Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! As Pride Month comes to a close, we’re sharing articles on LGBTQI rights. This week’s Rights Reading includes articles about intersectional identities, the LOVE Act, gay oppression in Tanzania, and photos from Pride celebrations across the world.

Something Radical Happened When Eid and Pride Fell on the Same Day, Hawa Arsala, Fader, June 26, 2017

The “something radical” was that Arsala took the chance to celebrate two important parts of her identity. Here, Arsala shares a conversation that she had with the LGBTQ workshop moderator at an Afghan-American conference, Bilal Askarar, who realized that they were related. As the Pride celebration in Washington, D.C. and Eid – a Muslim celebration marking the end of Ramadan – occurred on the same day, Arsala and Askarar took the opportunity to have an open dialogue about what the coinciding celebrations means to them, as well as what it’s like to be queer Muslims in the United States in this moment.

Askarar said, “the past couple years I thought of it as like a separate thing, there’s Ramadan and Pride, and I can’t celebrate Pride because it’s Ramadan. I have to be good. It brings up all the juxtapositions and contrasts and dichotomies within myself. What’s the definition of a good Muslim? Can you be a messy Muslim and do you still get to celebrate Eid too?” It’s refreshing to read about people having honest conversations like these, where they can discuss and inhabit the intersectionality of their identities, the privileges they have living in America, and their continuing struggles as members of these communities.

Senator Tackles Cold War-Era ‘Lavender Scare’ with LOVE Act, Medardo Perez, NBC Out, June 26, 2017

During the “Lavender Scare” of the 1950s and 1960s, thousands of federal employees suspected of being gay were fired, based on a belief that they were more susceptible blackmail and could pose a security risk. In the last few years, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) has led the push to bring justice for these ex-employees. Last year he successfully called on then-Secretary of State John Kerry to officially apologize for the Lavender Scare on behalf of the State Department, and this year, he introduced The Lavender Offense Victim Exoneration Act of 2017 – the “LOVE Act,” for short.

Perez writes, “In addition to rectifying past discrimination against LGBTQ State Department employees, the LOVE Act would also establish a permanent exhibit on the ‘Lavender Scare’ in the State Department’s National Museum of American Diplomacy and provide guidance for the State Department on issues of assuring visas for same-sex spouses of personnel posted overseas.” The passage of the LOVE Act would be a step towards retribution for the gay employees who lost their jobs over half a century ago and would bring more awareness to this overlooked moment of the Cold War era. UUSC applauds these and other efforts to rectify the mistakes of the past and, along with many others, joins in solidarity with those still feeling the effects of anti-LGBTQI stigma and discrimination.

Gay in Africa: ‘Even Cows’ Disapprove of Homosexuality, Says Tanzania President Amid Crackdown, Conor Gaffey, Newsweek, June 27, 2017

LGBTQI equality still has a long way to go in the United States, but it’s important not to forget that the fight for equality is a global one.

In Tanzania, homosexuality is a crime punishable by fines and up to 30 years in prison. Oppression against the LGBTQI community is nothing new for the country, but President John Magufuli has recently “signaled a crackdown.” His administration has disappointingly ramped up efforts to suppress gay rights activists, called on the medical community to expose people suspected of homosexual sex, and even banned sexual lubricants from the country. All of these efforts are based on pseudoscience and false perceptions of the LGBTQI community. These misconceptions result in the continued persecution of LGBTQI communities in Tanzania and many African countries, and are often the result of funding and propaganda campaigns from the U.S. religious right that promote and reinforce homophobia on the continent.

However, there is hope—UUSC Program Leader for Economic Justice Philip Hamilton recently attended Changing Faces, Changing Spaces, a conference that drew LGBTQI activists from across to share their work, stories, and strategies for how they are supporting their respective communities and working to advance LGBTQI rights throughout the continent. Read, “Celebrating Pride: Reflecting on SOGI Rights in Southern Africa” to get the full details.

 

People celebrated Pride across the globe. Please check out these beautiful and inspiring photo essays from this month’s celebrations and don’t forget to show your support by posting your own on social media!

 

Celebrating Pride: Reflecting on SOGI Rights in Southern Africa

Every June we celebrate Pride, taking a moment to recognize, and recommit ourselves to, the ongoing struggles of LGBTQI communities around the world. In the spirit of Pride, I was fortunate to attend UHAI-EASHRI’s “Changing Faces, Changing Spaces” (CFCS) conference in Kenya, and to reflect on the importance of the work of our Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) program partners in Southern Africa.

CFCS provides a unique space in which activists from across Africa can come together to share their work, stories, and strategies about how they are supporting their respective communities. With donors in the room, the activists are empowered to share their perspectives and priorities and to drive a spirited conversation about how to advance the rights of LGBTQI communities across the continent.

Pride Flag waving in the sunlight

Resisting the Marginalization of LGBTQI Identities

One of the discussions that surfaced time and time again was how to resist policies and practices that are designed to erase or marginalize the identities and histories of LGBTQI communities, in response to efforts to frame homosexuality as “un-African” or “un-religious.” For many participants, there was no tension in being LGBTQI and African or LGBTQI and religious. In fact, as several pointed out, many African languages do not address gender as a binary and cultures across the continent have historically been accepting of LGBTQI communities. With this in mind, it is worth asking, how homosexuality became framed as “un-African” or “un-religious”?

As many participants noted, citing research by Kapya Kaoma, a Zambian researcher and Anglican Priest, the U.S. religious right has provided significant funding on the continent to promote homophobia. They have worked to frame homosexuality as a Western concept that has been imposed on Africa, that is “un-Christian” and “un-African.” This agenda has been reinforced through relationships with conservative religious leaders across the continent.

Asserting and Reclaiming Identity

Given the promotion of homophobia across Africa by the U.S. religious right and the ways in which religion is being used to marginalize and erase the contributions and histories of LGBTQI communities, much attention was given to the role of faith communities in asserting and affirming LGBTQI identities and narratives. UUSC’s SOGI rights partners have been engaging in such efforts in Southern Africa, working with allies in faith spaces to promote a narrative and create safe spaces that promote the rights of LGBTQI communities.

While the strategy is one of winning hearts and minds is a long-term change, it is necessary to challenge the dominant and incorrect narrative that homosexuality is “un-African” or “un-religious.” Just as no one lives single issue lives, CFCS participants made it clear that no one person has only one single identity. Rather, everyone possesses a wide array of identities that comprise who they are, such as being LGBTQI and African, or LGBTQI and religious.

In this regard, UUSC’s partners Inclusive and Affirming Ministries, Al-Fitrah Foundation (formerly The Inner Circle), and TULINAM have been doing critical work to collaborate with progressive faith allies to promote respect for the rights of LGBTQI communities in Southern Africa. Through collaboration with progressive faith allies, UUSC’s partners are actively challenging the rhetoric of U.S.-based religious conservatives and creating a space for LGBTQI individuals to assert and reclaim their identities. After spending several days with the activists carrying working on the ground to support the rights of LGBTQI communities, I cannot help but feel that the work of UUSC’s partners is as relevant and important today as it ever has been.

Continuing the Struggle

In the true spirit of CFCS, activists working to promote LGBTQI rights have come together to connect and to reclaim their space. By centering their voices, struggles, and priorities at this conference, it was possible to deeply reflect on the way forward. As June comes to a close, it is important to continue this act of deep self-reflection on the contributions of LGBTQI communities in Africa and around the world–not just for one month, but all year long. This way, we are better equipped to support their struggle as allies and partners, moving forward together.

We Can Do So Much Together

As the end of the fiscal year swiftly approaches, we are working to reach our goal for the 2017 Annual Fund. UUSC has set an ambitious goal of $300,000 and we need your help! Donations of any amount are greatly appreciated by the UUSC team, our partners, and those whose rights are threated around the world. We need to meet our $300,000 target by June 30, 2017, so please considering making your gift today!

Your Annual Fund gift will help projects like the ones listed below and more. Please consider making a donation to support our work today.

Provide Legal Assistance to Immigrants and Asylum-Seekers on the U.S. Border

UUSC is continuing our work with RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) to provide legal assistance to vulnerable women and children fleeing dangerous conditions in the Northern Triangle. Due to the current political climate, immigrant rights and safety are at risk, so UUSC’s partnership with RAICES is even more important. With your continued support, RAICES is able to provide Central American refugees with much needed resources.

Work to End Human Rights Abuses in Burma

UUSC is partnering with grassroots organizations in Burma (Myanmar) to raise awareness and take action against the on-going (and startlingly under-reported) violence against the Rohingya minority. The Rohingya, a religious and ethnic minority in Burma’s Rakhine State, are being denied basic human rights and have had their sense of security stripped away.

Earlier this year, thousands of UUSC supporters joined us in calling on Secretary Tillerson to support a Commission of Inquiry to investigate these abuses. That investigation is now underway, but due in part to a lack of global outrage and governmental accountability, the Burmese government has been able to continue carrying out horrific human rights violations. UUSC is committed to working with our partners on the ground to document violence and advocate for change in the region.

Support LGBTQI Rights

In many countries in southern Africa, homophobia remains embedded in political, religious, and social spheres–often with violent consequences. Countless LGBTQI individuals are denied safety, freedom, and dignity simply because of who they are. UUSC is working with our local partners on grassroots advocacy and faith-based tolerance trainings, which will be integral in dismantling institutionalized prejudice in countries like Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and South Africa.

If you are able, please consider making a gift in support of this important work. Whatever you can contribute will be greatly appreciated. Nothing we accomplish would be possible without you—our committed supporters—and for that, you have our deepest thanks.

Rights Reading

Rights Reading is back! Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. 

1. “Dry Taps and Lagoons of Sewage: What America’s Water Crisis Looks Like,” by Zoë Carpenter, The Nation, June 8, 2016

“In Lowndes County, Alabama, thousands of people live with raw sewage in their yards or near lagoons of human waste. Only 20 percent of the county’s residents have access to municipal sewers.”

Zoë Carpenter cites the June 2016 release UUSC’s research report, “The Invisible Crisis: Water Unaffordability in the United States,” a groundbreaking study that documents “the impact of rising water costs and inadequate infrastructure, which are putting millions of people at risk for shutoffs, illness, foreclosure, and even of losing their children.”

Carpenter further notes that “there is currently no federal statute or policy that ensures access to water for the poor.” In Detroit, tens of thousands of low income residents had their water shut off, while “commercial properties with tens of thousands of dollars in water debt were largely ignored.”

The Nation article also notes UUSC recommendations that U.S. government agencies establish affordability programs, ban water shutoffs, and collect more data about the shameful disregard for the internationally recognized human right to water in the United States. Read more about UUSC’s research report and its work to ensure access to clean water for all people.

2. ’Gays the New Jews’: African Media Homophobia vs. Twitter Empathy,” Charles King, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Huffington Post, June 8, 2016

Noting Amnesty International’s condemnation of the continued criminalization of consensual same-sex conduct in 38 African countries, Charles King believes “the role of the mainstream media in these so-called democracies has been inverted. It now fulfills the exact opposite role of what a healthy and vibrant media should play in a healthy democracy.

UUSC and its partner organizations have witnessed the betrayal of African LGBT people by powerful institutions, including government, religion, and the press.

Looking past these institutions, King notes “there is no toeing the line in the Twitterverse.” Even with homophobic and hateful messages tweeted by others, Twitter exists without a “gatekeeper journalist or media organization.” Therefore, non-journalists can tell their own stories, in their own voices.

King concludes that on Twitter, “non-journalists…have equal access to a democratic, complex, and unlimited international communication platform.” He urges them use this access to “move from ‘victim’/source in someone else’s narrative to become the powerful narrator of their own story.”

Click here for the latest news about the work of UUSC, its African partner organizations, and the LGBT individuals leading these grassroots efforts to advance their human rights.