“My existance is political”: Meet 7 courageous activists from the global south
19 activists from 13 different countries visited LGBT+ Denmark in connection with World Pride this year. LGBT+ Denmark works closely with organisations and activists in the global south, and we were very pleased to be able to invite them up and contribute to their voices being heard and their activism seen.
While here, they attended important meetings with top diplomats and politicians, telling their story, their struggle and what they need to ensure a safe environment and better living conditions in their countries.
Each and every one of them represents a fight for rights and opportunities to be who you are in communities where LGBT+ people are heavily marginalized and without protection from the law. Some fight from their country. Some now live in Europe.
Meet 7 of them and their important work here.
I am from Tripoli, Libya, but currently live in Berlin, Germany, where I continue to work with Kun Libya. Kun is one of the first platforms for and by the LGBTQI community living in Libya. Our work is to show the Libyan population, and those living elsewhere, who and what we are, to tell about our history, problems, and achievements.
At Kun, we want to expand our legal connections and be in touch with other LGBTQI groups around the world. We want to engage in trainings and establish work in Libya that supports people who need support, such as those in our community who become refugees. I also co-founded the Tanweer Movement. Tanweer means to illuminate, to enlighten. With Tanweer Movement, it is the same: We want to impact human rights, especially the legalization of LGBTQI rights, in Libya, which is a difficult thing to do. We are making a record of the violations against our community, which happens all the time in Libya. It’s a hard task but we want to empower and train ourselves to do this even better.
Typically, Libya is not represented in these kinds of events at all. I think that this is maybe the first time—I am maybe the only Libyan person here. It puts a lot of pressure on me to just represent in some way, and, at the same time, to transmit everything I learn here back to my colleagues.
I also want to say that Libya has an ancient LGBTQI community, a very old tradition that is actually from the time of the pharaohs. This is really misrepresented, and a lot of people don’t know anything about us. So, I’m just glad to be here at World Pride. I hope that Libya is represented more in these kinds of things in the future.
De Amor (she/her)
I’m from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and work to improve the lives of LBTQ women in Tanzania. I came to Copenhagen mainly to learn from others how they have achieved equality and work around minimizing stigma and discrimination in all sectors of life. So far, I have been in contact with many different people and have been learning a lot from their experiences.
The main challenges we face are the harsh laws in Tanzania. Sometimes it is even hard to organize and complete meetings or workshops before they are raided by the police. Through my meetings here, I have learned that we should look into the existent laws and look for loopholes which we can use for our work. Also, to look into all those contracts that the government signed and ratified on human rights, to think of how we can use to support our cause.
It feels really good to be free for these few days that I have been here in Copenhagen for World Pride. I feel free, and it is something that I don’t always feel in my country. I feel safe, like, I can be myself out loud, without fearing to be arrested. It is something that feels good, and it is what we are working toward―this freedom to feel free and safe, without any discrimination. This experience is really nice. Talking to people, meeting with people of different colors and sexualities, and we just don’t fear anything. Like, I’m here, and I don’t feel that we need to be careful, that maybe the police will come, or the owner of the hotel or venue will show up and tell us to just leave. This is what we are working towards in our country. It is not soon, it is not soon… But we are working on it. Just little steps. It’s always a process.
Right now, in our organization, we are working toward trying to reduce stigma and discrimination at the family level, the community level, so that at least we have a better environment. If a majority of people understand who and what LGBTIQ+ people are, about our rights, it will be easier for us to advocate for our rights and question the government and the laws. And then we will already have people on our side, people who understand. If we start by doing litigation and questioning the laws, but a majority of people still don’t understand what we are, what LGBTIQ+ means, then there will still be a lot of homophobic people who don’t know exactly what is going on. Then, they won’t be on our side, and we will not make it. For now, we are trying to educate people.
International collaboration helps us gain new learnings, exchange knowledge and experiences in the fight for LGBT+ rights and well-being, while adjusting it to our context. Sometimes we need external support and expertise to address the same issues others have solved before. Standing together and creating solidarity helps the movement grow by taking greater steps towards realisation of LGBTIQ+ rights without leaving anyone behind or out.
I am a co-founder of the House of Guramayle, an intersectional platform that advocates for the dignity, rights, and equality of the Ethiopian LGBTI+ community. We collaborate with Somali and Eritrean queer sibs as well. House of Guramayle published a book about the lived experience of queer Ethiopians living in Ethiopia and in the diaspora. As part of our counter-narrative project, we also have podcasts, Youtube, and many more digital media platforms to tell stories in our native language. Today, the Ethiopian government and the Ethiopian people cannot say that LGBTI Ethiopians do not exist. We are visible, loud, and are claiming our rightful spaces. Homoprejudice and hate cannot erase our existence and experience as Ethiopians; we won’t allow it.
I am at World Pride because this is a great place to engage in global conversations and meet vibrant, fierce grassroots mobilizers and stakeholders. We did visibility work and got the word out on what we do at the House of Guramayle. We also shared the danger we are facing online and offline. The main thing for me was meeting Victor Madrigal-Borloz and having a sit-down―LGBT+ Denmark made it happen. I asked Victor directly how we can make sure the UN and his mandates honor and include Ethiopia and other countries that are entirely shut-off from the global scene regarding queer rights. He suggested ways in which we can do so, which is excellent.
I want to center joy today. From the early ages of the queer liberation movement, community leaders have talked about oppression, and we still are fighting to be liberated. We should keep fighting for equality, equity, and justice. But I want our multifaceted life to be captured and told: our love stories, breakups, and whatnot. I believe in humanizing our stories. Pride is ours. Pride is where we amplify the voices of many. When we say we are here, we are not going anywhere, it is for us, the community. The joy I am talking about centers us: the fags, the freaks, the dykes, the non-binary, the transgender people, the Intersex, and many identities―simply it is for the RAINBOW FAMILY.
I’m 24-years-old and come from North Africa, based now in Paris. I’m the co-founder of Nassawiyat Morocco. Nassawiyat is a trans, gender nonconforming, women’s organization working for LGBTIQ+ rights. We are a team of eight people, all women, transwomen and gender nonconforming persons, based in Morocco. We are working on so many things. For example, last year we made a report on the situation of LGBTIQ+ people in the time of COVID-19, called Loubya In Time of Corona. We also work on raising awareness, capacity building and advocacy.
I’m also a photographer, so at World Pride, I came to exhibit my photography but also to present the work of Nassawiyat. It’s really a good opportunity for a lot of people from around the world to learn who we are and what we are doing. Meeting Victor Madrigal-Borloz and other UN representatives was really interesting and important. At lease we feel that our voices are in some way heard.
I am a nonbinary person, and this is something that is important for me―that I am a nonbinary person coming from Morocco and Egypt, who is living in France as a migrant, making art as an activist. I mean, I am all of this―it’s all me. I have a lot of identities; I wear a lot of hats. My existence is political, so all my identities are, too. And, of course, these are just a part of me―the visible part of the iceberg. This kind of event is really important because I learn lots about myself and people, through our socializing. I learn more about identities.
I represent Udada Imara in Kisii, which is in the western part of Kenya. Udada Imara translates in English to “Sisterhood United,” which stands for solidarity among womxn. We work with lesbians, bisexual, queer, gender nonbinary and genderqueer womxn in the rural areas of Kenya. Nairobi is where everyone thinks the gay people are, but there is a beautiful community of queer people in the rural areas. I created this organization as a safe space for womxn, and we have so many members now. It is becoming this huge community of people who just want to be and exist among themselves. I think it’s beautiful. Our mission is to empower womxn to live fulfilling lives in different ways and to be financially independent. We also help with issues of mental health and general wellbeing in terms of sexual reproductive rights. We have a good focus on parenting, because some lesbian, bisexual and queer African womxn want to have kids, but then there’s a whole lot of politics going on around this. Many people don’t even know where to get information on, say, fertility treatments or alternative ways of conceiving, so it can be hard for them.
This is my first time coming to such an amazing huge event and celebration. I’m really happy to be here. I came here wanting to share my experience, to bring the Kenyan vibe and our experiences and stories, so that people can hear them. I also came to learn what other people are doing differently and what can we do together. So, I bring experiences from home, but I will also return home with experiences from here, from the organizations and the people that I’ve met. I will follow up with the people and connections I’ve made here, so that we can create great partnerships.
I’m all about changing the world one person at a time. That is my approach. You can’t go out there and make the whole world change, but if you can make a difference in one person’s life, whether it’s their way of thinking or helping them to become financially independent or to give a listening ear, once a change happens, it’s going to happen for the next person. If I’m going to change someone’s mind about hating on LGBTI people, once they change their attitude, they’re going to influence others, even if it’s only just one more person in their life. And then I have created the change just like that. So, yeah, that is what I’m all about. Like, I’m a girl from a little village in Kenya, and I am here, out here in the world. I’m just saying anything is possible.
I’m a queer, feminist activist from Tunisia, currently living in Paris, France, and a member of the steering committee of Mawjoudin (We Exist), a Queer Feminist organization, based in Tunisia. Being at World Pride is confusing for me. I am sad because of a lot of Queer activists from different African countries, and my friends from Mawjoudin in Tunisia, were supposed to be here in Copenhagen at this event, but due to the coronavirus measures and the European Union policies, they couldn’t make it. But I feel also glad because I’ve met some friends and new, powerful, and inspiring QTBPOC.
Concerning this event, I have some criticisms.
I think, let’s start with the hashtag of #You Are Included. The power of words extends beyond just promoting mainstream hashtags, and this hashtag doesn’t correspond to the reality of this event, nor to the reality of QTBPOC asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants in Europe who are subordinated by interlocking structures of domination. We are not going to feel included just by seeing a hashtag. This event has relied on a narrative that failed to create a space for everyone and opportunities to have our voices amplified. The work of such organizations and/or events should entail the intersections of multiple oppressions of race, gender, sexuality, and class―which frame our experiences and shape our identities―and to be a platform to visibilize the militant work of the queer feminist organizations and activists from the global south. Not reproducing mechanisms of power dynamics nor upholding a depoliticized gay white culture that is anchored in an institutionalized cis-homonormativity.
I’m one of the co-founders and current co-director of House of Guramayle, an intersectional, LGBTI+ advocacy platform, co-founded by activists who were forced from their homes because of their work. We have two pillars that fall under the umbrella of advocacy: We advocate for inclusive legislation and policies in Ethiopia. We believe in forcing government to have more inclusive services, for instance, health services, both mental and physical, and work toward passing legislation that really protects LGBT, queer, trans, nonbinary and gender nonconforming Ethiopians living in Ethiopia. The other branch is our media advocacy work. We use counter-narratives, in which we center our queerness and tell our own stories in our own way. This is very validating for us. We have a YouTube channel called the Alen Show, and it’s extended to Instagram and Facebook Live channels, as well. We have a podcast, and we published a book called, “Tikur Engeda: Queer Stories from Ethiopia” in 2019. The English version is for sale on Amazon, and the original version is available on our website via free download.
We also, as a diaspora-based organization, work a lot with the diaspora community. There is often a misunderstanding that people in diasporic spaces are more inclusive, but that is not the reality―both from the general communities in the diasporas, and in our own community, such as Ethiopians in Diaspora, who are very queer-phobic at time and even more aggressive than people back home. So, this is work that we do, by creating collaborations with organizations that provide asylum-seeking and refugee support, while bringing the Ethiopian perspective into their work, we leverage over very specific knowledge, both as activists with asylum-seeking and refugee experience and an organization, that is, HoG.
We came to World Pride to achieve many things. One is simply to be in the global LGBTI movement because Ethiopia is not well-represented. Such reality extends to other Horn of Africa countries. We are at the very beginning state of being visible both globally and in Ethiopia as well, where queer-phobia is pervasive. So, one of our objectives is to come in Copenhagen and Malmö and show our faces and create visibility. This is also how queer advocacy and grassroots-level activism works. We as Ethiopians exist! It is important for us to be here, creating connections and leveraging resources via such connection. I believe in using our own resources.
We are here as well because of the collaborative work we do with LGBT+ Denmark, of which we are very grateful. That is another part of our mission: to be in touch with institutions and agencies that work on advancing the security and sanctity of queer lives. For instance, like having meetings and discussions with Victor Madrigal-Borloz : Independent Expert on Violence and Discrimination based on SOGI at United Nations Human Rights. This meeting was facilitated by LGBT+ Denmark, and together we found a way to work in preparing how we can work with his UN mandate and secure safety to our fellow queer folks back home. We are also trying to connect with grassroots-level organizations that works on LGBTI rights here & across the globe that are also here. We believe that we learn a lot from each other. It’s very important to leverage such existing knowledge―to approach these agencies and then create a way to collaborate and so on. It’s about networking and being inspired by other folks’ work, seeing how we can collaborate with others and bring their insights into our work and how they can learn from our experiences, by exposing the work we do in and outside of Ethiopia in building the queer movement.
Our existence is resistance. I want to convey this message very clearly. How we exist as a queer body in this world, and move through it, is valid. Oftentimes, I see people who feel intimidated or who do not feel included or do not dare to include themselves in our spaces – “activism” which some say, like, “Oh, I am queer and I’m navigating the world and I am moving in a certain way, but I am not working as an activist, so I don’t think that this is my space.” But I want to send the message that existing as ourselves fully, with our full being, is a resistance to the systems that really don’t want us to live, a system that is constructed not to recognize us. So, my message is, OUR EXISTENCE IS RESISTANCE. The way in which we live and move throughout this world is valid. Don’t ever question it. Just be that because that is what it means to actively resist.