/ 30 September 2011

Gays come out fighting

Nigerian gay-rights activist Bisi Alimi, who fell foul of the authorities after he came out on national television, is among the founding members of a new international pressure group formed to tackle the rise in homophobic violence, particularly in Africa and the Middle East.

Kaleidoscope, an independent group campaigning for the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities, was set up after several high-profile attacks on sexual minorities in developing countries.

“I was attacked, tied up and beaten in my own home in Lagos,” Alimi said. “For the first time in my life I not only saw a gun but I felt it right against my head. I was forced to leave my country. My dream is that others like me will be free to stay and be happy, surrounded by the love of their friends and families.”

In January, the Ugandan gay-rights activist David Kato was bludgeoned to death after being pictured on the front of the Ugandan tabloid Rolling Stone alongside the headline “Hang Them”. A fortnight ago Iran executed three men for consensual homosexual acts.

According to Kaleidoscope, more than a third of all countries still have laws against consensual homosexual acts and 38 of the 54 members of the Commonwealth criminalise homosexual practices.

Despite some progress for gay rights in the United States and Latin America, the global campaign for the rights of sexual minorities has experienced setbacks in recent years. In May, the United Nations human rights chief, Navi Pillay, warned that hate crimes against LGBT communities were on the rise.

Speaking from Uganda, Francis Onyango, the lawyer representing several other gay activists also named by Rolling Stone, said not much had changed since Kato’s death. “The danger is always there. All activists mentioned in that newspaper still face death threats by religious fanatics in their so-called war on homosexuality, and stigmatisation remains widespread.”

The new initiative has pledged to use “effective international lobbying” with its access to the British government and the European Union to delay or prevent homophobic legalisation around the world and to help to strengthen groups of men and women “who take a stand against injustice and discrimination in their own countries”.

Apart from its focus on international discrimination against LGBT people, Kaleidoscope will also campaign for national causes. It has the stated support of Britain’s three main political parties.

“There are still some big issues to address,” said Lance Price, a Kaleidoscope founding member and former 10 Downing Street media adviser. “Gay marriage is one; the attitude of the immigration service towards people seeking refuge from countries where their lives could be in danger is another.”

Paul Canning, an activist who has campaigned for those with a well-founded fear of persecution who have been refused asylum, highlighted the case of the Ugandan gay man Robert Segwanyi.

“Segwanyi fled jail and torture for what he hoped would be sanctuary here,” he said. “Despite everyone describing him as ‘obviously gay’, the [British] home office still wants to return him to what would be a likely death. It has taken a big campaign to, we hope, stop them.” —