Lame Charmaine Olebile from Botswana joined Hivos on the “Wanted for Love’ boat during the Amsterdam Gay Pride in 2013. Now, she looks back on an eventful year for the African LGBT movement. A movement that, despite serious setbacks – such as the introduction of draconian anti-gay laws in Nigeria and Uganda – has become more high-profile and assertive than ever.
Wanted For Love
Lame was one of four African activists who visited Hivos last year as part of our ‘Wanted For Love‘ campaign, a joint initiative with Human Rights Watch. “What really made an impression on me in the boat parade was the diversity of the people there. You saw families, children, elderly people … it was clearly a holiday for everyone,” recalls Lame.
Gaining in strength
Despite the gloomy trends that have dominated the past year, the professionalism and visibility of African LGBT organisations has only increased, according to Lame. The result is that more moderate African countries are making increasingly positive statements about LGBT rights. For example, Botswana spoke out recently at a UN meeting against human rights violations on the grounds of a person’s sexual orientation.
“Over the past eighteen months, much has changed. African LGBT organisations have become more visible on the streets, in the courtroom. We saw how activists challenged constitutions and demanded reforms,” said Lame. Last year, her own organisation LEGABIBO (Lesbian, Gay and Bisexuals of Botswana) filed a lawsuit against the government because it refused to register the LGBT organisation.
“The recent successful petition brought by a coalition of Ugandan activists against the 2014 Anti-Homosexuality law was a milestone in my eyes. Three years ago, the movement was still too weak. If such a law had been introduced back then, LGBT people would have certainly kept quiet and remained behind closed doors.”
Unfortunately, this increased visibility also provides a target for public backlash. “As religious fundamentalists intensify their fierce opposition to homosexuality, safety risks for LGBT people also increase,” said Lame.
Lame feels this distressing development shows the importance of safety training for activists, such as the one Hivos set up last year together with support from the National Postcode Lottery. “Safety – physical, emotional, digital, you name it – is one of our highest priorities. When activists can’t protect themselves against threats, they are more or less forced to flee. You can already see that Ugandans are seeking refuge in Kenya, while others leave for Europe. All out of fear that they will have to pay for their activism with violence, or even death.”