Archive for the ‘Gay City News’ Category
In the coastal town of Mtwapa in Kenya’s Kilifi district, media hysteria and outrage by clerics over a non-existent gay wedding whipped up mob violence that began on February 12, unleashing a house-to-house witch hunt by anti-gay vigilantes, street attacks targeting gay men, the sacking of an AIDS-fighting medical center, and a widening wave of ultra-homophobic national media coverage.
Many gay men have gone into hiding or fled the area.
From Nairobi, the nation’s capital, Denis Nzioka, a prominent 24-year-old gay activist, told Gay City News, “Ever since the outburst of violence in Mtwapa, gay people have had to fear for their lives. Vigilante groups are hunting down gay men, going door to door, and anyone who is overly flamboyant is attacked in the street.”
According to an internal report jointly prepared by on-scene representatives of both the leading Kenyan queer group, the two-year-old Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK), and the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), a non-governmental organization formed two decades ago, the wave of anti-gay violence had Kafkaesque origins in a false rumor about a gay wedding supposedly planned for February 12.
“There is even a suggestion that it was a planted story,” said the GALCK-KHRC report, adding, “In any case, the most repeated version is that about two weeks ago a well-known and popular gay man in the Mtwapa area went to a barbershop for a haircut. When one of the barbers commented that his hair looked really nice and asked him where was going, he responded jokingly that he was going to get married. However, the barber took it seriously and went to his local mosque and reported that there was a planned gay wedding set for Friday, February 12 in Mtwapa.”
That mosque’s imam then announced the so-called “wedding” to his congregation and instructed his flock to begin monitoring any community gatherings to insure that no gay weddings could take place.
After this, “a local radio station, Kaya FM, picked up the story and started a series of programs on gays,” according to the GALCK-KHRC report, which Nzioka told this reporter included phone-in talk shows filled with homophobic discourse and incitements to violence.
“Kaya FM presents in Swahili and many of the Minikenda languages, and therefore has a real grassroots reach,” the report said, adding, “The main focus of the discussions was the impending ‘wedding’ of two men in Mtwapa. Other local radio stations also picked up the story, including Baraka FM, Rahma FM, and ultimately national radio stations including Kiss and Classic FM.”
Five days before the date of the alleged wedding, “many of the muftis and imams discussed the impending wedding during Friday prayers and asked the community to be vigilant against homosexuals. They told their congregants to demonstrate and to flush out homosexuals from the midst of Mtwapa and to ensure that no gay wedding took place,” the GALCK-KHRC report declared.
Nzioka told this reporter, “Mtwapa is predominantly Muslim, and the imams have a lot of power and influence there.”
Some 60 percent of Kenya’s Muslim population lives in the coastal area where Mtwapa is located. Kenya is roughly 10 percent Muslim, 33 percent Roman Catholic, and 45 percent Protestant, according to the country’s entry in the CIA World Factbook.
As a harbinger of things to come, on the evening of the February 7, following anti-gay preachings in Muslim mosques, a group of young men invaded Kalifornia, the main gay club in Mtwapa, and while dancing warned in the form of a song, “Gays have no joy and this time round they will have no joy or happiness for them.” In the days that followed, calls were heard from rioters to burn down Kalifornia.
On February 11, a homophobic press conference condemning the next day’s purported wedding was held by Sheikh Ali Hussein, regional coordinator of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK), together with Bishop Lawrence Chai, regional representative of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK).
According to a story in the Daily Nation about the press conference, “The clerics claimed that a large number of youths were being recruited into gay clubs and warned that ‘God is about to punish the fastest growing town in the Coast region. Come night, come day, we shall not allow that marriage to be conducted in this town tomorrow. We shall stand firm to flush out gays who throng this town every weekend from all corners of this country,’ the religious leaders said.”
The two clerics “said they had given the government seven days to close down night clubs they accused of fuelling homosexuality in the town,” the Daily Nation reported, adding that the two “asked the government to ‘save the country from the shame of being used to conduct a marriage between people of the same sex.’ They also warned the owner of a building in the town, who was allegedly renting rooms only to homosexuals, to evict them or face their wrath. They gave him a seven-day ultimatum to throw out tenants.”
The two clerics also denounced the Mtwapa clinic run by the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), a large national organization with 750 staff members nationwide that runs a research program co-sponsored by Britain’s Oxford University. The clinic has an AIDS program for counseling and treating men who have sex with men.
Sheikh Hussein and Bishop Chai demanded that the government investigate the KEMRI clinic for providing services to homosexuals.
“How can a state institution be involved on the pretext of providing counseling to these criminals?,” the two clerics said, according to the Daily Nation, and they added, “We ask that the government shut it down with immediate effect or we will descend on its officials.”
The day after this inflammatory press conference, a well-organized mob of some 200 to 300 people armed with sticks, stones, and other weapons, and led by a vigilante leader named Faridi surrounded the KEMRI clinic, which was alleged to be the site of the non-existent wedding, and demanded that all the “shogas” come out of the building. “Shoga” is a Swahili word used as a pejorative against homosexuals — the equivalent of “faggot” — but also by women when referring to their close female friends.
Faridi, the vigilante leader, entered the clinic accompanied by police officers and confronted a staff member wearing a World AIDS Day T-shirt with a pink triangle that read “Condoms prevent AIDS” in Swahili. The vigilante is reported to have said, “This man is a shoga,” and at his demand, the police arrested him. Another KEMRI staffer was arrested later, also at Faridi’s insistence.
Nzioka told Gay City News that the KEMRI clinic was subsequently sacked, with material including computers destroyed, and was forced to shut down. This disruption of the clinic’s work means that many HIV-positive people who access care and treatment there have not been able to get their medications for days, which has serious health consequences for them.
Later that same day, “after Friday prayers” in Mtwapa’s mosques, “mobs of individuals went to the homes of suspected homosexuals looking for them,” said the GALCK-KHRC report, which also recounted speeches to a large mob that had gathered outside the local police station. Sheikh Hussein addressed the crowd in a manner “that was inciting, and he kept talking about Sodom and Gomorrah and the need to root out all homosexuals from the Mtwapa area,” the report said.
A former member of Kenya’s parliament, Omar Masumbuko, was one of several politicians who also addressed the mob. “He said that homosexuality must be stopped and every means used to make that happen,” according to the GALCK-KHRC report. “He told the crowd they should not even bother to bring the homosexuals they find to the police station but should take care of the issue themselves,”
Sodomy and sex “against the order of nature” are crimes in Kenya, punishable by ten years in prison, under a law inherited from the period of British colonial rule, which ended in 1963.
February 12 was punctuated by numerous attacks on gay people. At 8 that morning, before leading the mob attack on the KEMRI clinic, Faridi was joined by police in storming and ransacking the home of a gay man, who was arrested along with a friend who was visiting from abroad. While searching the guest’s luggage, they found jewelry that included some rings. Faridi immediately said that these were the rings for the intended wedding.
In a separate incident, a 23-year-old security guard was descending from a bus heading toward the center of Mtwapa when he was set upon by a mob that threatened him with death and beat him senseless. A female sex worker tried to protect him with her body and yelled at the crowd that they can’t kill people like that and that the man had not done anything, but the mob doused the man with kerosene, preparing to burn him alive. At this point the police arrived, but instead of arresting anyone in the mob, they arrested the man it had attacked. The bloodied, dazed man was incarcerated and denied medical attention.
The following day, a volunteer at the KEMRI clinic was attacked by a mob, which chanted that it was actually his wedding they had disrupted. The man was severely beaten and burnt with cigarette butts. As the mob prepared to douse the man with kerosene, he too was arrested. After his arrest, a mob attempted to attack the Mtwapa police station but was repulsed with tear gas.
In total, six men presumed to be gay were arrested, some of them forced to undergo medical examinations for evidence of sodomy, and all were scheduled for a court appearance on February 15. But Nzioka told this reporter that, after intervention by an attorney provided by KHRC, all six were released from custody, and have now fled the area.
Nzioka also said that the wave of anti-gay violence and protests in Mtwapa had received “huge” publicity in all the national media, particularly radio and television, but that “all of it was, sadly, very, very homophobic,” and that the media had utterly failed to reach out to representatives of the gay community. Instead, he said, gay-baiting commentaries and reactions from imams and other religious and anti-gay leaders were featured.
Asked by Gay City News if the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) was sending a staff member to Kenya from its branch office in Johannesburg, South Africa, the organization’s executive director, Cary Alan Johnson, replied in an e-mail, “We are not sending a staff member to Kenya at this point, as we have full confidence in the local LGBT movement, which is grouped together under the banner of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK) to respond to the situation. Also, a number of national and local mainstream human rights partners, particularly the Kenya Human Rights Coalition, are engaging with the clear recognition that an attack on the rights of individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity is an attack on the freedoms of all Kenyan citizens.”
GALCK is not a membership organization but an alliance of five other groups — Ishtar, a health group for men who have sex with men; Gaykenya.com, a web site; Minority Women in Action, a lesbian group; the Gender Education and Advocacy Project (GEAP), a group for transgendered and intersex people; and The Other Man in Kenya (TOMIKI), a social network of gay professionals in the medical, legal, and other fields, most of whom, Nzioka said, are “very discreet.”
The consciousness informing at least some in GALCK’s leadership has raised concerns. In a statement demanding government protection for gays published on the group’s website, its general manager, David Kuria, wrote, “We also call upon the religious leaders in Kenya to appreciate that compulsory heterosexuality is not the way to enforce their religion. GALCK members are willing to enter into dialogue with them, and if they truly have a cure for homosexuality, then we are most happy to take it, BUT NOT UNDER CONDITIONS OF DURESS.”
Since the American Psychiatric Association and most of its Western peer groups have not only completely discredited the notion that there can be a “cure” for homosexuality, but also affirmed that attempting to inflict such a “cure” on those with a same-sex orientation can be extremely harmful psychologically, it is quite disturbing to see the leader of a gay group like GALCK say that his members would be “happy to take” such a so-called cure if available.
Kuria could not be reached for comment by press time.
GALCK has five paid staff members and, Nzioka told this reporter, receives the bulk of its funding from LLH, the Norwegian LGBT Association.
There is no immediate prospect of repeal of the anti-gay sodomy statute in Kenya. Nzioka told Gay City News that Kenya’s gay community has “copiously” inundated the experts drafting a new national constitution with documents supporting the repeal of anti-gay laws and the extension of human rights to LGBT people, but that the committee has turned a deaf ear, and “has even buckled under to homophobia by removing a section which said that ‘every person has a right to start a family,’ which was interpreted as giving gays the right to have or adopt children.”
Moreover, said Nzioka, while there are a handful of friendly elected public officials and politicians with whom queer groups are in contact, “all are secretive, very discreet” about their support for gay rights and there is no organized evidence of that support in the national parliament.
Meanwhile, the Mtawapa witch-hunt shows no signs of letting up: at the beginning of this week, Sheikh Hussein launched radio appeals for a mass anti-gay demonstration in Mtawapa on February 19.
A video report on the Mtwapa incidents from Kenya’s NTV is at:
The web site of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK) is at http://galck.org/index.php.
Gaykenya is at http://www.gaykenya.com.
The Kenya Human Rights Commission is at http://www.khrc.or.ke/.
Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at http://direland.typepad.com/
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Gay City News Published: Wednesday, January 6, 2010
In the Republic of Georgia, a muscular December 15 raid by homophobic security forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) on the country’s LGBT organization, the Inclusive Foundation, resulted in the arrest of founder and president Paata Sabelashvili. The officials framed Sabelashvili on trumped-up drug possession charges.
In an exclusive interview with Gay City News by telephone from Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital and largest city, with one million residents, the 31-year-old Sabelashvili said that 13 lesbians present at the Inclusive Foundation’s offices were roughed up and strip-searched by the MIA officers, who hurled homophobic insults at them and “threatened to photograph them and out them to their families.” The officers seized computer disks containing some of the organization’s files, though it is unclear whether they obtained its membership list. “We don’t know what they took off the computers,” Sabelashvili reported.
The warrantless raid, during which police officers refused to give their identities, was denounced by the Georgian Young Lawyers Association as riddled with illegalities and part of “a campaign against NGOs [non-governmental organizations] recently.” The Lawyers Association called for an official investigation and disciplinary procedures against officers involved in the raid, saying that in addition to numerous violations of Georgian law, “we consider that abasement of dignity of sexual minorities by MIA officers during fulfillment of their duties, as well as the use of uncensored vocabulary, threats made against foundation members, use of homophobic expressions intended to intimidate them, is directed against ethical norms and is discrediting MIA at the same time.”
Sabelashvili, who speaks excellent English, told this reporter that he was arrested “the day after I had returned from Brussels, where I had been attending a seminar run by ILGA-Europe [a branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association], ironically on the topic of ‘Hate Crimes and Cooperation with the Police.’” Sabelashvili, who is a member of ILGA-Europe’s board of directors, said the MIA police accused him of “having smuggled significant quantities of LSD, ecstasy, and other illegal hard drugs into the country” on his return from Brussels, although no such drugs were found during the raid or subsequently. The police claimed to have found a tiny quantity of marijuana, “enough for five or six joints,” in an unlocked drawer of one of the desks, Sabelashvili said, but he suggested the pot may have been planted there, as the desk was easily accessible to any of the many visitors to the Inclusive Foundation’s offices. The group runs a resource center, book and video library, and drop-in counseling service there, and also serves as a safe space for meetings of LGBT Georgians.
“Sure I smoke pot, I didn’t deny it, but smoking pot is not a crime, only a civil code violation punishable by a fine of around 200 Euros [or about $288],” Sabelashvili told Gay City News, adding that “drugs are always a very convenient excuse for this kind of raid.” He unequivocally denied having smuggled marijuana or any other kind of drug into the country, saying, “I’d never be so stupid as to do that, especially when abroad as part of my work for ILGA-Europe and the Inclusive Foundation, as I would never expose the organizations I love to any danger.”
Sabelashvili said he was incarcerated for 12 days under conditions he described as “very humiliating and disgusting. First, I was interrogated for six hours, then I was put in a small cell designed to house only six people but that had 28 people stuffed into it, and I was constantly subjected to anti-gay name calling. When after three days I was transferred to prison, the police told the other prisoners I was gay, so they all knew. I was hit by police during my transfer to the prison.”
Speculating on the timing of the MIA raid, Sabelashvili noted that just two weeks before, he’d resigned his full-time job as a program officer for the Georgian office of the Danish Refugee Council, where he had been employed for six-and-a-half years, to devote full time to his LGBT work, “and they probably waited until I was no longer working for the Danes so as not to arouse an international outcry.” Sabelashvili learned that after he left his job with the Danish organization, he was the target of an intensive police investigation; “they interrogated my neighbors about me,” he said.
But Sabelashvili, a well-known figure among human rights activists in Georgia, said that since his arrest the Inclusive Foundation had already heard from both official European bodies and from the political officer at the US Embassy in Georgia, and that he has a meeting scheduled for January 8 with Washington’s deputy ambassador.
Georgia is one of the most culturally homophobic countries among the former republics of the Soviet Union; four-fifths of its population of some 4.3 million people are faithful to the Georgian Orthodox Church, one of the country’s most influential institutions and one militantly opposed to homosexuality. Even after the USSR legalized homosexuality in 1923, it remained a crime in the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. (Homosexuality was re-criminalized in the USSR under Stalin in 1933.)
In a recent poll of Georgians by the Caucuses Research Center, when asked, “Would you be on friendly terms with gays?,” 81.4 percent replied “No,” with 71.4 percent responding “No” to the question, “Would you work with a homosexual?” Sabelashvili described gays and lesbians as “the most despised and stigmatized group in Georgia,” with sneering, homophobic media attacks launched with regularity.
Georgia legalized homosexuality in 2000, but only to meet the requirements for its membership in the Council of Europe, a body composed of the foreign ministers and parliaments of 47 nations which since 1949 has worked for European integration, and which emphasizes human rights in its work. (Membership in the Council is important for trade and commerce among its members under treaties it sponsors, and is a necessary first step toward membership in the European Union. A number of former Soviet satellites, including Bulgaria and Romania, also decriminalized homosexuality only in response to European pressure.)
There are no gay bars or explicitly gay-oriented businesses in Georgia.
Georgia’s Inclusive Foundation was founded three-and-a-half years ago by Sabelashvili and a handful of friends and acquaintances, with sponsorship from a five-year Central Asian Project run by the Dutch LGBT group COC, the world’s oldest queer organization, founded in 1946. Other countries included in this COC project were Moldavia, Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.
Sabelashvili said that the Inclusive Foundation has an annual budget of between 70,000 and 80,000 Euros (or some $100,000 to $115,000), most of which comes from the Dutch government, with other support coming from the Swedish Development Corporation and ILGA-Europe.
The foundation has a small, part-time staff, including three program staffers, two lawyers, two doctors (a medical doctor for AIDS counseling and a psychologist), a webmaster, and a graphic designer for its magazine ME (“that’s pronounced ‘may’ in Georgian,” said Sabelashvili, “and means the same as ‘me’ in English, a name chosen to emphasize the personhood and human equality of all people, including LGBTs.”)
ME, Georgia’s only LGBT publication, with a print and PDF circulation of about 3,500, is published in both Georgian and English, with funding from COC and the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Germany, founded by the German Green Party and named after the 1972 Nobel Laureate for Literature and noted peace activist.
The Inclusive Foundation has been under frequent attack by the Georgian Orthodox Church, and because the level of homophobia is so high and most LGBT Georgians are in the closet, large public meetings are difficult to hold. The last public event was a May 20 meeting marking the International Day Against Homophobia, which was disrupted and brought to a halt by thuggish members of the Orthodox Parents Union. “It drew an audience of 50 people — and for us Georgians, that’s large!” Sabelashvili said with a chuckle.
“A lot of our public work consists of sending guest speakers to events organized by other groups,” the Inclusive Foundation’s president said. “For example, we recently sent guest speakers to a non-curricular seminar organized by second-year law students — it was an ice-breaking experience, for there was a lot of negative attitudes at the beginning, but by the end of the discussion, which was supposed to last only an hour, it had gone on for over three hours, and people were very interested in learning more and taking our materials.”
Sabelashvili said he decided to become a gay activist when studying international relations in Hungary under a scholarship to the Central European University, founded two decades ago by Hungarian-born US philanthropist George Soros’ Open Society Institute to encourage democracy in former Soviet bloc nations. At the university, he made friends with a gay-friendly young American woman and eventually joined an LGBT club that held weekly meetings. “The university was a pretty safe space, and I came out in Budapest,” he said. On his return to Georgia, Sabelashvili said, he “decided to use my organizational skills and my knowledge of writing grant proposals to do something to fight for gay people. I’d always been involved with the causes of marginalized people. But it was not easy to get people together to start Inclusive.”
Sabelashvili said he was released from prison only when, in a plea bargain, he signed a statement, “on the advice of my lawyer,” admitting to having brought a small quantity of marijuana into the country on a previous trip abroad, with a fine of 1,600 Euros (roughly $2,300) and a five-year suspended sentence, during which he is subject to re-arrest and imprisonment for any violation of law. Even though he says he committed no wrong, Sabelashvili said, “I signed because I just wanted to get out. I didn’t think at the time that I was getting any help, and it seemed the only way to avoid a prison sentence. Only after I got out did I learn of the considerable international attention that my case was receiving, and that’s probably why that authorities agreed” to the plea bargain.
The raid and Sabelashvili’s arrest have already had a chilling effect on the Inclusive Foundation’s work. The activist says that “two of our board members have resigned, and some of our volunteers have dropped out — especially after police were spotted by two of our members who were in a café making post-raid nocturnal visits to our closed office and a group of four other police were stationed outside it to follow our members and visitors as they left.”
The Inclusive Foundation’s bi-lingual magazine, ME, is available online in at
The Georgian Young Lawyers Association statement detailing the illegalities in the police raid on the Foundation is at http://tinyurl.com/yc8cyae
(Click through to the report from the lower right hand portion of the page)
Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at