In late 2001on a safari trip to Africa I had one of the most sad moments I can remember. My partner and I were walking through the beach market on Zanzibar one night when a man approached us.The man was tentative, almost shy. He sat down beside us and asked us if we were a couple. I wasn’t sure what to do. Homosexuality is illegal in Tanzania and we feared being targeted or even arrested. But I said yes.
This man, who looked many years older than he was, began to relate his story. Being HIV positive, being forced out into the streets because his family rejected him for being gay. He wasn’t looking for anything from us but we we shared food as he shared his story. I’ve often wondered how many people like him are out there. Desperately eking out a living in countries where being who we are can be punishable by death.
But, Africa isn’t alone in this horrific treatment of queer people. Whether an inheritance from British colonial rule, religious intolerance, or simple ignorance there are far too many places in our world where it’s not safe to be gay. As of June 2019 there are seventy two countries where being gay is illegal, in at least thirteen of them punishable by death. This month I’d like to look at how we can take action to help these GLBT+ people in desperate need.
The repeal of India’s anti-gay law was a huge step forward. We’d hoped that it would lead to the rejection of oppressive colonial era laws everywhere. While some progress has been made, in a number of countries challenges were raised but didn’t result in repeals. These include Barbados and Kenya.
The Organization for Refugee, Asylum and Migration (ORAM), a San Francisco-based non-profit organization, has staff in Turkey reaching out to refugees who fled there to escape persecution in their home countries. In a moving article on the UN website they talk about a Syrian refugee who left when the militia moved into his town and were executing gay men. A spokesman for the organization explained that our refugees are among the most isolated and brutalized in the world. Resettlement is sone of the greatest challenges because they are so used to living in fear that adapting to a new environment, even a far more accepting one, can be difficult.
According to OutRight Action International which fights for human rights for GLBT+ people everywhere, while progress is being made, changes to legislation do not necessarily mean changes to daily life for people living in oppressive countries.
What can you do? Boycott. Refuse to spend your tourist dollars in any country that continues to oppress our people. Be wary of the travel companies, cruise lines, and others who continue to do business that supports that oppression. If you visit a country because “They don’t bother tourists.” you’re part of the problem.
Donate. Take a look at the organizations in your country that provide aid to GLBT+ refugees. When you find one that appeals to you, make a charitable donation to support people who aren’t as fortunate as you are.
Get involved. Find a grassroots organization in your area and donate your time and skills to support it. Helping these organizations keep running is one of the most powerful ways you can help to address this crisis.
Speak up. Make sure that your government representatives know where you stand on these issues and insist that they get involved in taking action against the gross human rights violations happening in these countries.
Our people have been persecuted for far too long. Join in a global outcry to address the injustice which amounts to crimes against humanity and should be dealt with as such.