Browse Category: Special Series

Keeping the Faith: Religion, Sexuality, and My Best Friend’s Pool Party

A faithful friend is a strong defence: and he that hath found him, hath found a treasure. — Ecclesiasticus 6:14

My best friend from college; she’s the woman who taught me how to laugh, how to REALLY laugh… and then, when I came out, we stopped laughing together. We lost each other’s smiles for nearly four years as we both searched for self in different directions; I as an out queer activist, she as a deeply spitual Christian.

It was painful. But Love, wherever it touches, always wins.

My best friend found me again after reading a guest post written by my sister about being an ally; she left three heartfelt comments back to back; I’m sorry, I miss you, I still love you. I was so happy to have my friend back. It was as though no time had passed at all. We were back to laughing, so hard, at everything. And, like my siblings, our friendship proved that relationships are far more powerful than rhetoric when it comes to tolerance; Love always wins.

She recently threw a fundraiser for me in Texas for my #africansforafrica project. Four missed flights and connections, and a desperate additional one-way ticket to TX later just to make the party, it rained, and still we laughed. When the sun came out right when we had set up the DJ indoors, we laughed some more. And when we tallied the donations raised against the cost of planning the party, we laughed then, too.

Amidst all that laughter, I cherished you, and wouldn’t have asked for anything more; I was with my friend, laughing once more before setting off on my way, filled with Love.

So when I received notification of the donation she’d made, I lost all composure. $1000. For me, to go with to Africa where I hoped to heal women like me who’d lost their friends, lost their laughter, and needed to rediscover Love. “Chi Chi, why?” I cried. “‘Cause you’re my friend and I love you and I’m so proud of you.”

There was no laughter then, but for a good reason this time. That crazy woman in the pool. That smile of hers… let it assure you, your friends will come back to you, too. How I love her so.

Join our army of love.

Racism and LGBT Rights: Where are the African Films in the South African LGBT Film Festival?

Originally posted at Gender Across Borders.

Today marks the 19th Out in Africa film festival, a South-African Gay and Lesbian film festival launched to celebrate the inclusion of the clause prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the South African constitution.

Headlining the festival is triple Oscar nominee Albert Nobbs, a film about a woman passing as a man in order to work and survive in 19th century Ireland. Additionally, A Marine Story, an award-winning drama about the US military’s invidious “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy told through the eyes of a white American female soldier, and Kyss Mig (Kiss Me), a lekker lesbofliek which was named Best Breakthrough Film by the American Film Institute last year, will make their African film festival debuts.

There is, obviously, no shortage of films about women in the festival — an achievement worthy of note given how often the LGBT community is depicted as male. Yet, within the context of Africa, the LGBT community is also frequently perceived (and depicted) as white and western. So, the question is: where are all the black South African films in this African LGBT festival?

Out in Africa — which runs from March 23rd to April 1st, 2012 — states that its mission is to address the lack of visibility of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex individuals (LGBTIs) in South African social and cultural life in order to counter negative images of LGBTIs that prevail in traditional and religious communities after decades of apartheid repression i.e. segregation by skin color. Given the historical context of their mission statement, it’s hard not to wonder about the lack of racial diversity in the feature films.

Out of 9 feature films, just one of them is based on a black South African narrative: The Secret, a film about a married man in denial about his sexuality. This feature film is being paired with Paving Forward, a 16-minute short about the evolution of gay rights through the eyes of a lesbian love story. The pickings are slim for black South Africans eager to see their experiences reflected on film, but to be fair, these selections are part of just the first installment of the festival’s three-part format.

Last year,  rather than showcase new films in one long weekend (as is typical for many film festivals), Out in Africa implemented a new format of hosting three mini-festivals spread out over the course of the year in different parts of the country in order to optimize their outreach efforts (perhaps also to include more racial and class diversity?).  The 2012 second edition is planned from 27 July-5 August, with the third edition scheduled for 17-28 October 2012. So there’s still a chance that future installments will showcase narratives from South Africa’s black community, which faces marginalization not just along the lines of sexual orientation and gender identity, but race and class as well.

The task of depicting LGBTI Africans in a manner that presents multiple and intersecting facets of their experiences is far from easy. But Out in Africa was the only LGBTI film festival shouldering this burden until Kenya made its debut with its OUT Film Festival in Nairobi last year. Originally meant to cater to just 60 people, the Kenyan festival ended up having to turn people away after over 200 people showed up, proving that there is a thirst for Africans (straight and LGBT alike) to see the lives of LGBT Africans reflected on screen.

However, film festivals can’t meet this need alone; the world needs more filmmakers to brave the relatively uncharted territory of producing films for and about LGBT Africa, a sure challenge given that many African countries have outlawed homosexuality, not just reinforcing the subject as taboo but threatening the lives of those who dare to even broach the subject with imprisonment and even the death penalty.

Hence, documentary films like Call Me Kuchu (about David Kato, the prominent Ugandan LGBT activist who was murdered last year), along with other South African films such as The Sisterhood (which follows transgender women farmers competing in a beauty pageant) and Waiting For (which explores the controversial issue of white lesbian couples adopting black children) are rare gems, which we should never take for granted; the filmmakers have taken huge risks in order to give LGBT Africans — whose identities are too often silenced and erased  — a chance to feel seen, a chance to feel hope.

From across the ocean in the US, a country with a deep-rooted history with racism and thus similar in context to South Africa, an African-American actress comments on the importance of seeing one’s identity reflected on screen:

The way I watch movies, I’m really searching for myself, because I don’t get to see enough of myself, and I don’t get to like myself enough…. But if I get to see myself on screen, then I know that I exist.

To follow, Africans — perhaps even the ones who claim that “homosexuality is unAfrican” — will know that LGBT Africans exist if they see their lives represented more frequently on screen. Thus, beyond empowerment for the individual, the potential for cultural shifts brought about by nuanced LGBT films makes pushing for greater inclusion of African and Diaspora LGBT films in film festivals absolutely critical, especially if they’re taking place in Africa.

For its constitutional protections based on sexual orientation, South Africa is often hailed as the leader of gay rights in Africa. But it’s deep-rooted issues with racism and segregation, including the continued marginalization of black South Africans (LGBT or not), warrants that LGBT activists and filmmakers go the extra mile to ensure black South Africans are included in this post-apartheid’s picture of freedom.

Check out the Synopsis of The Secret and Paving Forward (the two black South African films featured): 

The Secret (Imfhilo): The closet was never fashionable, but living the DL is super trendy. Down Low means living under the radar as a straight man having gay sex, or having two separate lives. In Fanney Tsimong’s soap opera-like story of a gay man’s affair with a closeted married man, it gets neatly transported across the Atlantic from the US into aspirant township life. Generations actor Sipho “C-ga” Masebe’s plays Mandla, openly gay, good looking and searching for love. He bumps into old college buddy Thoriso at a birthday party. Thoriso is married to the controlling Thuli, bent on nothing so much as getting ahead in the upwardly mobile world of the BEE nouveau riche. As Mandla chases Thoriso, worlds and assumptions are overturned and lives altered forever. The climax of the film is a credit to the writer – there’s no preachy quick-fix, rather a reality check of what’s really going on out there. Intriguing contemporary South African cinema. (Dir: Fanney Tsimong SA / 2011 / 45min)

Paving ForwardMosiuoa Lekota is hardly the man you’d expect to be headlining Lembethe’s snapshot of where black gay rights are today. But, keeping it real is Nosipho Mahola with a tale of lesbian love that has torn her family apart. (Dir: Mthokozisi Lembethe SA / 2011 / 16min)

For more information about the Out in Africa film festival, visit www.oia.co.za

Ugandan LGBT Activists Sue American Evangelist for Inspiring “Kill the Gays” Bill

On March 14th, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a federal lawsuit against Abiding Truth Ministries President, Scott Lively, on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a non-profit umbrella organization for LGBT advocacy groups in Uganda.

The suit alleges that Lively’s involvement in anti-gay efforts in Uganda, including his active participation in the formulation of anti-gay legislation and policies aimed at revoking fundamental right from LGBT persons constitutes persecution.

Uganda’s parliament has a pending bill, commonly known as the “Kill the Gays Bill,” that initially demanded the death penalty for “homosexuality,” prison for failing to turn in someone suspected of being “homosexual,” and criminalizes advocacy around LGBT rights. The bill has since been revamped to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment as a maximum sentence.

According to the Guardian:

Lively [] is one of three American pastors who visited Uganda in 2009 and whom gay activists accuse of helping draft the original version of its anti-homosexuality bill.

The official complaint claims Lively issued a call in Uganda to fight against a “genocidal” and “paedophilic” gay movement, which he “likened to the Nazis and Rwandan murderers”. It seeks a judgment that Lively’s actions violate international law and human rights.

In a YouTube video from 2009, you can see Lively speaking against homosexuality to a group of Ugandans. However, he denies his direct involvement with the bill, and has described the legal action being taken against him as “absurd and frivolous.” He said in an email to AP that he has never advocated violence against gay people. He said he has preached against homosexuality but advised therapy, not punishment.  But, Ugandan LGBT activists aren’t buying it.

Said Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, “U.S evangelical leaders like Scott Lively have actively and intensively worked to eradicate any trace of LGBT advocacy and identity. Particularly damaging has been his claim that children are at risk because of our existence. His influence has been incredibly harmful and destructive for LGBT Ugandans fighting for their rights. We have to stop people like Scott Lively from helping to codify and give legal cover to hatred.”

In March 2009, Lively, along with two other U.S. Evangelical leaders, headlined a three-day conference intended to expose the “gay movement” as an “evil institution” and a danger to children. Lively likened the effects of his advocacy to a “nuclear bomb” in Uganda and stated that he hopes it is replicated elsewhere. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill emerged one month later with provisions that reflected Lively’s input

Lively has spoken on the topic of homosexuality in almost 40 countries, and worked with religious and political leaders to that end. In this “Letter to the Russians,” Lively advises that “the easiest way to discourage ‘gay pride’ parades and other homosexual advocacy is to make such activity illegal.” An anti-gay bill that prevents speech and advocacy around LGBT rights was passed and signed into law last week in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Sexual Minorities Uganda v. Lively was filed under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which allows for foreign victims of human rights abuses to seek civil remedies in U.S. courts. The lawsuit was filed in Springfield, Massachusetts, where Lively currently lives and continues his work. Upon the filing, a coalition of rights groups from Springfield marched from the federal courthouse to Lively’s coffee house, Holy Grounds, where they protested his anti-gay advocacy locally and around the world.

For more information visit CCR’s case page and read the official complaint.

Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) is a non-profit non-governmental organization that works toward achieving full legal and social equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Uganda. 

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

No More Denying: Embracing Positivity for Lent and Spending 40 Days on LOVE!

Happy Ash Wednesday (if you observe)!

Today marks the first day of Lent, which occurs 46 days before Easter, one of my most cherished celebrations as a child, as it involved family, friends, and community, so much Naija food, real live bunnies for us kids to play with, and a mystery hunt involving multi-colored chocolate-filled egg shells!

Lent was also the period of each year I remember seeing my mother — a devout Christian, prone to bouts of depression — at her happiest and most centered. During Lent, as tradition dictates, my mother fasted, eating only once a day for the entire period, and praying two – sometimes three – times a day for everyone, from a friend she’d recently quarreled with to my younger brother who was still insisting his only ambition was to grow up to be a taxi driver.

When my mother couldn’t fast, she’d give up something instead, such as her favorite snacks — Nigerian groundnuts, roasted chicken, wine, etc. — or a behavior she felt guilty about, like gossiping. And, of course, whe would of course encourage my two siblings and I to do the same. So eager to  please Mommy, we would each proclaim our challenge for the next 40 days: my sister may have given up Saturday morning cartoons, my brother, drinking soda (a cop out, as soccer would have been the truest sacrifice), and I would give up hanging out with my friends (many of who I detested anyway) or complaining about my life. ( I was quite the Daria).

Since my childhood, my spirituality has evolved into a hodge podge of Buddhist philosophies, astrology, a myriad of self-growth frameworks, and a constant reverie about the earth and its elements. But, I’ve also retained elements of the Christian faith that resonate with my values of self-reflection, personal growth, and gratitude; hence, lent is one of them.

For as long as I can remember, I too have “given up” or “gotten off” a variety of privileges and guilty pleasures — chocolate (my vice), meat, carbs, dairy, alcohol etc, and it hasn’t been in vain (in case you think that’s where I’m going with this). What I’ve gained from fasting and denying myself physical pleasures has certainly encouraged a heightened sense of awareness of the many luxuries I take for granted (at least during the lent period, and shortly after). But if I’m  being completely honestly, my denial of physical pleasures has most noteably resulted in physical benefits i.e. a healthier, reduced-carb, vegetarian-ish diet, which has done wonders for my physical health overall, but admittedly also triggered periods of anorexic behavior (which I struggled with for years) justified under the guise of “discipline.” I wonder how many people who have struggled with body issues like me are using Lent as an excuse to express hatred of their bodies in the name of spiritual love, and I worry. But, I digress.

Last year was the first year I didn’t participate in Lent season. Why? Well, for one, I couldn’t figure out what I could give up other than food to make me feel appropriately challenged (and without interfering with my work e.g. Facebook… I’m never giving up Facebook), but more importantly, I struggled to maintain the belief that I could truly cleanse myself, spiritually — not just physically — from such a contrived approach. Could I really attain a higher level of enlightenment (or even happiness) from denying myself Season 5 of Dexter? Or weeknight cocktails (again)? Or sacrificing “date nights” with my partner (she veto-ed that idea by the way). Was the meaning of Lent, simply to give things up?

I received an email from my mother today reminding me about Lent; she hoped as always that I would be participating this year. In the minds of many people — not just Christians — self-denial brings them closer to the divine. But I find myself facing the same predicament as I did last year: questioning the purpose of denying myself physical pleasures when it’s within the spiritual realm I seek clarity, centeredness, change, and positive intention.

All the years I spent starving myself for 6 weeks each year don’t compare to the bliss and serenity I feel from continuously reflecting on all the blessings I have in my life — and most especially, all the LOVE I am surrounded by. For instance, in 2010, I began a tradition of posting Morning Reflections. I wrote between 2-4 morning reflections nearly every single day for a year — about love, relationships, friendships, the power of positive thinking, activism, and much more — and the transformation I experienced has been un-matched.

So, for Lent this year, I am trying something slightly different; in place of denying myself physical pleasures, I am committing to posting positive reflections and affirmations, daily, and ridding my mind of toxins.

In “giving up” the mental vices that block me from being in touch with my inner divinity — negativity and ingratitude — I do believe I’m still keeping with tradition, just in a way that aligns with where I am spiritually, and more importantly, can be shared with others.

I invite you all to join me in experiencing 40 Days on Love, by commenting under my daily reflections on my Spectra Speaks Facebook Page. Or (if Twitter is your drug — I mean, platform of choice), I invite you to share your positive reflections (including images, quotes, links etc) using the Twitter hashtag #40daysonlove. I’ll retweet from my handle @spectraspeaks.

I’ll be focusing my own shares (and writing a weekly roundup of #40daysonlove updates) based on the following breakdown, but you don’t have to stick to this — please share organically if you wish! I just tend to be all over the place when I don’t filter my content:

  • Week 1: Self Love
  • Week 2: Relationship Love (i.e. Family, Friendship, Romantic, Earth)
  • Week 3: Community Love
  • Week 4: Healing Love
  • Week 5: Career / Work / Hobby Love
  • Week 6: Spiritual Love

Remember, the hashtag is 40 Days ON Love #40daysonlove; let us experience, together, how our bodies and spirits feel and interact with each other when we intentionally begin using life’s most potent drugs — love — to transform our lives. The sharing’s already started — check out the first tweets on Storify. I hope you join us!

One Year After the Murder of David Kato, Uganda’s Parliament Resurrects “Kill the Gays” Bill

 It’s been a little over a year since the brutal murder of David Kato, an LGBT activist who was hailed by many as the father of the gay rights movement in Uganda. David was bludgeoned to death in his home on January 26th, 2011, shortly after winning a lawsuit against a magazine which published the names and photographs of alleged gay rights activists (including David) and called for them to be executed.

The newspaper article had taken a cue from Uganda’s 2009 “Kill the Gays” bill, also known as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (AHB), which prescribes the death penalty for the “crime” of being gay or HIV-positive, and prison sentences for friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances who believe someone is homosexual but does not immediately report them to authorities.

Many feared a genocide of LGBT Ugandans were the bill to pass, and thus the murder of David Kato sparked international outrage. Human rights activists all over the world put pressure on Uganda’s government to dismiss the bill (which ran out of time before it could be voted on in parliament). The call for a “credible and impartial investigation” of Kato’s murder was answered with a small measure of bittersweet justice when Sidney Nsubuga Enoch received a sentence of 30 years for the crime.

But now, the draconian bill which began the chain reaction that led to David Kato’s death is back. A copy of Uganda’s Parliament Order Paper, dated February 7, 2012, has been making its way around the internet. Though, the government’s official spokeswoman maintains that the Ugandan government is “not interested” in the bill and that Cabinet had made its stand on the bill clearly last year by rejecting it, David Bahati, the senator who is sponsoring the bill, claims that the Ugandan government cannot influence his bill because it is a private members bill and as such, property of parliament and not Cabinet.

The return of the “Kill the Gays” bill is a major concern for Ugandan LGBT activists, but many have vowed to continue their struggle:

Amid the fuss over the re-introduction in parliament of the bills on Tuesday the activists put up a spirited defence for inclusion of homosexuals in the country’s National HIV/Aids response.

The HIV bill was challenged in April 2011 with a petition to Parliament by gay rights activists, contesting the exclusion of homosexuals from HIV/Aids prevention and control programmes.

This contentious bill was reintroduced alongside the anti-gay bill on Tuesday and has been put on the Parliamentary Order Paper that outlines priority Bills for discussion.

As the ongoing battle for LGBT tolerance in Uganda continues, activists abroad are also lending their support by leveraging media to spark critical conversations about LGBT rights in Uganda.

For instance, Val Kalende, a Ugandan journalist who was fired from her job for speaking out against the bill and was forced to relocate to the United States, reflects on her blog:

The death of David Kato has galvanized a breed of new activism and synergies in the Ugandan LGBT community. On my recent visit to Uganda, I met and interacted with a number of young activists and organizations whose joining the movement was a response to the death of this great activist. The movement has certainly grown bigger and stronger thanks to ongoing organizing by the Uganda Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law. It is encouraging to know that what began as a make-shift entity to respond to the Anti-Homosexuality bill has not only become proactive in action but more grounded in a multi-dimensional sexual rights advocacy. Members of the coalition feel that it is time to move Beyond the Anti-Homosexuality bill and build a movement of sexual rights activists who will influence policy and change repressive laws that hinder the freedom of sexual minorities.

Meanwhile, on February 11th, Call me Kuchu, a film by Malika Zouhali-Worrall and Katherine Fairfax Wright about David Kato’s life as the first openly gay man in Uganda will premier at the Berlin Film Festival:

Call Me Kuchu examines the astounding courage and determination required not only to battle an oppressive government, but also to maintain religious conviction in the face of the contradicting rhetoric of a powerful national church. As we paint a rare portrait of an activist community and its antagonists, our key question explores the concept of democracy: In a country where a judiciary increasingly recognizes the rights of individual kuchus, yet a popular vote and daily violence threaten to eradicate their rights altogether, can this small but spirited group bring about the political and religious change it seeks?

Via a series of presentation and panel discussions, the filmmakers have already been using the film to facilitate critical conversations about Uganda’s LGBT movement’s strategy. One of their hopes for the film is that it will become an accessible platform through which human rights activists from all walks of life can engage policy makers — perhaps even the “Kill Bill” sponsor, David Bahati — and hopefully arm LGBT Ugandans with the tools to fight against further criminalization, not just from a legal perspective, but from a human one as well.

Check out the trailer:

Call Me Kuchu – Trailer from Call Me Kuchu on Vimeo.


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