No Freedom ‘till we are all Free: Voices of the LGBTI community

Photo by Charles HaynesCC BY-SA 2.0. Colourful Demonstrations like these are held all over the world in support of LGBTI rights. However, in many places these kinds of parades are still completely impossible

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me

This statement by Anti Nazi Pastor Martin Niemöller hinges on how crucial it is to speak out against all forms of injustices without sacrificing some oppressed groups. When we fail to include in our peace building agendas the needs of groups we don’t identify ourselves with, we risk recreating the very marginalisation that we are fighting against. Yet Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) persons continue to be at the receiving end.

In Africa, 38 countries have a gamut of laws that criminalise homosexual behaviour. The continent is witnessing a spate of homophobic and transphobic legislation being enacted by states under the influence of the western conservative Pentecostal churches unleashing anti-LGBT theology. This has seen an upsurge in violations of LGBT person’s human rights by both state and non-state actors.

As power dynamics take centre stage, there is no doubt that in societies polarised along political, racial, and gender lines, those in position of less power become easy targets. The weakest link at the bottom of the chain in most instances are LGBTI people who they bear the brunt of injustices in cases where wars are often perpetrated on their bodies in both private and public spheres.

At the core of the injustices perpetrated against the LGBT community, is the socially constructed nature of gender that dictates certain rigid norms and roles that are deemed acceptable. Gender is dichotomised into male and female, and individuals are expected to occupy one or the other and exhibit the associated characteristics. The existence of these norms engenders discrimination, as those who do not conform are ostracised and vilified for not fitting into the hetero-norm and going against the grain of patriarchy.

The prevalence of these norms in all spaces of society means that those who reject confinement to constructs of femininity and masculinity are susceptible to marginalisation and violence even in groups which are often considered ‘safe spaces’, and among those striving against injustice. It is therefore important, if we are to rid our societies and movements of violence that we analyse our understanding of gender, power, and justice, as well as our own power and privilege, and how these are at play even in our organising. This helps us acknowledge how we are sometimes both perpetrators, witnesses and victims of violence, and that by remaining silent or reinforcing stereotypes and excluding sexual minority groups from our movements we abet their marginalisation. In our quest for emancipation when we silence or ignore voices of LGBTI persons we become part of the system that oppresses. As the late Pan Africanist, Steve Biko said; the oppressed aspires to be the oppressor.

Creating peace is about building societies where all of us feel safe and sense of affinity, so peace is intimately connected with struggling against power structures and norms that limit, marginalise and oppress us wherever we find them – in the systems we are opposing as well as within our own movements.

We can do this by:

  • Recognising that although patriarchy and other power structures set limits for all of us, these power structures value some lives and bodies more than others and oppress us in different ways. (2nd edition: WRI handbook on non-violent campaigns) Taking a gendered perspective in our peacebuilding work, and understanding that violence takes many forms and is made possible by the existence of unequal power relations, of which gender is one of them. With a gender lens we can understand how violence, gender and power relations are mutually constituted in all spheres and how different forms of violence are gendered. (2nd edition: WRI handbook on non-violent campaigns)
  • Checking whose voice is listened to, who is ignored, who feels left out and how everyone can feel valued and respected. The cornerstone of building movements relies on integrating people from different struggles and ensuring that individuals feel valued and can equally contribute.
  • Being mindful of our language, prejudices, privileges and assumptions we make regarding e.g. people’s gender when organising.

Ultimately we strengthen movements by delving on inclusion rather than exclusion of silenced and marginalised groups. We constantly need to question, challenge and take cognisance of the intersections of direct, structural and cultural violence and how these exacerbate the subjugation of LGBTI groups and individuals and ensure that we do not reinforce oppressive systems.

It behoves us to actively promote gender tolerance in our organising and our interactions with various groups of people, bearing in mind that when fail to acknowledge each other’s realities’ we simply become the oppressor.

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