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From the streets of New York City to the townships of South Africa, the LGBT rights movement and its opposition are engaged in an unprecedented international battle. GlobalPost presents an ongoing series of reports from key locations at this pivotal time in history, telling highly personal, often overlooked stories from the fight.
A Ugandan couple flees to a Kenyan camp, finding little relief.
real option is resettlement in a Western country.
“Honestly, the fear is now increasing,” said Alex.
Refugees from vehemently anti-homosexual societies like Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia surround them, and beliefs and attitudes don’t change by simply crossing a border.
According to Alex, when they revealed to their UNHCR counselor that instances of being called “gay” in the camp were increasing, the counselor’s response was, “Well, aren’t you?”
Improper handling of situations like this is widespread, says ORAM founder Grungras.
“It’s not enough to treat them like every other refugee,” said Grungras, referring to the unique danger of violence for LGBTs if other refugees discover their true identities. “There are no mechanisms to protect them in the camps.”
ORAM is one of several organizations that have begun to take a systematic focus towards assisting LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, such as HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), and Refugee Law Project in Uganda. Still, Grungras says, “it’s a real hodgepodge of who’s ready and able to assist in these matters.”
The refugee camp has had draining physical and mental effects on both men. Alex says that Michael often cries throughout the night, and has become both extremely depressed and afraid of people. He is still slowly trying to recover, but finds it difficult with little to occupy his time in the camp aside from his own thoughts.
Looking through photographs of the couple from less than a year ago, one of the few valuables they were able to bring with them, it is clear that Alex’s body has shrunken drastically.
“You know this refugee life — we’ve got many problems here. The food they give you is the same for a 1-year-old. Three kilos of wheat flower, 1/2 kilo of beans, and a 1/2 liter of oil for two weeks. It’s not enough.”
At one point, things got so bad that they almost considered going back to Uganda.
“We ran because we feared death. But what sort of life do we have here? If we die in our country, at least it can bring to attention what’s happening. If we die here, no one will know anything,” Alex said.
“We have been surviving. But it feels like we’re going to be in the camp all our life, because even here in Kenya they won’t allow us, they can’t accept us.”
Roots of Hate
This month, UK Prime Minister David Cameron threatened to place aid restrictions on nations that do not respect gay rights, part of a larger campaign in Commonwealth countries.
Both Uganda and Nigeria, which is also considering new anti-gay legislation, are large recipients of UK aid, and were no doubt targets of Cameron’s rhetoric. Those receiving aid should "adhere to proper human rights" regarding religion and sexuality, Cameron said.
In response, the BBC reported, Ugandan presidential advisor John Nagenda said Cameron was demonstrating a "bullying mentality." He added, "If they must take their money, so be it.” Nigeria and Zambia have had similar responses.
Restricting aid would probably have little affect on the situation, however. In both Kenya and Uganda, it’s not simply the government, “it’s the people, the community, that is causing the problems,” said Alex.
Anti-homosexual sentiments run deep across the African continent, and in most African societies, homosexuality is considered immoral, “un-African,” “un-Christian” and a threat to the traditional fabric of society. Others claim it to be an import of the West.
Out of 54 African nations, 38 have laws criminalizing homosexual acts to various extents — yet Uganda has been particularly aggressive in recent years. With over 500,000 gays reported to be living in Uganda, the risks of living openly are rising.
The recent tidal wave of anti-gay attitudes in the country began in 2009, when a new anti-homosexuality bill — dubbed the “Kill the Gays Bill” because it would introduce the death sentence for some gay acts and a minimum of life imprisonment for all gays and lesbians — was introduced to the Ugandan Parliament.
Several newspapers reported that the bill stemmed from a workshop held by three evangelical preachers from the US earlier that year, including Caleb Lee Brundidge, a former gay man who conducts “homosexual healing” sessions, and Scott Lively, a well known anti-gay activist and president of Defend the Family International. The workshop reportedly preached about the “gay agenda,” and the societal