President Trump’s proclivity for racist remarks comes as no surprise to me. His now infamous comment stating a preference for immigrants coming from a Scandinavian country like Norway than from Africa and Haiti which he depicts as “shithole” countries with nothing to offer the U.S is based solely on his ignorance. (Also, Mr. President, Africa is a continent.)
As a matter-of-fact, black African immigrants are the most educated demographic group in the U.S., surpassing those of us born here – black or white. According to the Los Angeles Times, they come from five major countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South African.
While Trump’s comment will now make it more difficult for these immigrants to enter the U.S., the challenge, however, will be particularly arduous for its LGBTQ asylum seekers. These people flee their countries to avoid criminalization, torture, violence, public persecution, political scapegoating and moral cleansing.
Many of the governments they flee argue they do not like the world’s interference in their business, especially the U.S. They contend that being LGBTQ is anathema to African and Afro-Caribbean identities, cultural and family values, and it’s one of the many ills brought over by white Europeans (a similar homo/transphobic polemic still argued among religious and uninformed conservative African Americans).
Sadly, the debate between “authentically African” and Western colonial remnants always finds some way to dispute the reality of the black LGBTQ existence. Coming out as LGBTQ in many of the African and Caribbean countries is dangerous.
For example, approximately 38 of 54 countries in the African continent criminalizes same-gender consensual activity.
We all have heard of the human rights abuses of Uganda’s LGBTQ population. The country’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill dubbed the “Kill the Gays bill” would have criminalized same-sex relations. And, depending on which category your sexual behavior was classified as – “aggravated homosexual” or “the offense of homosexuality” – you’d either receive the death penalty or, if lucky, life imprisonment.
Gay activist David Kato was the father of Uganda’s LGBTQ rights movement. He didn’t live to receive either punishment. Kato, beaten to death with a hammer, was murdered in January 2011.
John “Longjones” Abdallah Wambere, a friend of Kato’s and co-founder of Spectrum, an LGBTQ rights organization, is an activist too. Fleeing from persecution Wambere was approved asylum in 2014. He now lives in my neighborhood in Cambridge, MA.
Last summer, at the 2017 DignityUSA conference in Boston, Warry Joanita Ssenfuka, director of Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG), spoke on being a Catholic lesbian activist in Uganda where LGBTQ people have no legal protections and frequently suffer violence and imprisonment. Ssenfuka was a plaintiff in Sexual Minorities Uganda v. Scott Lively. Lively, a white racist, homophobic Pentecostal pastor, was accused of persecuting LGBTQ people abroad, resulting in the introduction of an Anti-Homosexuality Bill he helped engineer in Uganda, which was prosecuted as a crime against humanity under international law.
Throughout the African continent, there are stories of homophobic bullying, trans bashing, and every kind of abuse of its LGBTQ population. However, the one country you don’t expect to hear anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and human rights abuses from is South Africa.
South Africa is the first African country to support LGBTQ civil rights. But South Africa has a problem with its LGBTQ population, especially its lesbians. South Africa’s method to remedy the problem with lesbians is “corrective rape.”
On any given day in South Africa, lesbians are twice as likely to be sexually molested, raped, or gang-raped than heterosexual women. A reported estimate of at least 500 lesbians are victims of “corrective rape” per year. And in Western Cape, a province in the south west of South Africa, a report put out by the Triangle Project in 2008 stated that as many as 86% of its lesbian population live in fear of being raped.
And, in Haiti, a country that is predominately Roman Catholic, homosexuality is condemned. Among Haiti’s LGBTQ middle and profession classes they find ways to socialize out of the public “gaydar” and with impunity. However, for the poorer classes of LGBTQ Haitians who live, work and socialize in the densely populated and impoverished capital city of Port-au-Prince and its countryside, discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender expressions is commonplace.
The 2002 documentary “Des Hommes et Dieux (Of Men and Gods)” by anthropologist Anne Lescot exposed the daily struggles of Haitian transwomen. Blondine in the film said, “When people insult me because I wear a dress I am not ashamed of how I am. Masisis (gay males) can’t walk down the street in a wig and dress.”
Trump’s administration may very well make it difficult for Africans and Haitians to come to the U.S. But, he cannot stop asylum seekers.
Legally, it is a universal human right to seek asylum, and the U.S has been offering asylum to LGBTQ people from around the world since 1994. Morally, governments have an obligation to come to the aid of those fleeing persecution, a minimum standard any decent government recognizes.
But as much as Trump’s “shithole” comments didn’t surprise me, any effort by his administration to halt LGBTQ asylum seekers from black nations would shock me even less.