Op-ed: Russian Gays Aren’t the Only LGBTs Suffering

While many of us turn our heads toward Russia, we also turn our backs to the plight of LGBTs in Zimbabwe, Cameroon, and Nigeria.


JULY 31 2013 10:50 PM ET

Have you seen those pictures of LGBT Russians getting punched, kicked, and spat on? If so, did you notice how many of them were good-looking? Many of those poor kids, with blood running down tattoos and sleeveless tops, look like they stepped off the platform at the Bedford subway stop in Williamsburg.

These camera-ready young folk have no doubt helped many gays here turn their attention to Russia, currently in the grips of an antigay zealotry that has the government passing laws criminalizing “homosexual propaganda” and threatening the detainment of LGBT visitors. Everyone from Dan Savage to Harvey Fierstein to Cleve Jones are rightfully calling for Americans to help our Russian brothers and sisters, with some advocating boycotts of vodka and the 2014 Sochi Olympics. But while gay Russians unquestionably need our help now, there are other LGBT people around the world — where cell phone cameras aren’t as common and faces don’t look as familiar — facing conditions just as frightening as those in Russia.

Take for instance, the gays of Zimbabwe. Just as bars in New York and Los Angeles were pouring their Stolichnaya down the drain, Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe called for the decapitation of gay people. Yes, the leader of a nation proudly declared in public that his own citizens should have their heads forcibly removed. This tyrant called us “worse than pigs, goats and birds” and made the following statement:

“If you take men and lock them in a house for five years and tell them to come up with two children and they fail to do that, then we will chop off their heads. This thing (homosexuality) seeks to destroy our lineage by saying John and John should wed, Maria and Maria should wed… Obama says if you want aid, you should accept the homosexuality practice… We will never do that.”

Few Americans realize that Mugabe was pushing his homophobic agenda — which includes stiffer prison sentences for sodomizers — partly because he was facing reelection. That election was held Wednesday, though the American media was too focused on a “Real” housewife getting indicted and the continuing saga of Weinergate (guilty). While Zimbabwe doesn’t export booze favored by Patsy Stone, or really anything that Westerners consume, a boycott is mostly out of the question (not to mention, potentially cruel for a nation suffering with unemployment estimated at 94% in 2009). But it wouldn’t hurt to email your senator and urge a harsh stance on Zimbabwe’s homophobia; no rights, no money. Or how about staging a protest? The Zimbabwe embassy in D.C. is on New Hampshire Avenue, a nine-minute walk from Rhode Island Ave., and the headquarters of the Human Rights Campaign.

Up in Africa’s central-eastern vicinity is Cameroon, the home of gay rights activist Eric Ohena Lembembe (shown at left) before he was tortured and killed two weeks ago. Lembembe was burned with an iron and had his feet broken before he was put out of his misery. Lembembe’s death has further horrified other gay activists in the nation, where homosexuality is already criminalized. “We have all decided to stop our work in the field because our security is at risk,” Yves Yomb, executive director of Alternatives-Cameroun, told The Guardian. “We have no protection from the police and we feel that our lives are at risk.”

Cameroon is the nation that sentenced a man to jail for sending a text to another man, back in 2011. It’s also the country that convicted two men of having sexual relations in a court ruling that came down a week ago. Cameroon’s embassy is on International Drive, three miles north of the HRC.

Cameroon’s neighbor Nigeria is also up to no good, passing a bill that would imprison people up to 14 years for entering into a same-sex union, even though gay marriage, and sex, is illegal there. Hoping to eradicate local LGBT advocacy, the bill would send those involved in gay clubs or organizations to jail for a decade. The legislation is sitting on the desk of Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan. Nigeria’s embassy is near Cameroon’s, and a stone’s throw from a Gold’s Gym and a Starbucks. Maybe someone can air their dissent after a workout or frapp?

It’s true the recent horrors of Zimbabwe, Cameroon, and Nigeria, like similar ones in Uganda and Iran, are less visible than those in Russia; mostly because those poorer nations have fewer people with internet access or contacts at Buzzfeed or CNN. But are we less interested in the horrors of Africa and the Middle East because those places seem so foreign? Are we especially shocked by the injustices of Russia because it’s happening in a place that kind of looks like America, perpetrated against people who could be extras in Girls (e.g., young and white)?

Gay Africans like Davis Mac-Iyalla, granted refugee status to the U.K. because his life was in danger in his native Nigeria, are begging Westerners to help his people. Appearing on the BBC, Mac-Iyalla asked United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay what the U.N. was doing to ensure Nigeria stay true to a nondiscrimination treaty. Pillay, while sympathetic, gave Nigerian viewers a British phone number to call if they had complaints about human rights violations. The U.N. can do more for our African brothers and sisters than this and we must demand they do. You can start here.

Source: http://www.advocate.com/commentary/2013/07/31/op-ed-russian-gays-arent-only-lgbts-suffering?page=0,1


About Mercy

Mercy is a public health and humanitarian practitioner, strategist and community educator and mobilizer, blogger, HIV/AIDS and Social Justice/Human Rights Activist who is courageously advocating for the Dignity, Health Equity and non-discrimination of all Marginalized and Vulnerable Social Groups by fighting the prevalent HIV, the widespread Homophobia and other forms of socio-economic exclusions/injustice in Ethiopia. He is also the co-founder and director of the pioneer; Rainbow-Ethiopia Health and Human Rights Initiative, the one and only LGBTI Health and Human rights organization in Ethiopia Please feel free to Contact him at: rainbow-ethiopia@mail.com Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Posted on August 1, 2013, in African LGBTI News, World LGBTI News and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Reblogged this on 76 CRIMES and commented:
    So many people are protesting; let’s hope that endangered LGBT people’s lives are saved as a result.


  2. Thank you for this powerful and timely piece. I’m glad you pointed out the proximity of the national LGBT rights groups in Washington, DC to the embassies of these homophobic nations. References to the nearby gyms and Starbucks makes it quite clear that these organizations are situated amid Western affluence and privilege–and in the nation’s capital, no less. It’s incumbent upon HRC and NGLTF (the organized LGBT movement) to use their access, affluence and privilege to advocate on behalf our brothers and sisters in repressive countries everywhere. It seems the best advocacy right now is to insist publicly and loudly that President Obama’s edict–no equal protection for gay people, no money–be enforced by the State Department and all other federal entities that provide assistance to these countries. Other countries have tied their development funds to protecting the rights of LGBT people in African countries. It’s time the U.S. did the same.


  3. Thank you for bringing this up. Eventhough I was involved with a demonstration in front of the DC Russian Embassy on Wednesday, I have become increasing uncomfortable with the seemingly lopsided attention this horror is receiving.

    I have questioned whether it had to do with skin color, privilege, shared western/power on the world stage, and/or vodka that made this easier to bring awareness over attrocities happening on the African continent and around the globe.

    Of course, it didn’t hurt that Dan Savage and Harvey Fierstein championed it. Thank you for being willing to raise these questions with our community.


  4. Homophobia is homophobia, it doesn’t make any difference whether it is against blacks/Africans or Caucasian/whites or no matter where it is in northern or southern part of our globe, I think this is the right time for all African and other Global South LGBTI human rights activists to organize themselves to stand strong and united against homophobia and all other LGBTI racial profiling or stereotyping.

    No hate is less important than the other! What is happening in Russia is no different from what has been happening in some part of Africa like Uganda, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ethiopia and others . No matter how small you think the problem is its totally wrong to try to rate the level of homophobia in different part of the World. Homophobia is homophobia, there is no big or small homophobic behavior.


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