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29 May 2018

LGBTI youth who survive and thrive on the continent must be celebrated

Richard Lusimbo, Pan-Africa ILGA
Pan-Africa ILGA is convening its 4th Regional Conference in Botswana, this week with a focus on supporting the development of the LGBTI youth movement in Africa. Richard is the co-Chair and is interviewed here.
International Development

The Pan Africa ILGA (International Lesbian and Gay Association) five-day encounter is vital for building the LGBTI movement across the continent.

Applications to attend the conference have been received from 37 countries, with the highest number coming from Botswana, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda. This year’s conference will offer an opportunity for young LGBTI people to meet, share ideas, celebrate their diversity, get support for efforts in their home contexts acknowledge achievements made in the sector, and put their heads together for a workable strategy for the road ahead.

Significant gains in Botswana and Kenya over the past few years are cause for celebration by the LGBTI community as a whole, Lusimbo says. LEGABIBO, the leading LGBTI organisation in Botswana, has been registered as an LGBTI organisation and the battle to have transgender people’s legal documents changed to reflect their gender has been won. Kenya has had similar successes with freedom of association, change of legal identities for trans persons and the declaration of invasive anal examinations to prove homosexuality as illegal. Victories such as these may be few and far between, but, as Lusimbo points out, “what has been happening in Botswana and what is happening in Kenya gives us hope.”

The theme of this year’s conference: Empowering LGBTI Youth: Uniting for an Inclusive Future is particularly pertinent. Over 60% of the population of Africa falls below the age of 25. Frustration, anxiety and mental health issues, such as depression and substance abuse among Africa’s youth are widespread.  Issues such as limited economic opportunities, rising corruption, unemployment and diminishing opportunities for political participation are of concern to youth throughout the continent. LGBTI youth carry the added burden of the struggle to have their sexual and gender identities recognised and respected.

The efforts of LGBTI youth who survive and thrive on the continent must be celebrated. People, especially youth who lost their lives due to the prevalently difficult and intolerant environment must be honoured!

The conference also needs to give attention to sustaining the movement, through deliberations on how senior LGBTI people can pass on the mantle to the next generation of LGBTI activists, support them in their activism and prime them to make their voices heard.

For many LGBTI youth on the continent, dropping out of school because of discrimination against their sexuality and gender identity, and being forced to leave home because families refuse to accept their sexual and gender identity are pervasive themes that will come up for discussion. It is crucial to voice experiences and survival strategies, and to build solidarity between youth who have similar experiences in different contexts.

Access to and sharing information across LGBTI youth communities will be given attention. We all know that LGBTI people – and perhaps youth in particular – are more vulnerable when their sexual orientation and gender identity becomes public. LGBTI youth need to know where to turn to and what strategies to employ. Understanding the history of the movement and learning from successful activism in the past is part of this.

We have seen issues around difficulties in getting access to health services and political circumstances in which young people have been arrested because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. As an LGBTI movement, we have developed some understanding of how to address these issues, who to turn to, how to make use of the media, and how to forge relationships with other sectors that will be supportive. This information must be shared.

Information has tended to trickle down. This is not good enough: what we need is an avalanche of information and resources to support LGBTI youth, which is why this conversation is so important.  We need to be involved; we need to get the work done and get the messages across; we need to develop more effective strategies for reaching out and finding solutions.

Currently, most decisions regarding LGBTI policy changes and debates are the preserve of seasoned activists who have been ‘out’ for a while.  This has to change. Young people must step up to the plate and make their voices heard.  How do we make changes?

These concerns, of course, speak to the relevance of PAI and the need for an African network of LGBTI organisations, across the continent.

Key pointers for discussion and resolution at the conference are:

  • Building a more unified LGBTI youth voice.
  • Increasing the participation of LGBTI youth in decision-making, particularly in Pan Africa ILGA.
  • Establishing clear communication channels.
  • Forging a unified and clear message from young people and guidelines on activism going forward.

A new PAI Board of Directors will be elected at the Annual General Meeting, which is part of the conference.  Members will also debate and agree on new mandates for growing the sector on the African continent and addressing the challenges confronted by LGBTI youth.

The Baring Foundation is supporting a pre-conference on LBQ women. Find out more about our programme.