Commentary / Faith and religion

Strategy: Let’s stop simply preaching to the gay choir

Excerpt from a commentary by the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle in Yaounde, Cameroon:

Health-care activist Maxensia Nakibuuka of Uganda, working in Cameroon with the Rev. Albert Ogle, poses at the African Conference on Seuxual Health with Miriam, who was rejected by her family because she became pregnant when she was raped. (Photo courtesy of Maxensia Nakibuuka)

Health-care activist Maxensia Nakibuuka of Uganda, working in Cameroon with the Rev. Albert Ogle, poses at the African Conference on Seuxual Health with Miriam, who was rejected by her family because she became pregnant when she was raped. (Photo courtesy of Maxensia Nakibuuka)

There are three of us visiting Cameroon this week as part of an invited delegation to support a local LGBT AIDS organization called CAMFAIDS. Their executive director, Eric Lembembe, was brutally murdered last summer and the gay media spyglass or our straight allies were not to be seen around these parts.

Obama mentioned David Kato of Uganda and the odious laws against LGBT Ugandans became front page news in the West, but we have not seen this kind of attention down here. The Cameroonian government’s response to Eric’s death, which they tried to cover up, was that his murder was probably related to his being gay – basically saying that he brought it upon himself. There was no international outcry about this tragedy, as the former Catholic Archbishop condemned the Cameroonian gay community in a Christmas sermon saying we were “committing crimes against humanity.”

Pope Francis (Photo courtesy of Sourcefed.com)

Pope Francis (Photo courtesy of Sourcefed.com)

We filed a formal complaint against Archbishop Simon-Victor Tonyé Bakot, and in spite of Pope Francis’ willingness to engage the LGBT community on a more pastoral basis, we have not had a response to this grossly inappropriate incitement from a senior Catholic religious leader.

There are far more LGBT people in Cameroonian jails (Roger Mbebe, who died three ago, was the most famous Cameroonian who was jailed for 16 months for texting another man that he loved him) than in Russia or even Uganda. As far as I know, when I asked last week, there are no LGBT people in Ugandan jails, simply for being gay. This is both a tribute to the remarkable organizing and networks of the LGBT community in Uganda, but it also raises the concern tha,t as we focus entirely on legal and constitutional issues, there is simply no reporting of the inhumanity being done to us in prisons beyond Uganda or Russia.

The Rev. Canon Dr. Kapya John Kaoma (Photo courtesy of BU.edu)

The Rev. Canon Dr. Kapya John Kaoma (Photo courtesy of BU.edu)

Kapya Kaoma, the African researcher who uncovered the underground alliances between African religious leaders and American Evangelicals in “The Globalization of the Culture Wars,” is concerned our one-dimensional strategy is deeply flawed. “Most Africans may oppose homosexuality, but they would also be sympathetic to the plight of people who are suffering in prisons, if we can find a way for them to tell their stories.”

Kaoma is interested in developing some training programs where people can begin to tell their stories and document these everyday atrocities, with support from Andy Kopsa, a writer who is with us in Cameroon this week, and Colin Stewart, who edits the blog “Erasing 76 Crimes.” Both journalists are volunteers and have done a remarkable job to drill deeper into the personal impact of our foreign policies and funding mechanisms toward LGBT people. This work is still nascent, is grossly underfunded and raises important priorities about the value we place on individual grassroots documentation and reporting of abuses and the need for reform.

How do we amplify the voices and help create a platform to disseminate these stories so mainstream and gay media will pick them up? Even though the U.S. State Department has created a Global Equality Fund with $8 million given out in the past three years in grants to organizations, there has been no significant progressive faith-based project funded, even though officials are beginning to realize a human-rights-only model (with not significant engagement of faith issues) is simply not working.

Russia, India, Uganda and Nigeria have all made it clear this approach and our media preoccupation with this approach, even as you watch our coverage of the Olympics this month, is simply preaching and grandstanding to the choir. It is doing nothing significant to change hearts and minds, engage religious leaders and policymakers (we simply laugh at people like the mayor of Sochi who says there are no gay people in his town) on deeper levels to bring about long-term support and change for LGBT people living in these countries.

Read Ogle’s full commentary on the Gay, Lesbian Bisexual, Transgender News Network: “RGOD2: Media whores – searching for rainbows and pots of gold.”

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3 thoughts on “Strategy: Let’s stop simply preaching to the gay choir

  1. Pingback: ’76 Crimes’ on radio: The latest battles for LGBTI justice | 76 CRIMES

  2. Pingback: Ugandan straight ally: ‘Drastic fallout’ remains from anti-gay bill | 76 CRIMES

  3. Pingback: After gay marriage, what? | 76 CRIMES

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