IGLHRC in the Bay Area Reporter: Kenyan Ex-Pat Aims to Help Gay Countrymen

by Heather Cassell

Read the full article at The Bay Area Reporter »

A backlash is hitting LGBT Africans who are courageous enough to stand up against blackmail attempts by authorities and governments attempting to criminalize individuals attracted to members of the same sex.

The African experience brought Kenyan LGBT activist and political asylee Lourence "Larry" Misedah to San Francisco last month with Cary Alan Johnson, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

Johnson and Misedah, who fled his native country to neighboring Uganda for eight months during 2007-2008 only to return and leave again to begin a new life the United States in 2010, sat down for a conversation with the Bay Area Reporter October 23. …

… Two-thirds of African nations still have "explicit or implicit criminalization of same-sex relationships encoded in their laws," said Johnson. IGLHRC supports the locally led struggles against those laws, he explained.

The U.S. has taken an approach similar to IGLHRC, supporting LGBT activists through advocacy and aid, Misedah believes. U.S. support has opened a passage for African LGBT activists who are learning to leverage that through documentation when lobbying in their countries, especially for HIV/AIDS health care and prevention services, but also to push for LGBT rights, he said.

Johnson agreed that President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's leadership has brought a "moral authority" to the international community. Many African leaders, such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Presidents Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi and Paul Kagame of Rwanda are standing up against homophobia on behalf of their citizens and are also taking a leadership role. Their attempts often find their own "morality and integrity" being attacked and being the recipients of gay-bashing and -baiting, Johnson pointed out.…

… No matter what economic and social class, nearly all Kenyans who are perceived to be LGBT or are actually LGBT face being kicked out of school, losing their homes and jobs, suffering from blackmail, performing sexual favors, and other harassment and violence by authorities and community members, Misedah and Johnson said.

"Blackmail is one of the most ubiquitous human rights violations that gay men in Africa face and it is probably the most insidious because it plays on shame," said Johnson, talking about IGLHRC's findings in its report "Nowhere to Turn: Blackmail and Extortion of LGBT People in Sub-Saharan Africa," published earlier this year. …