Tag Archives: LGBT

Book Chapter on LGBTI Refugees from Pakistan

screen shot 2019-01-17 at 12.11.42 pmI recently had a book chapter published by Springer in LGBTI Asylum Seekers and Refugees from a Legal and Political Perspective. This qualitative research project on transgender refugees from Pakistan began during my time in Lahore in 2017. I later conducted in-depth interviews over the phone with transgender asylum seekers in Europe. I also published an article with The Islamic Monthly on the topic.

I am posting here because these same issues of LGBTI persecution exist in some African countries. I have posted about homosexuality in Uganda and Nigeria, the two African countries with the strictest laws against same-sex relations. Additionally, Nigeria and Pakistan share similar characteristics conducive to a legal and political comparison:

  • high population density
  • majority Muslim population with at least some degree of sharia law in place
  • high contrast between relative wealthy urban areas (Lagos, Lahore) and impoverished rural ones (Sokoto State, Balochistan)
  • histories of military take-overs and political instability, in which repression of sexual minorities can be part of the political agenda
  • Artificial borders drawn by the British that undergird religious/ethnic identities today

My chapter, “Fleeing Gender: Reasons for Displacement in Pakistan’s Transgender Community,” can be previewed here. The abstract is below.

Transgender women in Pakistan, or khwaja siras, continue to suffer human rights abuses that cause many to become Internally Displaced Persons, despite legal protections in their favor. The chapter poses a two-fold question to explore this inconsistency. Firstly, it draws from illustrative case study research to identify the discrimination that informs transgender perceptions of persecution and forces them from their homes. Based predominantly on qualitative data, it presents a 5-part typology of cumulative forms of discrimination against khwaja siras in terms of family, employment, housing, education, and healthcare. Importantly, police act as key agents of persecution for them, permitting and participating in their oppression. Secondly, this sociolegal study asks how such widespread discrimination against transgender women can persist notwithstanding legal reforms—a problem of social progress failing to result from legal progress. It finds that human rights protections for the transgender population lack actual implementation due to inaccurate legal wording, low level of trust in legal institutions, and generalized social stigma against the LGBTI community. This analysis revealed not only that mainstream social conservatism mitigates enforcement of LGBTI-friendly laws, but also that such conservatism creates an environment in which their persecution qualifies khwaja siras for, but yet impedes their ability to gain, UN protection as refugees at the international level. The empirical data from this research draws heavily on four comparative life histories of khwaja siras, two who gained refugee status and two who did not, which demonstrate the patterns of persecution against the transgender community in Pakistan.

Report on the Impact of Nigerian LGBT Law

Human Rights Watch just published a report that Nigeria’s Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, 2013 (SSMPA) “encourages widespread extortion and violence.” I blogged about the similarities between Nigeria’s legislation and that of Uganda several years ago, after reading about anti-LGBT violence in East Africa.  Then, anti-gay legislation was in its nascence in Nigeria, but is now codified. It encourages Nigerians to report suspicions of same-sex relationships, which can lead to jail time for those convicted. Nigeria is just one of many African countries that make the continent one of the most difficult for members of the LGBT community. Assuming that gay marriage laws are an indication of attitudes toward the gay community in general, this legislative map shows which world countries are most challenging:

 

 

Human Rights Watch just published the following:

Nigeria’s Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, 2013 (SSMPA) has made a bad situation much worse for Nigeria’s beleaguered lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The law has led to an increase in extortion and violence against LGBT people and imposed restrictions on nongovernmental organizations providing essential services to LGBT people in Nigeria.

A gay man in Bariga, a neighborhood in Lagos, Nigeria, who said he hides his identity from his friends and family.

The 81-page report, “‘Tell Me Where I Can Be Safe’: The Impact of Nigeria’s Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act,” shows how the law, which took effect in January 2014, is used by some police officers and members of the public to legitimize abuses against LGBT people, including widespread extortion, mob violence, arbitrary arrest, torture in detention, and physical and sexual violence. The law has created opportunities for people to engage in homophobic violence without fear of legal consequences, contributing significantly to a climate of impunity for crimes against LGBT people.

“The Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act effectively authorizes abuses against LGBT people,” said Wendy Isaack, LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “While Human Rights Watch found no evidence that anyone has been prosecuted under the SSMPA, its impact has been far-reaching and severe.”

The report is based on in-depth interviews conducted between October 2015 and April 2016 with 73 LGBT people and 15 representatives of Nigeria-based nongovernmental organizations in Abuja, Lagos, and Ibadan. Human Rights Watch research indicates that since January 2014, there have been rising incidents of mob violence, with groups coming together to attack people based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan passed the law, even though same-sex activity between consenting adults was already illegal and activists had not been advocating legalization of same-sex marriage. The law provides for prison terms of 14 years for anyone who enters a same-sex marriage or civil union and is so vague that “civil union” could include any form of intimate co-habitation.

The law also punishes establishing, supporting, and participating in gay organizations and public displays of affection with 10 years in prison.

The passage of the law was strongly opposed by domestic, regional, and international human rights groups, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. On February 5, 2014, Commissioner Reine Alapini-Gansou, the African Commission’s special rapporteur on human rights defenders in Africa, voiced concern about “physical violence, aggression, arbitrary detention and harassment carried out against human rights defenders dealing with sexual minority rights issues” in the wake of the law.

“Basically, because of this law the police treat LGBT people in any way that they please,” said an Abuja-based leader of a nongovernmental group. “They torture, force people to confess and when they hear about a gathering of men, they just head over to make arrests.”

Punitive legal environments, stigma, and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, together with high levels of physical, psychological, or sexual violence against gay men and other men who have sex with men, impedes sustainable national responses to HIV, Human Rights Watch found. When officials or national authorities, including law enforcement officials, condone and commit violence, it leads to a climate of fear that fuels human rights violations. The fear also deters gay men and other men who have sex with men from seeking and adhering to HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support services.

The law contravenes basic tenets of the Nigerian Constitution and violates several human rights treaties that Nigeria has ratified. In April 2014, the African Commission adopted its groundbreaking resolution 275, calling on governments to prevent and punish all forms of violence targeting people on the basis of their real or imputed sexual orientation or gender identity. In November 2015, the African Commission urged the Nigerian government to review the law, to prohibit violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and to ensure access to HIV prevention, treatment, and care services for LGBT individuals.

Nigerian authorities should act swiftly to protect LGBT people from violence, whether by state or non-state actors. Law enforcement officials should act without delay to stop all forms of abuse and violence against LGBT people, and ensure that LGBT victims of violence can file criminal complaints against their attackers.

The government of Nigeria should repeal the specific provisions of the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act that criminalize forming and supporting LGBT organizations and ensure that key populations, including gay men, men who have sex with men, and transgender people have access to HIV services, care, and treatment.

“LGBT people in Nigeria are not advocating for same-sex marriage, but they want the violence to stop and for human rights defenders and organizations that provide services to LGBT people to be able to operate without fear,” Isaack said. “Nigeria should respond to the African Commission’s recommendation to review the law, rather than remaining silent about the human rights abuses LGBT people are facing.”

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Gay rights in Uganda

Fortunately, the issue of gay rights in Africa, in Uganda specifically, seems to be cropping up more frequently. Uganda has a reputation (with Nigeria following close behind) for being one of the most oppressive and dangerous countries for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Africans. Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill that proposed death for H.I.V.-positive gay men and prison for anyone who didn’t report a known homosexual was aside for now, but politicians are currently drafting a new version. An impetus behind their decision to table it was the brutal murder of famed LGBT rights activist, David Kato, who was bludgeoned after a local tabloid calling for the murder of gays published his name, photo and address. He was head of SMUG, or Sexual Minorities Uganda.

David-Kato-Uganda

His story was covered fairly well in the Ugandan and domestic media, with The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Economist highlighting the crime. There was such much attention that two Americans debuted a documentary about Kato and the Ugandan LGBT, or “kuchu,” struggle called “Call me Kuchu.”

 

Most prominent international non-profits, such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Oxfam publicly decried his murder and the Anti-Homosexuality Bill as one would expect. Surprisingly though, while doing research on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ Subcommittee on African Affairs, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that helping improve LGBT rights in Uganda is on the agenda for the U.S. Congress in the upcoming year.  Hillary Clinton has made public statements voicing support for improved protections for the LGBT community in Uganda, a pleasant compliment to Obama’s watershed reference to gay rights in his recent Inaugural address. The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has immense sway in coloring some aspects of public policy in sub-Sahara, and hopefully their focus on this issue will be an example of positive influence.

Despite such an effort at improving human rights in Uganda, an immense challenge comes from staunch conservatives in the U.S., specifically Evangelical Christians. According to filmmaker Roger Ross Williams and Ugandan religious leaders who support human rights, fundamentalist Christian churches are investing huge sums of money into backing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, supporting pastors who preach anti-gay sermons, and financing revivals and classes with heteronormative messages.

 

 

In researching human rights in Uganda, I couldn’t help comparing the situation to observations I made in Nigeria about anti-homosexuality legislation (and fundamentalist Christianity imported from the U.S.). The Nigerian Anti-Gay Bill that passed in the fall of 2011 prescribes 14 years imprisonment for convicted homosexuals.  I was less surprised by the legislation than by the widespread support it seemed to enjoy among my neighbors and friends. Truly, I didn’t meet anyone who didn’t seem to advocate it, usually based on totally erroneous ideas about what same-sex relationships are all about.  When I would bring up sex-related rights issues that seemed pressing for me, such as rape and child prostitution, the Nigerians I spoke with felt that homosexuality was far more alarming.  I couldn’t imagine how a consensual relationship between two adults could be troubling, let alone more troubling than child sex trafficking, but for many I spoke with it was.

The Spillover Effect of Occupy Nigeria II

No social movement exists in isolation. Social movements constitute and are constituted by sympathetic and oppositional mobilizations. One movement can alter subsequent movements externally by affecting cultural and political conditions, and internally by changing the individuals, groups and norms within the later movement.  Organizations with hybrid identities – those whose organizational identities span the boundaries of two or more social movements – are especially vital to creating this spillover.  Thus, Occupy Nigeria is in part a product of the anti-oil movement and a comprising force of it as well.

Social movements cannot be labeled as “successes” or “failures” aside from their impact on policy.  Even when a movement is inactive like Occupy Nigeria, it may still function as a training ground for activists and as well as an engine for shaping ideologies. First, all collective action allows participants to “practice” resistance. Organizing for various related social changes over several decades is the rule rather than the exception for activists, as studies of the American civil rights and African independence movements illustrate. Not only do movement veterans continue to mobilize at higher rates than nonveterans for other causes throughout their lives, they carry their political lessons and perspectives that shaped their collective identity with them. An early social mobilization may act as a training ground for participants and leaders who bring their experiences and expertise to a later mobilization that may enjoy success as a result of their know-how. Additionally, an early mobilization not only teaches participants, it can also refine new leaders who become key players later on.  A low-level participant in an early movement may become a leader in a subsequent one, e.g. Malcolm X was a member of the anti-Korean War mobilization before leading the radical wing of the civil rights struggle. Such spillover in expertise furthers tactical innovation as well, as activists learn which methods of activism are most useful. The 2002 peaceful takeover in Escravos led to oil labor strikes by men in various sites of Delta State, as activists had learned that impeding production was the most powerful tool in gaining the attention of the state and oil companies.

When several different campaigns necessarily interact, even those that eventually end or become dormant, a stronger social movement community emerges. In Nigeria, the Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Center has programs for environmental protection, local conflict resolution, and human rights awareness campaigns, with the idea that all three causes help to improve the status of women in southern Nigeria.  Hybrid organizations such as Kebetkache are well-positioned to use inter-organizational networks in order to allow activists from one movement, e.g. environmentalism, to participate in another, e.g. peacebuilding.  This transfer of individuals reifies a collective identity and serves the organizational maintenance needs of the movement. This social movement community also gives activists a more structured way of staying involved in future campaigns.

Second, nearly all collective action shapes both internal and external ideologies to some extent. An early social mobilization may make intangible but important strides in altering participants’ consciousness about the salience of its cause and the causes of other movements. Even a mobilization that does not stimulate policy change can still heighten prospects about what sort of change is possible; the act of shared rights-claiming can raise expectations of future success.  This rights-claiming is also a process through which activists ossify their shared identity and relationship with one another, relationships that are pivotal in other mobilizations.

Aside from affecting the consciousness of movement members, even short-lived movements alter popular consciousness about reform on a larger scale. They have an ability to alter public discourse regarding their cause and frame the way outsiders view their issue. A series of challenges to the status quo, even challenges that have no direct effect on policy, may make some outside of the movement more open to change. Additionally, collective memory is such that contemporary ideology provides us with the lens through which we view the past. A later success for the same or similar cause may lead us to believe that a past “failed” movement was more “successful” than it really was. This can be seen in the way that history may heroize movement leaders, Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni rights mobilizations for example.

Lastly, for two social movements that co-exist simultaneously, the emerging salience of one may leave the struggling other with more time to devote to re-assessing strategy and resources. In other words, it can take the heat off a movement that has received backlash. LGBT activists in Nigeria have said that Occupy Nigeria has beneficial to them because it has shifted attention away from their cause as they still try to recover from the passage of a federal anti-gay marriage bill last year, one that enjoyed widespread support across the country. The Executive Director of the Improve Male Health Initiative has called Occupy Nigeria a “blessing” because it has bought the organization more time to shore up resources while attention is focused on the fuel crisis.

So, simply because Occupy Nigeria is not on the streets does not mean that it is not functioning.  Those who have “practiced” resistance will carry with them those experiences in future political activism. They constitute a larger community of activists with a collective identity. Ebbing overt activity and influence is sometimes helpful in giving movements the opportunity for re-assessing strategy, tactics, and collective identity. Moments of inactivity provide special impetus for movement-to-movement linkages as beleaguered activists and organizations pool their strength against powerful opponents. Even during periods of low activity, movements both endure and impact other movements through organizational forms that maintain culture and ideology.