the National Consultive Commission on Human Rights, which is known by acronym CNDH (Commission Nationale des Droits Humains in French), in a statement. “CNDH is fighting against all forms of discrimination based on race gender, religion or social origin.”

“In Burkina Faso, thousands of people suffer from prejudice and injustice every day,” added CNDH. “We must take action. Discrimination weakens our society and divides our communities. Every individual deserves to live without fear of being judged or excluded.”

The organization further stressed “every action counts. Every voice matters.”

“Together we can change mindsets,” it said. “We must educate, raise awareness and encourage respect for diversity.”

CNDH President Gonta Alida Henriette said the government’s decision “would be the greatest violation of human rights in Burkina Faso and would condemn hundreds of thousands of LGBT+ people in Burkina Faso.” Alice Nkom, an African human rights activist, echoed this sentiment.

“Why politicize a privacy matter among consenting adults while making it a crucial topic for Africa? I answer you: Stop spying on your neighbor for the wrong reasons,” said Nkom. “Mind your own life and, if you care about your neighbor, worry about their health, if water is coming out of the tap, if there is electricity in the house, or food to feed their children.”

“Why are they prioritizing the issue of saying no to homosexuality in Africa instead of no wars or armed conflict in Africa, no poverty in Africa, no hunger in Africa, no misery in Africa?,” asked Nkom. “We should stop being distracted by topics that take away nothing and add nothing to our lives.”

Other activists say the proposal would expose the LGBTQ community and its allies to imprisonment and other punishments. They say the repercussions would go beyond legal implications; making human rights and sexual minority activists more vulnerable to criminal action, persecution, and arbitrary arrests. 

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Cameroon president’s daughter comes out

Brenda Biya acknowledges relationship with Brazilian model

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Brenda Biya (Photo via Instagram)

The daughter of Cameroonian President Paul Biya has come out as a lesbian.

Brenda Biya, 26, on June 30 posted to her Instagram page a picture of her kissing Brazilian model Layyons Valença.

“I’m crazy about you and I want the world to know,” said Brenda Biya.

Her father has been Cameroon’s president since 1982.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in the Central African country that borders Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, the Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and Chad. The State Department’s 2023 human rights report notes harassment, discrimination, violence, and arbitrary arrests of LGBTQ people are commonplace in the country.

Brenda Biya is a musician who does not live in Cameroon.

The BBC reported she told Le Parisien, a French newspaper, in an exclusive interview published on Tuesday that she and Valença have been together for eight months. The women have also traveled to Cameroon together three times, but Brenda Biya did not tell her family they were in a relationship.

Brenda Biya said she did not tell her family that she planned to come out, and they were upset when she did. Brenda Biya told Le Parisien that her mother, Cameroonian first lady Chantale Biya, asked her to delete her Instagram post.

The Washington Blade on Thursday did not see the picture of Brenda Biya and Valença on her Instagram account.

“Coming out is an opportunity to send a strong message,” Brenda Biya told Le Parisien.

Brenda Biya described Cameroon’s criminalization law as “unfair, and I hope that my story will change it.”

Activists applauded Brenda Biya for coming out. The BBC reported the DDHP Movement, which supports Cameroon’s anti-LGBTQ laws, filed a complaint against her with the country’s public prosecutor.

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Ugandan activists again appeal ruling that upheld Anti-Homosexuality Act

Country’s Constitutional Court in April refused to ‘nullify’ law

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(Image by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

A group of LGBTQ activists in Uganda on Thursday once again appealed a ruling that upheld the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act.

President Yoweri Museveni in May 2023 signed the law, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The U.S. subsequently imposed visa restrictions on Ugandan officials and removed the country from a program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to trade duty-free with the U.S. The World Bank Group also announced the suspension of new loans to Uganda.

The Ugandan Constitutional Court on April 3 refused to “nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act in its totality.” Sexual Minorities Uganda Executive Director Frank Mugisha and Jacqueline Kasha Nabagesara are among the activists who appealed the ruling to the country’s Court of Appeal on April 16.

A picture that Mugisha posted to his X account on Thursday notes he, along with Nabagesara, are two of the 22 activists who filed the latest appeal with the Supreme Court, which is the country’s highest court.

“Today, we have filed an appeal in the Supreme Court of Uganda to overturn the Constitutional Court decision that upheld the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Law,” said Mugisha.

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LGBTQ Kenyans join protests against controversial tax bill

More than 40 people killed after protesters stormed parliament on June 25

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There were clashes between police and protesters in Nairobi, Kenya, on June 2, 2024. (Screen capture via AP YouTube)

Queer Kenyans have braved the risks of homophobic attacks and joined young people in the nationwide protests against the government’s proposed tax hikes on bread and other essentials.

The protests, which started mid-last month before the National Assembly on June 25 passed the country’s controversial Finance Bill 2024, have been led by the country’s Gen Z and millennial populations.

The nationwide protests, which culminated with angry mobs storming parliament when the bill passed, have also drawn LGBTQ Kenyans who have marched with Pride flags alongside other protesters with the national flag. The queer protesters, however, stopped carrying the rainbow flags out of fear of anti-LGBTQ attacks after other protesters warned the presence of the Pride flag threatened to spur a serious backlash from parents, clerics, and government loyalists who oppose the championing of homosexuality, which Kenyan laws criminalize.

President William Ruto, who defiantly pushed for the enactment of the bill to raise more revenues to implement projects, bowed to pressure from the protesters and the international community and declined to assent to the proposed law. This decision followed the ugly scenes on June 25 after riot police responded to the peaceful protesters with force that left more than 40 people dead and more than 300 others injured from live bullets, massive looting, and destruction of property.

GALCK, which is a coalition of 16 LGBTQ rights groups, while supporting the anti-tax protests and the participation of their members stated that the Finance Bill “disproportionately burdens Kenyans and threatens our most vulnerable communities including the LGBTQ+ individuals.”

“For LGBTQ+ Kenyans who often face additional healthcare challenges, these taxes pose a significant barrier,” GALCK said in a statement.

The group reiterated that introducing taxes on digital content creation on which the majority of Kenya’s unemployed youths rely as a source of income would have also severely impacted the LGBTQ organizations and activists who depend on online platforms for advocacy and awareness campaigns.

“This stifles crucial efforts to address systemic inequalities faced by the LGBTQ+ community,” GALCK noted.

GALCK also stated the government’s proposed tax hikes on transaction costs for bank and mobile money transfers through the Finance Bill would have impacted LGBTQ people in need of emergency support and smooth flow of funds within the queer community.

Regarding the government’s proposal that would have allowed the country’s tax collector, the Kenya Revenue Authority, to freely access crucial information from people regardless of the existing data protection laws, GALCK noted the move would have amounted to a serious privacy violation to the LGBTQ organizations, activists, and donors.

“This bill is not just about the proposed tax hikes, it is about basic rights and the future of Kenya,” GALCK affirmed. “As GALCK, we will continue protesting and raising awareness until our voices are heard. Together, we can build a safe and sustainable country for all of us.”

Although GALCK has expressed its condolences to the families of protesters killed during the nationwide protests, it has thus far not reported any queer person killed or injured, even as a memorial concert in honor of the more than 40 victims was held last Sunday at Uhuru Park in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.

The Initiative for Equality and Non-Discrimination (INEND), an LGBTQ+ rights group, has also been instrumental in ensuring both the queer and non-LGBTQ protesters stay safe and healthy during and after protests by sharing informative tips.

INEND, for instance, informed the protesters on the need to bathe to get rid of teargas and other chemical compounds that riot police threw at them, residual dust, and sweat for healthy skin. The group also advised protesters to drink a lot of water to (re)hydrate their bodies, get enough rest after the protest, seek immediate medical care when injured, and receive psychological support.

“Once rested, movements (protesters) should regroup in a day or two to discuss follow-up steps for arrested members, successes or setbacks of the protest, opportunities created for movement-building and the next strategies involving media appearances, following up with institutions, social media campaigns, another protest, and suchlike activities,” INEND stated.

The nationwide protest movement, which is organic, has mostly been mobilized by social media influencers and human rights activists but with no de facto leaders. It is, therefore, difficult for authorities to deal with it and they have resorted to arbitrary arrests and abductions.

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Transgender woman kidnapped, sexually assaulted in Zimbabwe

Sunflower Sibanda released on July 3, found refuge at LGBTQ group’s offices

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Sunflower Sibanda (Photo courtesy of Sibanda's Facebook page)

A transgender woman in Zimbabwe who was kidnapped late last month has been found alive.

Chayelle Cathro, a missing persons investigator, said Sunflower Sibanda was last seen at the Eclipse nightclub in Harare, the country’s capital, with an unknown assailant on June 28.

Sibanda, who lives in Bulawayo, the country’s second largest city that is roughly 288 miles from Harare, reserved an Airbnb in the capital’s Avonlea neighborhood before she went to the club.

“Sunflower was last spotted at Eclipse club in the inner city by multiple confirmed sources,” said Cathro. “She left the club with an unidentified man who was allegedly taking her to her reserved Airbnb in Avonlea. However, the Airbnb hosts confirmed that she never checked in.”

Cathro said two of Sibanda’s friends began to search for her on June 29 “when she did not make an appearance at an event she was meant to attend.” They looked for her at the Airbnb and then went to the police station and the nightclub “where guards confirmed that there was no unusual activity the previous night.”

They ended their search at Parirenyatwa Hospital, “where they checked the emergency room, resuscitation, and specialist services.” 

Sibanda on July 3 was dumped in a remote area along Bulawayo Road in the Harare suburb of Norton. She then walked 29 miles to GALZ (an Association of LGBTI People in Zimbabwe)’s offices where her family in a press release said she spent the night.

“She never checked in as she was abducted, taken advantage of, and left in a remote area after a night out with friends,” said her family. “She was abducted by someone claiming he would take her to the Airbnb when she was inebriated. He did not take her home but instead robbed and sexually assaulted her.”

“Sunflower is currently receiving support and assistance during this difficult time from loved ones, and has already received medical support,” added her family. “We shall respect her privacy and journey towards healing at the same time while wishing her the best moving forward. It has been a very difficult time for everyone but we are all relieved to have her back home.” 

Samuel Matsikure, a Zimbabwean human rights activist, said it was a huge relief that Sibanda had been found.

“As a citizen and someone I have learned to love I am humbled by the response from the country and worldwide,” said Matsikure

Sibanda’s friend, who asked to remain anonymous, echoed Matsikure.

“I am incredibly relieved and grateful to share that Sunflower has been found and is safe. I know many of you have questions about how, where, and with whom she was found, and I understand the concern and curiosity,” said the friend. “However, what’s most important right now is that she is in safe hands.” 

“I invite everyone to continue holding space for her as she recovers,” they added. “Rest assured, any necessary information will be shared in due time.”

Section 73 of Zimbabwe’s Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act on sexual crimes and crimes against morality states “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.”

Discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity remains commonplace in Zimbabwe.

A handful of people last month stormed GALZ’s offices and spray painted homophobic graffiti on the walls. The assailants also made anti-gay slurs.

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Malawi’s Constitutional Court declines to legalize same-sex relationships

Binational couple brought case in 2023

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(Bigstock photo)

Human rights organizations in Malawi have criticized the country’s Constitutional Court over its June 28 ruling that declined to legalize same-sex relationships.

Wim Akster, a Dutch national, and Jana Gonani, a local transgender woman, through their lawyers last year approached the Constitutional Court over the legalization of consensual same-sex relations under the penal code, which criminalizes so-called acts of “carnal knowledge against the order of nature and gross indecency” with a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison with corporal punishment for both men and women.

The Constitutional Court heard the case and issued its ruling on June 28.

“We echo the concern voiced regarding the recent Malawi Constitutional Court ruling on consensual same-sex sexual conduct,” said U.N. Human Rights Southern Africa. “We urge the government to protect and stand up for the human rights of vulnerable groups, including LGBTQ+ persons, by ensuring domestic laws align with international obligations.” 

Khanyo Farise, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for East and Southern Africa, described the ruling as a bitter setback for human rights in Malawi.

“The court’s decision to keep these discriminatory laws on the books is a bitter setback for human rights in Malawi. The ruling manifestly flies in the face of Malawi’s constitution, the African Charter and international human rights law, which all clearly prohibit discrimination,” said Farise. “It also makes Malawi an outlier in Southern Africa, where most countries have decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual conduct.”

Farise added “the court’s refusal to overturn these laws means LGBTI persons in Malawi will continue to face discrimination and persecution simply for who they love.” 

“In particular, this ruling translates to continued barriers in access to healthcare and other social services for LGBTI persons,” said Farise. “Amnesty International stands with all LGBTI people in Malawi, who deserve the right to live their lives with dignity and full humanity. We also demand that authorities ensure their safety in the face of threats of violence.” 

U.N. Human Rights said the provisions of the Malawian penal code that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations should be repealed.

“The Constitutional Court’s ruling upholding the criminalization of consensual same-sex conduct is deeply disappointing and contrary to the country’s own international human rights obligations,” it said. “The anti-gay law must be repealed and the rights of LGBTQ+ people protected.”

LGBTQ activists in Malawi say the recent surge in demonstrations and actions against the community that traditional and religious leaders have organized have raised serious concerns about the protection of human rights and the principles of equality and nondiscrimination. 

“Homophobic sentiments are leading to higher rates of mental health issues, unemployment and homelessness,” said the Nyasa Rainbow Alliance. “It takes no compromise to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.”

“Gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world,” added the group. “They are of all ages, races, and faiths. They are doctors, teachers, farmers, bankers, soldiers, athletes, and whether we know it or we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends, and our neighbors.” 

Media reports indicate human rights organizations are considering an appeal of the ruling.

The Namibian High Court last month decriminalized consensual same-sex relations. Mauritius last year declared Article 250 of the country’s penal code that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations as unconstitutional following a four year legal battle that Abdool Ridwan Firaas (Ryan) Ah Seek, president of Arc-en-Ciel, the country’s largest LGBTQ rights group, initiated.

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Lesbian South African MP named to country’s new Cabinet

Steve Letsike won a seat in the National Assembly on May 29

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Steve Letsike (Photo courtesy of Steve Letsike)

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday appointed lesbian MP Steve Letsike to his Cabinet.

Letsike, founder of Access Chapter 2, a South African advocacy group who is a member of the African National Congress that Ramaphosa leads, will be the country’s deputy minister of women, youth, and people with disabilities.

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. Ramaphosa on Sunday announced Letsike and other new Cabinet members after the ANC and nine other parties agreed to form a National Unity Government.

The Washington Blade has reached out to Letsike for comment.

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Congolese justice minister orders prosecutor general to arrest LGBTQ allies

Constant Mutamba issued directive on June 15, implementation unclear

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Congolese Justice Minister Constant Mutamba (Photo courtesy of Mutamba's X account)

Congolese Justice Minister Constant Mutamba has instructed his country’s prosecutor general to arrest LGBTQ allies.

The newly appointed justice minister in a June 15 communique said the prosecutor general should initiate legal proceedings against people who advocate for the LGBTQ community in Congo.

Although same-sex marriages are constitutionally prohibited, there is currently no law that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations. The communique has raised a lot of eyebrows from social and LGBTQ activists who are asking on what grounds Mutamba issued the communique.

“He could have started by initiating a bill in this direction, but in the current Congolese legislation he is missing the point,” said Jean Claude Katende, a Congolese human rights activist who is the president of the African Association of Human Rights. “If he wants to repress homosexuals, he must initiate a law which must make this behavior an offense and have it punished. He will be arrested for complicity in arbitrary arrests. The constitution is clear, no one can be prosecuted for an act which does not constitute an offense.” 

Khelver Hermano, a Congolese social commentator, said the law should not be interpreted based on one person’s emotions. 

“LGBT marriage is already not applied in the DRC but the minister wants to incarcerate those who do it informally without a legal basis,” said Hermano. “The law is not interpreted according to our will.” 

“Does the penal code in the DRC recognize polygamy? Why don’t we arrest all these known polygamists?” asked Hermano. “Just as polygamists are not prosecuted, we cannot do so against LGBT people.” 

Many Congolese people, however, have welcomed the communique, arguing same-sex relations are un-African and unorthodox.

Article 172 of the country’s penal code states a person “who commits a moral crime by exciting, facilitating or promoting to satisfy the passions of others, debauchery or the corruption of persons of either sex under or apparently under the age of 21 years shall be punishable by a prison term of three months to five years or a fine.” Article 176 says a person “who engages in activities against public decency shall be punishable by a prison term of eight days to three years and/or a fine.”

Although not entirely applicable, the prosecutor general can use these two penal code articles to initiate the arrests — the country in recent years has seen some arrests of LGBTQ people.

The June 15 communique is not the first time Mutamba has come out against the LGBTQ community. 

Mutamba earlier this year introduced a bill that would criminalize acts of homosexuality. The proposal received widespread support, particularly on social media where many Congolese people described it as a turning point for the country and for the continent at large.

Although parliament has not formally debated the bill, activists are concerned it will pass without many major objections because most MPs have previously said they do not support the LGBTQ community. It remains unclear how the prosecutor general will executive Mutamba’s communique.

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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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