Fri, Feb 9
TEDDY goes to Africa
Guest Column by Richard Harnisch
Together we Stand, Divided we Fall or: Waiting for the CSD in Kampala.
“Out and proud!” In the middle of Berlin this is hardly a controversial statement, in fact gay pride is pretty much old news. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered folks (LGBT) live and party self-confident in their sexual identities. There are so many different facets to gay life, Christopher Street Day, the Motz street festival, the TEDDY award…all parts of everyday life for enlightened Berlin. Who even remembers section 175 nowadays?
Berlin, the European metropolis is currently (throughout the Berlinale) rich with TEDDY activities, TEDDYAWARD.TV, guests from around the world and the ARTE broadcast of the TEDDY Awards ceremony, a shining example of a queer cultural paradise. However in comparison to the rest of the world this is unfortunately still a rare exception. In many places the reality for LGBT looks completely different. Self-confidence, pride and the opportunity to determine one’s own identity are not everyday occurrences, but rather a kind of utopian ideal. Living with the fear of being followed and having to hide one’s relationships aren’t a bad dream, but a bitter reality. A kiss in the wrong place at the wrong time can result in abuse or arrest, the escape that follows a ‘coming out’ can end in death.
There are still many places where people are discriminated against, when their sexual identity doesn’t match that which their society considers normal. Often it’s the state institutions that disregard the human rights of sexual minorities and their infringement of these people’s liberties frequently goes unpunished. One of the aims of amnesty international is to publicise and denounce these incidences. Amnesty international stands against human rights abuses worldwide and aims to bring the perpetrators to justice. The group Menschenrechte und sexual Identität (human rights and sexual identity) (MERSI), the German arm of amnesty has been working for over ten years to increase awareness on this theme with their lobbying tactics.
MERSI stands for the abolishment of homophobic legislation and the for universal adherence to international human rights. A worldwide network with other amnesty groups and other human rights organisations allows for a speedy exchange of information and actions. An important tactic in amnesty internationals fight for justice are the so-called urgent actions which are also often used by MERSI. Fast actions with the aim of for example freeing a LGBT prisoner take the form of faxes, letters or e-mails that call upon Government authorities or the police to end their respective human rights abuses.
From the beginning MERSI have staged many activities in order to give a platform to human rights defenders from, among other places, Turkey, Romania and Serbia to speak out concerning the situations in their homelands. In addition to this a regular newsletter and the MERSI website MERSI website provide background reports to particular cases and situations in the relevant countries.
These situations may not otherwise have been publicised, for example in Africa:
Recently MERSI has been repeatedly dealing with the East African inland country of Uganda. As with many African countries homosexual activity between men is a punishable offence. The elements of the offence are detailed in chapter 140 of the Ugandan Penal Code Act, an unfortunate throwback to the times of British colonisation. Contravention of these laws can lead to up to 14 years imprisonment.
Nevertheless the scenehides not too far from the public life, the best protection being to mix in with the everyday life of the city. Going unnoticed about their business, LGBT peoples are able to meet in hotels, restaurants, bars and pubs. But free and open meeting and talking in public can still be dangerous. There are too many ears who are listening out for things which don’t concern them. In lieu of this the scene has developed their own methods of communication, which rely on gestures and signals aswell as sometimes relying on a self-defined vocabulary, which remains undecipherable to outsiders. This offers a small piece of freedom in a distinctly restrictive environment. In this atmosphere reports from the Berlin CSD seem unbelievable and the idea of such events taking place in Kampala is for many unimaginable.
In summer 2006 the hostile attitude concerning homosexuality in Uganda reached a depressing high point. On the 8th of August 2006 the openly homophobic daily newspaper Red Pepper published a list of 45 names of allegedly homosexual men. An increasing number of reports, opinion pieces and readers letters in the different Ugandan papers also contributed to the witch hunt. Most papers took an extremely damaging standpoint. Within weeks there followed more articles in Red Pepper reporting on lesbian activities. Amongst other things they also published a defamatory article with a list of 13 names of alleged lesbians.
Amnesty international judged the approach of the Ugandan papers harshly. This open expression of prejudice against LGBT peoples increased the danger in which they were already living. In several cases amnesty heard that those people who were named in the newspaper articles were then subject to threatening behaviour. With urgent action amnesty reacted to the alarming developments in Uganda.
Hard times for the sorely afflicted LGBT communities of Uganda. The willingness to stand up and be counted for equal rights for all has been all but abandoned in the face of such a threatening and uphill struggle. So say the activists from Sexual Minorities Uganada (SMUG) the umbrella organisation for gay rights in Uganda who have joined with MERSI. They fight on determinedly adhering to the creed ‘Together we stand, divided we fall’.
There is minimal support for their cause in Uganda itself. Their attempts to reach broad numbers of the population and encourage them to take a stand against the defamatory reports have been heavy going. The daily newspaper Monitor has been a lone voice in media opposition to the prejudice. On the 6th of September 2006 they printed a brave counterattack from LGBT activist and known lesbian Juliet Victor Mukasa, who openly expressed what many others could only hope in secret, “Stop witch-hunting our lesbians and gays!”