When I was in my teens and/or early twenties – the age of some of our African LGBT+ refugee friends today – it was illegal for me to openly express my sexuality as a gay man across parts of Australia. Discrimination and prejudice were entrenched, and preached as a virtue from pulpit to Parliament. LGBT+ attacks and murders were commonplace ('gay panic' was a legal defence that might potentially permit murderers to be acquitted). Anti-discrimination protections did not exist, and I faced the daily concern of potentially losing my job or status for simply being accused of being gay. Heteronormative behaviours and prejudices were seen as being natural and the only morally correct option. Families, schools, churches and communities rejected their LGBT children, teachers, clergy, and community members.
And yet, Australia recently enacted marriage equality within law. We have come a long way.
Sadly, such progress has not yet taken place in some places around the world. The UK organisation Stonewall observes:
“Colonisation and the spread of fundamentalist Christian attitudes from the British meant that much of Africa lost its previous cultural attitude towards sexual orientation and gender identity and were forced to adopt “new” values from British colonisers in the 19th and 20th centuries. Homophobia was legally enforced by colonial administrators and Christian missionaries... Anti-LGBT laws were not only written into constitutions, but also into the minds of many African people, and after the passing of several generations, this has become dogma.”
The result is that many LGBT+ Africans today face the same forms of violence, discrimination, hatred and ethnic cleansing that queer people once also commonly faced in western nations. This has contributed to the larger refugee problem across Africa.
In this larger context, we live in a world where 1 in every 95 people on earth has fled their homes. Affluent western nations such as Australia have failed to properly uphold their responsibilities to help this growing portion of humanity. Amnesty International proposes that: “In short, the world urgently needs a new, global plan based on genuine international cooperation and a meaningful and fair sharing of responsibilities.” Humanity in Need began with an awareness of such a need, and we aim to address this global issue within a local context.
Kenya is a nation that has accepted many refugees, including LGBT+ people, although queer rights are still illegal in that nation. LGBT+ refugees and Kenyans face discrimination, violence, and police harassment.
Two large refugee camps, Dadaab and Kakuma, are located in Kenya, and house many LGBT+ refugees. Kakuma, the third largest refugee camp in the world, was the location of a Pride March in June 2018, resulting in threats, and ultimately contributing to the relocation of many LGBT+ refugees to Nairobi, where they still live in danger. Meanwhile, hundreds of other LGBT+ refugees – some openly out, others discretely in the closet – remain in Kakuma, where they face daily hunger, threats, attacks, and inadequate shelter and welfare/medical care. It is in Nairobi and Kakuma where HIN focuses most of its work, although some support is also extended to those with great need in other locations when possible.
“Am working with a team Humanity In Need (HIN) to help support fellow queer refugees here in the camp with mobilisation, counselling and advice where necessary.
“All this we have managed to reach with the support of our Australian friends who with their support we have managed to reach to help provide emergency medical assistance which is very necessary because the UNHCR medical centers are filled with homophobia.
“As well as food availability to some LGBTIQ mates and we are planning to provide shelters to many homeless mates. All this is done to help create some safety before the UNHCR intervenes.”
(One of our African LGBT+ refugee friends in Kakuma)
Humanity in Need started small, with a dedicated core of exactly four people, and we are glad that our committee has expanded with the inclusion of more people who are dedicated to helping our rainbow family. Together, we try to raise awareness and funds in order to support LGBT+ refugees living in Kenya.
The majority of our funding has come from ourselves, supplemented by donations from friends or associates.
Kenya is a dangerous place and LGBT+ people have died there:
“If I ever say that I need to know how it feels to pass the gift of life,
Please do not ask me why
Because I do not have a such idea how to answer a such question.”
- Trinidad Jerry, last posting on Facebook
Before being murdered with a firebomb in Kakuma.
...Please join me on this journey of hope for a better world. Let us continue to do what we can to provide life, hope and dignity to our adopted extended family.
Adapted from the report by Geoff Allshorn,
Founding President, Humanity in Need,
First Annual General Meeting, 17 January 2022.