11th Annual Soweto Pride: What will you march for?


This Saturday, 26th September, the 11th Annual Soweto Pride March takes place. As the date approaches, we are busy with many things. What will I wear? Why hasn’t FNB sent me that SMS telling me I have money in the bank? Who hasn’t paid their share of the stokvel money, wasn’t it due on Monday? Queer Christmas, some people call it. Our one day out of a whole 365 to be seen, heard, and to politically claim spaces where being a lesbian or anyone that’s gender non-conforming in their appearance is dangerous. The truth is that this ‘space’ we claim is literally everywhere, and we claim these spaces daily, as we recognise that our very existence is resistance. Progressive constitution or not, South Africa is still a site of polarised expressions of tolerance and difference. Sometimes these differences are manifested in our gender expression or perceived sexual orientation, but also so are our languages, races and classes. It’s not so easy to belong in South Africa, and when this belonging isn’t created, we are forced to claim it.

As I too wait for that SMS from FNB, I can’t help but wonder what I will march for this Saturday. For maybe the third time today, the #SaveTriangle call flashes on my Twitter newsfeed. The Triangle Project, an organisation that serves many lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and inter-sex women and men living in the Western Cape, is on the verge of being shut down. I visited the Triangle Project a year ago, and borrowed a book from their library. An old book, written by and for lesbian women, looking and linking history and myths around what it meant to be a woman in the world and how that has now changed. I’ve forgotten what the book is called, but some learnings in the book remain. This is my small, almost invisible link to the Triangle Project. So when posts show up on my Facebook and Twitter feed reminding me how and why we need such organisations, I imagine that we know this.

We know the work that civil society and community based organisations such as the Triangle Project and the Forum for the Empowerment of Women do in our communities. We know. We benefit, in so many ways, big and small, from having places and people that we can go to, that we can trust with our truths, and that we can feel safe, feel seen, feel heard.

Across the sea, Blue Stockings, one of very few feminist bookstores and libraries in the United States of America, is also facing the possibility of being shut down. They too, are forced to make people remember why such places exist and why they should not be shut down.

There are organisations that we have seen come and go, leaving vacuums of belonging and safety. Safe spaces are shrinking and they are shrinking fast. When we speak about community, we also know that the work that such organisations do extends beyond us, beyond our social exclusion and queerness. By serving any underserved group or people, these initiatives by default serve the larger and greater good of a whole people.

But, with knowing all this, we still have organisations like the Tringle Project, teetering on the edge of non-existence, and we have to ask how? And why? The #SaveTriangle initiative is a call to action and consciousness for all organisations and people doing work and benefitting from such initiatives to advance gender and sexuality work, and not just in South Africa, but on the continent. Stories told in these places hold up mirrors for other African countries, and Africans living in the diaspora, where we get to see ourselves, our realities and our experiences reflected in conversations and images that the West almost never gets right. We see the layers and the complexities that make up our existence in contexts of varying hostilities.

Conference conversations always throw the ‘what if’ question around our organising and the real possibility of the absence of donor funds. What if one day, we woke up and the global North decided that we are doing well and that we and our governments should take responsibility for the gaping holes in social services and security that necessitate the existence of civil society. We all know that we are a long way away from convincing our governments that we should have safe and harassment-free access to contraceptives and information around safe sex for gender non-conforming people. We are an even longer way away from convincing our leaders that those Victorian era colonial laws against same-sex desire serve no purpose, religious, moral, ethical or otherwise-least of all in ensuring safety and security of citizens. There is much work to be done, to help shift perceptions, myths and beliefs around sexuality and gender, and what it means to own the bodies we are in. Sometimes it feels like this work, these conversations have just began, but we know there are people who blazed the trail and left behind space, publications, organisations, documentation that speaks to their experiences, which we are meant to build on and make stronger.

When we march, we march to remember and we march to never forget. The many gender non-conforming women and men gone too soon, murdered and subjected to the ultimate exclusion-death. We march for the many other African sisters and brothers who cannot and will not come out to claim their rights and freedoms for fear of governments and communities that only serve selfish agendas and tunnel visioned views of who we are and who we can be in the world.

But can we also march for the living? Can we march for the lesbian women who continue to claim and take up spaces that many women are excluded from? Can we consider, the organisations and individuals that give their time and talents to push back walls of intolerance and injustice? Can we be conscious of the financial insecurity that many organisations and organisers live with, and that the time and effort to arrange a Pride march cannot happen without people committed to this work. Can we march for the future? Can we march to strengthen our resolve to transform and transgress archaic ways of thinking about what it means to be a woman or a man, and an African? Can we march to show unity in strength and purpose, to assure each other that we have each other’s backs when tides turn and we have to look to each other for support?

When I march tomorrow, I will march for the future, and for the movements that are re-born with every generation of gender non-conforming women and men, who take up the work of advancing gains over time, and guarding safe spaces for diversity and difference. I will march to honour the rebels and the radicals, that refuse to be silenced and put into neat little boxes, and told ‘to stay in your place’. I will march for the organisations that are hanging in there, in one way or another, and remember that we whom these spaces serve, can be the people that sustain them. If not us, then who?

What will you march for?

-Sheena Magenya

**Views and opinions in this article are entirely of the author and do not reflect on the positions and politics of the Coalition of African Lesbians


Debunking the SDGs at the entry point with Language, Logic and Framework

Social Justice Activist Blessol Gathoni at the 59th Comission on the Status of Women [CSW]

Social Justice Activist Blessol Gathoni at the 59th Commission on the Status of Women [CSW] on the right, with fellow activist, Cai Yiping.

By Queer Social Justice Activist,Gathoni Blessol

Representatives from the Coalition of African Lesbians [CAL], attending the Commission on the Status of Women’s 59th Session at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, attended a number of sessions and side events that speak to the situation of women’s rights in the world.

Below is a presentation that Gathoni Blessol, a Social Justice activist working with Bunge La Wamama Mashinani [Grassroots Women’s Parliament],a grassroots women’s movement based in Nairobi, Kenya.

She presented the below paper on a panel looking at grassroots organising by women. We felt that a lot of her thoughts intersected with our work, and that we should share this article with you.

Enjoy and engage!

Debunking the SDGs at the entry point Language, Logic and Framework 

Personal experience: modalities of exclusion at UN The engagements with the UN-­at multiple levels-that our movement Bunge La WaMamaMashinani has had, have been sporadic and mostly as physical statistic rather than participatory process. From the point of entry the ideologies, behaviours and structures in he UN have segregate you to not be able to change the direction of a/particular discourse(s) or the basis of it. If you fit your self in the dominant ideology(s) you can at best affect cosmetics of the agenda. This is at personal, institutional and inter-­‐governmental level. It was a point I raised, at a separate event-­as this-­at the Open Working Group with one of the Major Groups in the 5th SDG session that took place here in NYC in 2013.
It focused on -­ and not limited to -Sustained and inclusive economic growth, infrastructure development and industrialization.But, directed and with focus on
Women. The logic of the SDGs: keeping it pro-­profit. This language, has been very similar to the gospel of the Africa Rising
narrative that our current elitist authoritarian regimes-­chant.
Our Kenyan government and civil society are more than ever now proxys of neo-­liberal rules, regulations and policies. While harnessing societal yearning for self-­emancipation and end to imperialist control, they have managed to draw it as a Pan African struggle. They have picked up the MDGs, paraphrased SDGs and fit them into their own economic interests and control –the same way Western, Latin, Asian governments are doing and the same way companies or their representatives, trade
agreements and partnerships within governments, and, or financial institutions are doing. The priority behind this thinking
as been to accelerate profit above all – and this here, has meant profit for a few.  Thus, national regulations are beginning
to mirror the prime interest in profits over livelihoods and dignity of the people or the planet. The packaging is being pushed
instrumentally, and in ‘progressive’ language, or targets as the MDGs. And in the Kenyan context, of a very tired people-­deprived of liberty to proper information on how and where their lives are being directed from – are subjected to this. So the hear the president’s chant of sustainable economic growth, smart agriculture and infrastructure development as a means
to an end. After all the general idea behind pro-­‐profit sensationalism is also that this poverty is an individual responsibility –
it’s a fault of our own, that renders our societies criminal for existing in it. This has eradicated the possibilities of the root
cause of poverty being the penetration of the market and pro-­‐profit logic globally, in governments, monitoring, evaluation
and accountability institutions and the entire development machinery. At decision-­making levels the market has largely penetrated, because globally we have allowed them to set the rules. This we have done quite tangibly through anti-­‐human taxation structures, but also by carrying their ideology, chanting economic growth and reckless consumption without demanding proper production mechanisms.

People attentively listening to Gathoni Blessol presenting her paper at the 59th CSW

People attentively listening to Gathoni Blessol presenting her paper at the 59th CSW

The MDGs failed to address the structural causes of poverty, it failed to hold the powerful institutions, companies or individuals accountable who not
only maintained the status quo but in fact penetrated more and more into society, politics, market and culture to increase
profits and control. The MDGs have made progress, indeed-­‐one could argue-­‐ in curing some of the symptoms, in meeting their cosmetic targets, they have however not been able to tackle the unequal structures of race, class, sexism,
patriarchy, land-­‐grab, forced evictions, privatization  of natural resources, extractives, and homophobia. The outcome of
neo-liberal (MDG/SDGs) logic on-­‐ground: looking at Kenya now, to shift the conversation closer home-­I will focus on my
country, with hope that the interconnectedness of poverty, economic inequality and all forms of oppression –be it of women, people living with disabilities, small-­‐scale farmers, LGBTI-­‐Queers, indigenous people or children -­‐resonates with people from other geographic locations. Kenya, has been a darling of the West and development partnerships. Just recently, it shifted into  a middle-­‐income country, however it was measured-­‐ we were not consulted. The economic sector is booming, Kenya recently found oil and the national and global elite is excitedly
displacing people to secure it. There are major giant infrastructure projects underway – that is buying people off cheaply
or forcefully evicting them. In promotion of agribusiness, Kenya is  on track being in bed with the usual culprits of GMO
and fertilizer control. And, in terms of creating tax havens our country has been inventive with so called Export Processing
Zones. Its determination to attract FDI and investors who are tax holidaying in Mauritius has prompted them to join the
‘terrorism’ economy, which allows Kenya to increase its military power (‘capacity’)within and out, of the country. We are dominating regionally, especially in war-­‐torn areas  like Somalia and South Sudan or ‘economically challenged’ countries like
Tanzania. Kenya has looked ‘East’ for infrastructural development and technologies with China, but also doesn’t mind
‘West’ with its dysfunctional/ failed systems-­‐or really anyone with economic benefits for the ruling class. In that mix-­as the
rest of Africa, they have committed to supporting the MDGs while maintaining old school patriarchal systems. These ‘developments’
have come at a great price for the people. One is the massive displacements and evictions of people all over the country.
These are directly or indirectly linked to the neo-liberal framework and regimes. The lowest and most degrading being
in Jan 2015 our government tear-gassed children who were protesting over the illegal land grab of their playground. The
price of land has by far exceeded the value of people. So many people loose their livelihoods and are plunged into dependency because the land they settled on can make billions for others. This has happened in urban centers because of infrastructural developments or high end and luxury real estate developments, especially in the capital city and the coast. Evictions
are also connected to mineral exploration, where different methods of  displacing people are utilized, there is old-­‐fashioned
eviction, there is instigation of inter-­‐clan wars (through resource and  deprivation as well as supply of weapons) and there
is utilization of chiefs or elders or national authorities to buy the land at throw away prices. This, with inclusion to population being disowned by large agribusiness plans, whose purpose is not to produce food for the people, but for export and to instill corporate control over food production. It  has translated to dependency on fertilizers and sneaking in of GMO crops both
of which benefit the foreign owned monopoly on the same. Spearheaded and greatly funded by the same corporations that
give funds to the UN women group. These developments are not about food security, they prompt the dis-­ ownership and
evaluation of farmers and with it they doom especially rural women into poverty.

The same goes for ‘environmental protection’ -which will not work as long as it is rested in pro-­profit logic. Because under
this Kenya has allowed corporations  to displace people that have lived for centuries in harmony with environment in order
to control the land and possible privatize its resources like water. Coca Cola for  example has promised to do so in Tana
River. This is not to forget-­the UN itself having a project the UN REDD+ that allows companies to do business as usual,
to continue to pollute while gaining cheap and legitimate access to land in developing countries. One such project has
displaced the Embobout community in the North of Kenya to grow monocultures. Toppled up with China’s rise, it seems
the next idea is to have sweatshops in Africa. The best example of the pro-­‐profit logic over pro-­people is that we allow children to sew clothes for 12 hours, a day. The clothes are then bought and worn in the west and land
back in Kenya as donations that have to be bought by vendors while  undermining the domestic textile industry. And,
the country is being asked to patriotically take pride in these developments. These are just but a few of the endless list
of examples, they are in fisheries, health and ownership of women’s self determination processes.’ The corporate control
over our policies informing the neo-­‐liberal logic has kept people in dependency and oppressive relations. On one hand,
they privatize health care, water electricity, and the other resources are used to develop industry and not people. And our
government(s)  are controlling these ‘developments’ by the following. Use of propaganda machinery, increased militarism,
but also onslaught  of activists and the control of the media and civil society. Narrative versus implementation (reality):
On-­‐ground struggles.These ‘developments’ for lack of a better word, has raised a smoke of doubt and grave concern
within the organizing communities who are working within very harsh socio-­economic, political and economic REALITIES.
Who share the word grassroots in ideology and experience. There is a perspective that sees the SDGs as
a narrative that should take over its predecessor the MDGs, only with suggested changes. They are not questioning the
very structures that have sustained inequality in the MDGs. There are however collective perspectives that see it differently.

But, these perspectives-­are chocked, never given space to mobilize, organize or breathe, without repercussions of being narrowed to “anti developmental” forces. And this on local, national or global standards. So we have the narrative versus implementation/
reality – and what it directly translates to on the ground-­ to assume, development versus transformative economies.
To debunk the neo-­‐liberal and development narrative has been the work of Bunge la Wamama Mashinani, and  comradeship on-­‐ground, Continental and globally who are working for transformation of society other than
development of it. Dignity of human life, rather than upgrade of economic portfolio, sovereignty of the people rather than sovereignty of the capital have been the core of demands on-­‐ground. What now? Individual responsibility to change
the logic This read is not to exclude the progressive and critical people in the UN hallways, who are there to see
what works, how it works, who have put efforts to build people and change the narrative, structures and behaviors only
from a ‘confined-privileged-­ satellite controlled space.’  But from an understanding that in this room, UN conferences
and working groups are people who have the privilege to think over and power to influence agendas and decision-­‐
making. It is ONLY in order to demand self-­‐ criticism of UN and every individual engaging with

As civil society organizations and people who inform policies, it remains important to dig deeper than the surface. There
are people with all sorts of expertise and inside knowledge if only it were applied on the basis of structural change.
My obligation in this space is to give you the realities on the ground. An in-­depth understanding of the ills in my society,
demand a conscious self-­‐critical existence that touches on many comfort zones. From there on, it is individual
responsibility of everyone to know where to stand in  each and every space they engage in. Even though, its not in its entirety. The SDG framework is a hypocritical manuscript to hide the interests and economic controls of elites, governments, companies and powerful individuals all over the world to obscure the underlying ideology and structures that have maintained  poverty and deny people their dignity. Any solution or target then merely treats the symptoms of structures
that serve a few while undermining the dignity of the majority. It is a scam. Such as the political declaration by the heads of
state for the Commission on the Status of Women this year. I will end by saying. What a sister of ours has continually
stated. All oppression is connected. And only from the roots can we unbound our people. It is our responsibility to affect
change. All this from a woman, feminist, perspective, focus on women and minority groups-­farmers, indigenous peoples,
queers, women, girls and children need to be radical and addressing structural inequalities both instrumentally, and

Walking the Tight Rope: An African LGBTI Anthology


Walking the Tight Rope: An African LGBTI Anthology

Call for Submissions in Prose and Photography

 Thanks to the high interest in the new African LGBTI Anthology and the engaging poems we received in our original call for submissions in poetry, we’ve decided to expand the focus of the anthology to include prose – more specifically short fiction and short (creative) lyric essays – and some photography.

As before, we encourage writers who identify as gay, lesbian, queer, bisexual, or transgender, living in Africa and first or second generation Africans living in the Diaspora (i.e. if you are African or one of your parents is African) to send their best work for consideration. Works will be chosen solely on merit.


We prefer works that are unpublished. All prose should be no more than 600 words (exceptions can be made in rare circumstances) and in English or English translations. All submissions in photography should be in either JPG or TIFF format.

We encourage writers to submit photography and prose addressing the following themes: 1) Relationships, 2) Body, 3) Self, and 4) (Re)Definition. Works addressing other themes will also be considered.

Since we have a good representation of Nigerian and South African writers, we especially encourage writers from other parts of Africa to submit their work. Also, we urge the use of pseudonyms where writers feel threatened.

Submissions should be sent through Submittable under African LGBTI Anthology.

Questions can be sent to Abayomi Animashaun via email at abayo.animashaun@gmail.com . Please include “African LGBTI Anthology” in the subject line.

Our deadline is April 15.

Suggested Actions in Solidarity with Ugandans and Africans Against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill


Photo courtesy of rawascotland.org.uk

Now that you know why we need to ‘ACT’, Here is ‘Bucket list’ of the actions you can take on 10th February 2014 to support the Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex(LGBTI) Persons at Risk in Uganda:
1. Worldwide demonstrations. We call upon all partners, friends and allies to organize worldwide demonstrations in different cities around the world on the (10th February 2014) to show solidarity with Ugandan LGBT community and to bring attention this cause to Uganda. You can do this at a Ugandan embassy or at any place of significance to you.
2. Issue statements condemning the passage of the Bill and call on the President NOT to sign it into law, It is also important to continue to remind Ugandans and our leaders to uphold Human Rights for all people.
3. Wear a t-shirt, a bracelet, a badge, Carry a poster with a message of solidarity for the LGBT community in Uganda etc. Wear these items to work, at home, wherever you are. Make sure to let us know that you have done this, Tweet the message or picture to the following handles: @Ugandans4rights. Hashtags: #AHBGlobaldayofaction , #Love4UgandanLGBTI #stopAHB , Post on our face book page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1393461854247237/?context=create&ref_dashboard_filter=upcoming , or simply email us and let us know.
4. Deliver Petitions with signatures to a significant place or to a significant person and or people to show that we have numbers that oppose this bill.
5. Hold prayer vigils to show what a ‘dark day’ it is for Human Rights and to call upon ‘Devine Intervention’. We need to mourn the loss of human rights.
6. Write to your political leader, your religious leader, your opinion leader to encourage them to speak out against the bill. We need help to end this targeted attack on the rights of LGBT persons in Uganda.
7. Twitter blast– The idea is to send as many tweets on that day to the prime minister, Parliament, and president’s office. This can be done between 9am and 12am-Ugandan time. With one simple message: ‘Don’t Prosecute; Protect LGBT Ugandans: The world is watching’ Twitter handles are:

Prime Minister:@AmamaMbabazi

Parliament of Uganda:@Parliament_UG

President’s office:@StateHouseUg

8. Use social media to speak out against the bill on that day. Write a solidarity message: Injustice anywhere is Injustice everywhere: I Stand in Solidarity with LGBTI community in Uganda. I stand on the side of Human Rights. I say NO to the Anti-Gay Bill.

Things to remember: -Make sure you have called a media house you work with to cover your event or show of solidarity, we need Uganda, Africa and the whole world to know that we are visible, and to know that Human Rights are Universal and Inherent for all Human Beings. –Plan your actions between 9am and 12am Ugandan time. Choose an Action that best suits you. Reach out to your family members, your co-worker, your friend, your partner; Make sure they join you in speaking out for Human Rights and against the bill.
Thank You for the continued Solidarity!
Civil Society

The Sexual Minority and Legislative Zealotry, Articles | THISDAY LIVE

The Sexual Minority and Legislative Zealotry,


It’s a long article-but well worth the read. Celebrated African poet and writer Wole Soyinka shares his two cents about the Anti Same Sex Marriage Bill, and overall sanction of hate crime against perceived ‘otherness’ in Nigeria by the government and affirms what we knew all along-that the attack of so called sexual minorities in Nigeria is a diversion tactic, to distract the people of Nigeria from other deeper, more impacting issues that they are dealing with.

Homosexuality, Africa and the Closet

Binyavanga Wainaina’s recent coming out in an open letter has created an interesting chain of reactions on the continent. Some of these reactions we see, many we don’t. We found this interesting piece of writing by Sisonke Msimang that challenges Africa(ns) on the seemingly unending conversation about what it is that makes us ‘authentically’ African and where our gender diverse and non-heteronormative sexual identities fit in. We loved this article-enjoy!


Outing the liars: How to come out of an African closet

 By Sisonke Msimang

A few days ago, Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainana became one of the most prominent Africans to declare his homosexuality. The words in his open letter are important to all Africans because they represent a growing refusal, across the continent, to go along with lies that people tell about what it means to be an African. Wainana is Kenyan, but he speaks to a more continental reality. In South Africa, in Ghana, in Nigeria, in Cameroon, in South Sudan and the CAR, we are lied to a lot. And so there is something that resonates when someone cuts through the ‘blah, blah’ and tells their truth.


“You write in order to change the world … if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.”

James Baldwin

A new homophobic law has passed. A gay man has been killed because he texted ‘I love U’ to someone he was hoping would return the sentiment. Another lesbian has been murdered on her way home from work because she looked too butch. Another president has declared that gay people are lower than pigs and dogs, that they are the product of “random breeding”.

The BBC is full of us. The narrative does not change. The African leaders we see with scrunched up hateful faces are backward. They oppress their people. They moan that the Western powers continue to colonise them. They look ridiculous when they do this, even though what they say is true. The West still rules us. We roll our eyes at their crocodile tears. David Cameron, whose conservatism is notorious, whose heart is not large, offers rational and calm advice to them: Mr. President, suspend the egregious law and release the activists who have been arrested. When he is the spokesperson of reason, you know you are in trouble.

And into this vortex of sound and fury, signifying nothing, floats the heartsong of Binyavanga Wainana. Wainana’s searingly gorgeous letter to his dead mother cuts through the blah blah drone to which we have become accustomed. ‘Homosexuality is un-African, No it’s not, Yes it is, No it’s not. Yes it is.’

No, it is not.

Binyavanga Wainana is not yet a household name. But he will be. In 2008, he wrote a hilarious and important essay called, “How to write about Africa.” The piece satirised the white gaze, and opened up a set of conversations that Africans had been having with one another for decades over roast meat and nsima and spaghetti and whatever it is that we have been eating since the end of colonialism. In a pithy faux style guide, Wainana articulated the arch intellectual irreverence of a new generation of Africans.

My favourite line in that early essay is contained in this instruction, “African characters should be colourful, exotic, larger than life—but empty inside, with no dialogue, no conflicts or resolutions in their stories, no depth or quirks to confuse the cause.”

Everything about Wainana’s coming out letter defies this false edict.

After reading his memoir in 2011, I spoke with a friend. We speculated about why he had decided not to talk about his sexuality in the book and then concluded that we understood. The heartache and drama of being out and gay everywhere in the world has not disappeared simply because gay marriage is legal in a few places.

So, when I saw that Wainana had decided to ‘come out’, I thought I knew what he would have to say. I thought it might be a political message addressing the state of affairs on the continent. It was, of course, this, but also so much more.

Binyavanga has managed to write a coming out letter that every African man should read – regardless of his sexuality. He has written a letter than anyone who loves African men should read, regardless of their sexuality. He has written a letter that anyone gay and anyone who loves anyone gay should read. He has written a letter that all homophobes and conservatives must read.

He has offered us a delicately spun clarion call. It is a whisper rather than bugle. It speaks richly to the complexity of being an African man.

Binyvanga’s words remind us that African people are not what the world tells us we are, that African men are not defined by the stereotypes they are fed. He reminds me of my brother-in-law, comfortably cradling my infant niece, changing her nappy, holding her close. He reminds me of lovers and brothers and friends – each as articulate and as feeling as Binyavanga – who folded me into themselves and unstuck me each time I found myself in a place that was sticky. He reminds me that it is easy to allow pathologised black masculinities to become the truth, even for those of us who know better.

When he was interviewed shortly after the letter was published four days ago, he said that he decided to write the letter because “people who live in societies where you are being lied to a lot, value truth.”

He is right. Wainana is Kenyan, but he speaks to a more continental reality. In South Africa, in Ghana, in Nigeria, in Cameroon, in the UK and in the US, we are lied to a lot. And so there is something that resonates when someone cuts through the ‘blah, blah’ and tells their truth.

In telling the whole truth, in refusing to do so in a simplistic manner, in addressing frontally the terrifying line between love and acceptance that so few of us ever dare to cross, in navigating the idiosyncrasies of his own unique persona, Wainana had shamed the liars who whip up hatred and write horrible laws, those who steal money and then deflect their crimes by mongering hate.

In so doing, he has reminded us that the truth shall set us free.

This article first appeared on the Daily Maverick:  http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2014-01-23-outing-the-liars-how-to-come-out-of-an-african-closet/#.UuIvULSxXIX


LGBTIQA AND TECH: Why online privacy is an LGBT issue


The First Word I Ever Googled: Why Online Privacy Is an LGBT Issue

By Allyson D. Robinson

Organizational design, change strategy, and social/civil entrepreneurship consultant

The first word I ever Googled was “transgender.”

This was in 1995, so I didn’t actually Google it per se. Larry Page and Sergey Brin hadn’t even developed the first Google algorithm at that point, so if you wanted to find something on the Internet, you went to Yahoo! and looked it up in their directory. And if you were lucky, you discovered that some generous soul had taken the time to put up the content you were looking for and had listed it there.

I was on a Department of Defense computer at the time, in my wife’s office in Kaiserslautern, Germany, where we were both assigned as U.S. Army lieutenants. She was finishing a late-evening meeting with her soldiers; I’d sent mine home an hour earlier and was waiting for her to wrap things up so that we could head back to our own quarters. It seemed safe enough. I’d already had a lifetime to learn to look over my shoulder, and I knew I’d have plenty of time to close the browser window before anyone came into the room, so I felt safe clicking on the first site I found. I read; I learned. Eventually I clicked the “back” button to find another site.

That’s when I noticed that the first link I’d clicked had gone from blue to a deep purple. My blood ran cold: The computer was keeping a record of the sites I’d viewed. I panicked.

It took me five long minutes to figure out how to clear the history, five minutes of terror, five minutes spent imagining what it would cost me if I couldn’t cover my electronic tracks: my marriage, my career, everything that mattered to me. I poured through menus, clicked through settings, found what I was looking for, and was just closing down Internet Explorer as I heard her footsteps coming down the hall.

I didn’t know that night that I was taking the first steps on a journey to health and wholeness — and I didn’t know where the pitfalls and land mines lay along that path. That first experience gave me pause, but what I’d learned instilled in me such a hope that soon I was installing America Online on our home computer, discovering more, finding other people like me. Over time I learned better ways of protecting myself as I searched for the information that, a decade later, would lead me to a therapist’s office and, eventually, to come out to my wife and to the world. Online privacy was something that was important to soldiers like me long before it was a household word.

Jump ahead a decade or so. I’d left the military by that time, but all over the world lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) service members were following the path I’d walked 10 years earlier: reaching out online, getting connected, relying on what privacy and safety the Internet afforded them to learn and grow. Only now they were doing something more: They were getting organized. While many of us were just beginning to imagine a world without “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT), these brave troops were preparing themselves to play a crucial role in making that world a reality. The network they were building, using a new generation of social tools like Facebook, was strong, but it had one glaring weakness: Its security was completely dependent upon the policies and the precautions put in place by the companies that hosted it. It seemed like a worthwhile and manageable risk, but still, they were vulnerable. Today DADT is just a memory, and gay and lesbian service members and their families enjoy growing acceptance in their units and in military communities everywhere. Nevertheless, a large percentage continue to rely upon private social networks to learn, grow, and connect — aware that formal, legal equality has not yet led to equal treatment and equal opportunity everywhere. And today they are vulnerable in ways no one had even imagined just a few years ago.

Consider this: In 2006, as part of a contest to improve its recommendation system, Netflix released to the public information on the viewing habits of nearly half a million customers, information that had been scrubbed of all identifying data. Within weeks, two University of Texas researchers were able to identify many of those users by name simply by comparing the scrubbed Netflix data with other publicly available information. Among those whose identities were compromised: a lesbian woman who had, up until then, kept her sexual orientation a secret in her community. The woman later sued Netflix for privacy invasion, alleging that being outed “would negatively affect her ability to pursue her livelihood and support her family and would hinder her and her children’s ability to live peaceful lives.” These are the very same concerns that drive so many gay and lesbian troops to identify as such only online.

For transgender members of the armed forces, the stakes are higher still. Transgender troops did not benefit from DADT’s repeal, and outdated, obsolete military regulations still bar them from serving (despite the fact that transgender people serve openly today in the militaries of the UK, Israel, Canada, Australia, and nine other nations). Just talking to a therapist is enough to cost them their jobs and get them kicked out of the military. Their situation is precisely the same as that I faced the first time I looked up “transgender” on my wife’s government computer in 1995 — precisely the same, that is, with one crucial difference: Protecting one’s identity online has become much more difficult. Despite this fact, transgender service members have begun to organize themselves and their allies for change — and a safe and secure Internet is a critical resource for that organizing. In today’s world, positive change can’t happen without it. That’s why I’m looking forward to the LGBT Technology Partnership’s Fall Policy Forum, this Thursday in Washington, D.C. This first-of-its-kind event will bring together technology, privacy, security, and policy experts with members of the LGBT community for an open dialogue about the impact of these issues on LGBT lives. I’ll be moderating a panel on security, privacy, and online safety with leaders from Facebook, the National Cyber Security Alliance, the Trevor Project, and other organizations. I hope you’ll join us.

The first question I plan to ask them is, “What is the first thing you ever Googled?”