Serving as an introduction to the idea of intersectionality of LGBT and women’s rights: A woman, I will call her Mrs. D, seeks asylum from her native Sub-Saharan African nation in a Western country. Her family, her community and her country have brutalized her. She was imprisoned for over a year without trial under something called “suspicion of homosexuality”.
A group trying to assist Mrs. D’s asylum request contacted me. There are a lot of hearings to be heard, scheduled intakes, a review of evidence, etc., etc. There are hoops – lets say that. Here is what I know: Mrs. D is a lesbian. Like many LGBT persons she married and had children (keeping up appearances). Mrs. D fell in love with a woman and began a relationship. Her husband found and beat her to a pulp. Repeatedly. She was subsequently jailed for over a year without trial.
As is often the case in these situations, the husband managed to turn her three children against Mrs. D undoubtedly with horrible claims, slanderous bile and disgusting, lurid details of mother’s so-called crimes. She is seeking asylum now in a country that doesn’t really believe that she could have been held in prison for over a year without a trial. Those who approve asylum in this Western nation say according to her home country’s laws (setting aside the mere fact that homosexuality is a jailable offence) she must have had a trial – been afforded some due process – prior to her imprisonment.
I have some unfortunate expertise in this area. This from my visit to a prison in Cameroon. It is Cameroon but it could be one of any of the 70+ countries who criminalize homosexuality.
Mrs. D is a perfect example of the intersectionality of LGBT and women’s rights. Women (gay or straight) and LGBT persons are at a significant risk every day of their lives compared to straight men. Women and LGBT persons suffer more violence, poor access to reproductive healthcare (or healthcare at all), little or no access to education and are at increased risk of contracting HIV.
Prologue From the Statement of Ms. Ilwad Elman to the UN Security Council Open Debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: “protection challenges and needs faced by woman and girls in armed conflict and post-conflict settings.”
Just days ago in Mogadishu the mother of a 14-year old girl called me. Her daughter was raped two years ago by a Ugandan Soldier in the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). The soldier returned to Uganda, where he remains in detention awaiting trial. The mother often calls me, not to get an update on the case but to help her daughter, who has been labeled the “girl who was raped by the infidel” and has been ostracized by her community.”
(NOTE: Ms. Elman’s speech can be seen here. If you listen closely, you can hear applause in the background. This strikes me as somewhat taboo – attendees exchange glances there seems to be a wee bit of harrumphing. Here’s the truth: her speech deserved that applause.)
Hear this: it occurs to me women are almost always in a conflict zone – be it armed or unarmed.
I Was A Guest of A Guest of Chile
All the UN Secretary Generals have been men. Their portraits preserved in tapestry greet me in the main entrance of the United Nations.
The occasion was an open discussion of the Security Council on the tragedy of civilian casualties (in every sense of the word) in armed combat zones. The Chilean representative, a woman, pointed to the wall where the portraits of the former UN men hang and said to me (before a hello) “look, no women”.
Let me clarify: I was there as a guest of a guest of the Chilean Mission.
I got a VIP pass that allowed access to the Security Council open debate on women’s issues (Debate. Funny word to use when discussing rights of women. What’s to debate?). It also let me wander around the delegate’s dining hall where there are lots of boozy options at the coffee bar, Irish coffee or espresso and Kahlua. People shuffle into the room carrying papers refilling pencil holders tapping people on the shoulder to give them last-minute updates on whatever.
As with all formal buildings that the sole purpose of its existence is to house self-important leaders, explorers, writers, or diplomats, there is a large mural rife (I imagine) with symbolism. A family cradling a baby, a man mastering a horse (maybe it is Castor. Or is it Pollux?) wheat, other grains, grand forms of transport spread across the back wall of the small council chamber. It is like a movie theater. Rows of red chairs (plebs sit in these, I sit in one at the front) scale the back wall facing the symbolic wall and semi-circle where Nations are seated.
Rows of Blue Chairs (those close to The Nations) gang up at the back of the main table (think blue cozy horseshoe). People in the know sit there, advisors, delegates, and people who take the seat of the Nation at the table when the Nation has to go to the bathroom so the country doesn’t appear to have left for good. Tones (like at The Met but here are no giant sparkly chandeliers that recede into the ceiling letting the congregation know we are in for a treat). NEXT: Affix the earpiece to your ear, find the English channel, increase volume, uncap pen, refer to agenda. Wait. Look around and notice the room has filled. MacBook Airs or whatever are flipped open and earnest looking young women and men begin clicking away. Are they live tweeting? Is that a thing one does from the UN?
Hopefully they are tweeting this: women and girls are at risk to be raped [insert horrific violence and humiliation here] in combat zones. That is the issue. Gender based violence in wartime, in peacetime, perpetrated by warlords, soldiers and so-called peace-keepers (think: AMISOM) alike are on the rise, they say. How is this to change?
Only 19% of UN Peacekeeping missions are led by women.
Here is a quote from a book I just (re)read: “[Insert religion] schools reject the values of universal human rights. All humans are not equal in a [insert religion] school. Moreover, there can be no freedom of expression or conscience. These schools fail to develop creativity – art, drama music – and they suppress the critical faculties that can lead children to question their beliefs. They neglect subject that conflict with [insert religion] teachings, such as evolution and sexuality. They teach by rote, not question and they instill subservience in girls [italics mine]. They also fail to socialize children to the wider community.”1
My Observations From the Front Row of the Red Chairs Security Council — 7374th Meeting LIST OF SPEAKERS:
- Ms. Kyung-wha Kang, Assistant Secretary- General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator
- Ms. Helen Durham, Director for International Law and Policy, International Committee of the Red Cross
- Ms. Ilwad Elman, NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security2
- United Kingdom (THE ONLY NATION TO MENTION LGBT PERSONS)
- Russian Federation
- New Zealand
- United States
- Chile (President)
- WATCH THE WHOLE THING HERE
Tackling Impunity (this is an undercurrent – a theme throughout the speeches)
This simple phrase hits me in the gut.
God, just think about that hill we have to climb. Especially as women, especially LGBT persons. In a world ruled by men what hope do we have?
There is a lot of talk about increased accountability, monitoring on the ground in countries who are the worst offenders of civilian’s rights and safety in combat zones.
There is a lot of agreement between the present nations that something must be done to continue any forward momentum they have gained in regard to this issue. There are a smattering of direct references to religion – in the wake of Charlie Hebdo, ISIL, Boko Haram – several nations mention (my words) Islamist† terrorist groups. But to me it is what undergirds this conversation. It is what should undergird this conversation.
Religion can be used as a sword or a shield. Religion(s) – all of them – have a lot of explaining to do when it comes to the atrocities against women, children and LGBT persons. A lot. And not just Islam. Radical Islamist groups are certainly taking center stage lately. But don’t discount patriarchal strictures of other religions. Don’t discount the ways Christian do-gooders are killing people softly with exportation of anti-gay ideology abroad. I don’t dabble in false equivalencies. The radical Islamists are winning the race for number one threat at the moment. I posit that Christians, Jews, whoever cannot throw their long, white male leg over their high horses. Your ideology is broken.
Or is it? My friend Rev. Cannon Albert Ogle believes that people of faith must take back the conversation that has been held far too long by right-wing religionists who fuel anti-gay and anti-women sentiments around the world. This from a recent article Albert wrote:
Two movements and the same homophobia rooted in sexism. Composed of several major ecumenical and faith traditions, the Riverside Coalition is seeking to build deeper dialogue on the intersection of health, education and business development with gender and LGBT equality. Both movements have been challenged in recent years with a backlash from religious conservative organizations and denominations. International progress on the alleviation of extreme poverty cannot go forward without a clearly articulated counter-narrative that integrates faith values with the human rights agenda. More recently, moves to redefine the family and “traditional values” at the United Nations have caused more polarization on previously agreed strategies to give more access to women to reproductive rights and remove constitutional and legal barriers in 80 countries which perpetuate stigma and discrimination against LGBT people and women and girls.
Albert pulled together a coalition to brainstorm a parallel event to the UN CSW. As a result, on March 13, the Riverside Coalition (as it has become known) will host a panel discussion at the Riverside Church entitled Women of Faith, Women of Doubt (It is being supported in part by this Indiegogo Campaign). The four panelists will be sharing insights into their work on building support and collaboration between LGBT and gender equality issues in four different contexts and will open up the panel presentations to the CSW delegation and public at large.
The four panelists are: Maxensia Nakibuuka is a community activist living with HIV from Kampala Uganda. She has served as a local political leader and is Chair of the Council of the Laity in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kampala. In 2012, she was one of 500 civil society representatives at the UN to discuss the future global AIDS plan and has spoken about the effects of criminalization of people with HIV and LGBT and other vulnerable and populations. She has spoken on panels at CSW about the importance of community health home-based care for women and at the World Bank on the need for collaboration at the grass roots level for all women – transgender, bisexual and lesbian and straight women. She is developing an important economic model involving a gay/straight alliance in Kampala. In 2014, the Catholic Archbishop invited her to head the Archdiocesan HIV programs and she will be presenting both the positive effects of religious support for health and some of the negative effects of religious discrimination.
Maximillian Ngo Mbe is Executive Director of REDHAC ( Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Network) which is the only human rights defender organizations serving nine Central African Countries in Francophone Africa. Her work has created difficult situations for her family, who, because of death threats, have had to be educated in Europe for their safety. She represents one of the few human rights organizations in Francophone Africa to build trust and connections between the straight community and LGBT community, particularly in Cameroon, where it remains illegal to be gay. There are only two attorneys out of 2,000 in Cameroon willing to represent the LGBT community who find themselves in prison or become involved in extortion by the criminal justice system.
Angeline Cecelia Jackson is Executive Director of Quality of Citizenship, Jamaica and remains one of four open lesbians in the whole of Jamaica. She has spoken at the World Bank about issues affecting women and LBT women in particular –the focus of her organization. She has a strong religious background but the current attitudes of religious leaders in Jamaica has made it very difficult for her to support any particular religious tradition or denomination. She has attended meetings at the US State Department and White House and has recently completed a two month capacity building training program for young LGBT leaders supported by the St Paul’s Foundation, Metropolitan Church, Los Angeles and the Los Angeles LGBT Center, one of the largest human services organizations in the world serving the LGBT community.
Dr. S. N. Nyeck is Assistant Professor at Clarkson University, Potsdam New York. She had to seek political asylum in the USA following a legal battle in Cameroon where she was publically outed as a lesbian and subsequently had to flee for her safety. Some of the earliest formulations of LGBT identity and news from Cameroon on the underground LGBT movement came from Sybille’s writings and experience. Dr. Nyeck is a graduate of Swarthmore College and holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California Los Angeles. She is interested in comparative analysis of government contracts with particular focus is on theorizing and modeling the intersection of law, politics, and human agency in the public sector. Dr. Nyeck is the founder of Africa’s Public Procurement and Entrepreneurship Research Initiative (www.apperi.org) and the co-editor of Sexual Diversity in Africa: Theory, Politics, and Citizenship (McGill-Queen’s University Press 2013). She received the Ruskin Prize and many awards for highest academic achievements including the title of a Distinguished Alumna of the City University of New York, The Pat Hussain Justice Award, and The Edward Said /Audre Lorde Scholar Activism Award. So, I will be back at the UN next month. How does this fit? Where will the discussion of intersectionality go if anywhere? Who knows – but we have to make a start.
1 Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, page 280 – the religion in the passage was Islam. I contend any religion may be inserted and fit seamlessly. 2 The NGOWG is comprised of Amnesty International; Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights; Femmes Africa Solidarité; Global Justice center; Human Rights Watch; The Institute for Inclusive Security; International Rescue Committee; Refugees International; Open Society Foundation; Women’s Refugee Commission; Women’s Action for New Directions; Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom 3 Lists of Terms and Abbreviations IDP: Internally displaced person. For example, within Somalia there are women and children languishing in IDP camps – these women and children have fled camps in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu from the outlying country due to violence and conflict. NGO – Non-governmental organization – groups aligned with civil society not a State Rape: No means NO. Rape is more nuanced as viewed through the Security Council/Civil Society/Conflict Zone lens. Rape is used as a weapon of war, a form of terrorism. In many cases the victim is re-victimized by being ostracized from the community (See Ms. Elman’s statement in prologue).Survival Sex: Self-explanatory – a woman has no choice but to acquiesce to sex to survive. Even if her life isn’t in imminent danger Gender with regard to women and LGBT persons: (NOTE this is my working definition to try and create intersectionality) – Women and LGBT persons are defined, on the whole, by “sex” through gender identity (perceived choice of being LGBTQ) or physiological sex (at birth or post-transition). Globally, this defining characteristic (sex – whether LGBTQ or cisgender female) presently and historically through imposed societal norms and tradition directly impact increased rates of poverty, poor access to comprehensive medical care, susceptibility to violence and lack of equal access to education. Therefore, because the two groups are inherently linked (whether overtly or subconsciously) a true discussion of intersectionality must begin for either group to move forward in a meaningful, sustainable and global capacity.
†Islamist is a term used to describe those who seek to implement civil law based on fundamentalist Islamic worldview. This IS NOT a generalized term for Muslim people in general.