Post submitted by Jean Freedberg, Deputy Director, HRC Global
A cheer went up in the room on Tuesday at the biennial meeting of Pan Africa ILGA (PAI), the regional grouping of the International Lesbian and Gay Association in Johannesburg, South Africa. The chair had just announced that the Seychelles had become the latest country to decriminalize homosexuality, and the representative from Seychelles was given a hearty round of applause for his organization’s efforts.
This gathering brought together some 200 delegates from 34 countries, uniting some of Africa's most active, innovative and enthusiastic LGBTIQ activists for five days of learning, engagement, sharing and inspiration to help strengthen and support the African LGBTIQ movement.
The meeting was held to coincide with IDAHOT - the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia - and the launch of ILGA’s 11th annual report on state-sponsored homophobia.
Activists from across the continent shared successes and challenges, sharing lessons on how together we can build a movement for the safety and inclusion of LGBTIQ people. Conference participants discussed and debated how to deal with the challenges and obstacles they face on a daily basis. For example, in Uganda and Egypt, authoritarian regimes arrest LGBTIQ people on a range of pretexts and LGBTIQ people in Kenya, Nigeria and Cameroon face tremendous security challenges. Additionally, in Algeria and Benin, LGBTIQ people continue to live in the shadows but have active community lives.
Together we talked about the challenges of North-South relations and we sought solutions, bringing to life the conference theme “Breaking Ground and Building Bridges.” We explored ways in which the global north and the global south can constructively work together to overcome the legacy of centuries of colonial rule as well as the negative impact of the activities of U.S.-based anti-LGBT groups, among other topics.
Most importantly, we focused on equality rising across Africa. We were meeting in South Africa, where LGBTIQ people are protected by the constitution and have more rights and visibility than anywhere else on the continent. I met fearless activists from East Africa who defiantly are organizing another pride event in August and a transgender woman from Tanzania who has organized a sewing collective of transgender women as a way out of poverty for her community. We heard from many inspiring speakers, like a courageous senior judge in Botswana’s highest court who has been an outspoken champion for the right of LEGABIBO, the country’s largest LGBTIQ group, to be a registered organization. We also heard from a commissioner from the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights who talked about the groundbreaking Resolution 275, which for the first time provides a continent-wide tool to protect LGBTIQ people against violence and persecution.
We participated in plenaries, met in small groups, shared cultural experiences, talked, laughed and engaged. Mostly, we shared experiences about what it means to be engaged in the global struggle for equality. The PAI conference provided a tremendous boost for all of its attendees, who left inspired, engaged and recommitted, having learned so much from each other and from the range of experiences represented there. As one of the newly-elected members of the PAI board said in closing the conference, “Diversity is our name, diversity is who we are and diversity is our nature.”