Editor's Note: Guest blogger Melanie Nathan, publisher and editor of the LGBT blog O-Blog-Dee-O-Blog-Da, is a lawyer, mediator, equality activist, and human rights advocate who speaks and writes on issues impacting LGBTI communities around the world, with a focus on the U.S.A. and Africa. She is also the founder of Private Courts International, a human rights advocacy law firm.
Dear President Obama,
Please help our Kuchu friends.
Mr. President, we are grateful that you have spoken out publicly against the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill (AHB), noting that the bill is "odious." With respect, I submit that it is time to take action and for us in the United States to do much more for the Ugandan LGBTI community, which is now in even greater danger.
Now that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill has passed, there is a good chance it will be made into law very soon. And even if it does not become law, which is a remote possibility, the harm to the LGBT community in Uganda is insurmountable.
I have been advocating against the bill and writing about it since its introduction in 2009 and since that time have become well-sourced, establishing relationships with members of the LGBT community in Uganda. This has led to my work with asylum seekers in Uganda, verifying their stories and trying to help establish safe-houses and support. There is not nearly enough help or resources available in this critical situation.
Currently I have several young Ugandans, verified on my list, who are desperate and need to leave Uganda for their survival. What kind of life is it to live in hiding? There are many more people sending in requests at this time and I am sure there are many more trying to make contact with the United States for help.
None of these people work as human rights defenders and hence do not receive any special treatment or funding when it comes to international travel. They are amongst the most marginalized of the LGBTI community in Uganda right now, with little to no resources available to them, because they are in hiding.
I have witnessed the hell of their lives for the past year or more. They have also been turned away by our local U.S.-based LGBTI organizations who say that until they get to the U.S.A., there is nothing they can do to help from afar.
Though their stories vary, all have been persecuted in Uganda for their sexuality and all are terrified that they are going to be arrested and subjected to life in prison or become the victims of mob violence if they are further exposed.
Out of these people, some have already had their faces exposed in the Ugandan media, through the public outings of their sexuality. Some have already been harassed by police and forced to pay bribes to stay out of prison, with the threat of further arrests. Some of these young people have already been physically assaulted and traumatized, some are afraid to seek treatment at hospitals or clinics for medical needs, and some have been in hiding for many months, moving from safe-house to safe-house, without the ability to work and earn a living.
A few friends from afar have struggled to help support individuals, but there are no U.S.-based organizations meeting this need, and there has been very little outreach, if any, from our local LGBT groups to address their immediate needs.
On a practical level it is almost impossible for any of these people from Uganda and other parts of Africa, where homosexuality is criminalized, to access a way to obtain asylum in the U.S.A. No U.S. organization has agreed to work with these individuals while they are in Uganda, to help them obtain asylum in the U.S.A. Hence unless they were to already be on U.S. soil, this is virtually impossible for most of the asylum seekers to accomplish on their own, because they have no money and they are unable to acquire visas to the United States in the first place.
It is a known fact that this is made easier for human rights defenders (who get invited workshops and then, once in the U.S.A., claim asylum), and for those with money who can find ways to obtain visitor visas and then once on U.S. soil request asylum. Yet there is a large group of LGBT people, in desperate need, who are not connected, and who do not have any recourse at all.
Nothing has been put in place to help these people and they are in urgent need of our help. Because of the past years of heightened persecution in Uganda and the newly passed AHB, there is now a large group developing who cannot afford these mechanisms to reach our shores and we must find a way to help.
For some of these people it is impossible to leave for another African country as they will be subjected to further persecution within refugee communities for being gay, lesbian, or transgender.
I am asking that special humanitarian considerations be given, as a matter of urgency, for Ugandan LGBTIs who seek to leave the country prior to the finalization of this bill. Time is of the essence.
Once the bill is made law, there will be arrests and people will not be able to leave. It will may be too late for some to leave, once caught up in the Ugandan legal system.
I am hoping that you will consider some special protocols for Uganda's LGBTI community. While I would hope for such treatment of any LGBT person criminalized by their country's laws, what makes the Ugandan community's circumstances critical at this point in time is the fact that it is quite possible that there could be mass arrests once the law passes, and that the law itself has provisions which will cause all the NGO's which are available to help to have to shut down.
It is also feared that leadership in Uganda, who are often available to help others, will be compromised through these closures and arrests. Even if the law does not pass to finality, these people will be subjected to continued violence due to the sordid atmosphere created by the bill and its proponents.
I have had indications and promises from members of the LGBTI community who are willing to take LGBTI refugees into their homes while they settle down in the U.S.A. There are faith-based groups on standby ready to help. All we need is for the U.S. to make special provisions for visas or a speed up a humanitarian parole process.
What I find even more egregious is that Ugandans who participate in the persecution of gays stand a greater chance of receiving visas to enter the USA than the victims of the persecution. I believe that every member of the Ugandan Parliament who voted for this bill, including Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, David Bahati, and others; Martin Ssempa; Pastor Male; the Catholic Archbishop of Uganda; as well as all those responsible for outing gays in media -- including Red Pepper's owners and staff, Giles Muhame of Uganda's Rolling Stone and Now Chimp Reports -- should all be denied entry to the U.S.A.
I believe we can and ought to show the world that we really mean it when we say that we will not tolerate this flagrant breach of basic human rights or persecution against LGBTI people, starting in Uganda. While not all Kuchus will want to obtain asylum, I believe on a humanitarian level we are compelled, under these circumstances, to make our shores available through innovative and creative means, to all and any in this world whose right to their sexuality is criminalized by government.
Thank you for your kind attention to this matter. I look forward to hearing what I can do further to help our Kuchu family.
Very truly yours,
Originally posted at O-Blog-Dee-O-Blog-Da.