South Africa’s not the promised land for gay refugees?

On a continent where 38 out of 54 countries criminalize homosexuality–and four punish it with death–South Africa stands apart. Not only is same-sex marriage recognized, it also has protections against discrimination written into its constitution.

So it’s no wonder that a large number of refugees from across the continent have sought refuge in the country. But a new report from the  group People Against Suffering, Oppression, and Poverty finds that life isn’t so great for these people in South Africa, either.

“The official legal stance towards LGBTI persons in South Africa is one of the most progressive globally… However despite these egalitarian forward-thinking measures of law, public sentiment does not always match up,” the report finds. It documents:

On one hand, the report indicates that one of the two main reasons for unemployment for many of LGBTI refugees is discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Further, 51% of unemployment is due to the lack of documentation, which is the second main reason. This statistic reveals that most still have issues with the Department of Home Affairs with regards to their expired documents, temporary permits and the mass delays by DHA officials in addressing their claim.

The report indicates that it remains difficult for LGBTI refugees to find jobs even among some gay-friendly businesses, such as clubs, restaurants, or hotels. While some of these businesses do not have vacant positions, other owners simply outright refuse to hire an employee who is black, a refugee and gay or transgender. The access to some gays clubs and restaurants where they could socialize themselves to other LGBTI South African citizen are exclusive and sometimes expensive because many LGBTI Refugees and asylum seekers cannot afford the access to these places.

Read the full report at PASSOP’s website.

US Gay Pride a problem for Kenyan activists

The US was just trying to help, but the decision of its embassy to organize the first gay pride event in Kenya on June 26 has given local activists heartburn–some even called for a boycott.

Though homosexuality is illegal in Kenya, my understanding is that it has a vibrant home-grown LGBTI movement, and that there is some hope of making progress on repressive laws. But as in much of Africa, homosexuality is often framed by opponents as being a western import.

And the tension over this event demonstrates the shadow that the US–and by extension, the US gay rights movement–casts over gay rights movements in the non-Europeanish world: things have moved so far so fast here that activists in some places have to disavow ties to movements in Western countries out of fear of a backlash.

Wanja Muguongo, who directs UHAI– the East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative–explained to GayStarNews,

When it comes to Kenya, [prides] have not been done in the past for very many reasons. So for the American embassy to go out to do it is not good and can be really damaging…Any kind of activism can hurt. It can be dangerous. But the danger must be something that is decided upon by that community and that is what I have a problem with in this case.

But a columnist who writes under the name Queer Watchtower for the online publication Identity Kenya, took a slap at the critics of the event:

After months of disorganization and sloth in petty wrangles that have harmed the movement, some activists want to use this opportunity to spoil for a fight.  Where is the security threat? Who is being forced to attend? We need to stop spreading fear and inciting insecurities where we have no credible basis and when the movement has for a long time been unstrategic.

But he followed up his comments with a disclaimer that said the event was actually intended for US nationals living in Kenya. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s not how the event’s been covered, which makes me think there’s a conscious effort even among activists who support it (or plan to attend) to distance it from homegrown activism.

This pride is not for Kenyans, it is for American nationals in Kenya and their State Department, through their embassy is doing what the White House did last month; hosting a pride for its nationals who are LGBTIQ to remind them that as a government, it respects them and accords them equal rights. Same thing the Kenyan embassy in the US would do for Kenyans in Washington during Jamuhuri day.

…Build bridges, cease fighting and constituting security think tanks in serv lists. Why didn’t we do that after four lesbians killed themselves this year? Why isn’t there a security think tank to address the near collapse of GALCK. Let us find ways of latching into actionable events and see how we can benefit our LGBTIQ constituents without unnecessarily embarrassing ourselves in spoils for fights.

LGBT Movement stalls in Mexico?

After legalizing same-sex marriage in two states and winning nationwide recognition for these unions through the court, it sounds the Mexican gay rights movement has lost unity and direction.

That was the message from Antonio Medina in a conversation I had with him last night. Medina is a Mexico City-based activist and journalist who helps run Letra S, a monthly supplement to the newspaper La Jornada covering sexuality and HIV issues.

But perhaps the bigger news from this interview is that I can, in fact, do a telephone interview in Spanish. (At least that was what I was most excited about when I got off Skype at 9:30 last night, exhausted but sure that I really did understand everything Medina said.) I’ve done reporting before in Mexico, but doing it on the phone–and not having been in a Spanish-speaking country for more than two years–I wasn’t entirely sure I could pull it off and I was more than a little nervous about the fact that we’re leaving for South America in just about two months.

Medina and his partner, an economist named Jorge Cerpa, were the first couple to register as domestic partners under a law Mexico City passed at the end of 2006. (They chose to be the first because no one else wanted to take the step, and Medina was worried about how it would look if no one used a right the movement had faught so hard for.) Full marriage was legalized three years later with leadership from the leftist PRD Party, and  Mexico’s high court later ruled that these marriages must be recognized nationwide.

Gay marriages are also now performed in the state of Quintana Roo–home of Cancún–thanks to some very clever activists, who realized that the state’s marriage laws actually were written without references to gender.

But the victories by LGBT rights activists–that also include a domestic partnership law in Coahuila–provoked an organized counterattack from the Catholic Church, Medina said, and the gay marriage bills that had been introduced in other states stalled. And the activists in other states are not well equipped to make an organized push.

“The reality is that in the vast majority of states, activists have neither the strength nor the level of organization that the Distrito Federal has,” Medina told me. And, because anti-gay violence is more common in other states, he said, “It is a very frightened kind of activism.”

Medina also said that the movement in Mexico was divided (“sectorizado“) over what issues matter most, and that it hadn’t found a way to unify around a common agenda.

The movement, he said, “is moving, with all honesty, in a way that is a little bit unequal. There is a very active movement in Mexico City, but … we’re not all advancing in unison, to a more-or-less standardized track. I think that is our big problem–we haven’t agreed on the minimums that we can achieve as a collective.”