Joe Mirabella

Do We Need an LGBT Underground Railroad?

Filed By Joe Mirabella | September 07, 2011 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: Congo, Kill the Gays bill, Uganda, underground railroad

underground-railroad-ceremony.jpgAs African nations like Uganda, Ghana, Congo, and others continue their witch hunt against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and perceived LGBT people, there is a growing need for a new underground railroad.

Our community is being hunted, beaten, raped, and murdered for their sexual orientation and gender identity. This is not hyperbole, life could not be worse for our LGBT brothers and sisters in many regions of Africa.

Even those who escape the most horrendous murderers in places like the Congo to more tolerant countries like South Africa, they are left homeless and tortured by their own family members.

24-year old Junior Mayema fled the Congo for South Africa after her mother tried to inject her with gasoline after learning she was gay - but only after an exorcism failed to "rid her of evil spirits." Once in South Africa, she was kicked out of home after home, as her Congolese community discovered her sexual orientation.

Paul Canning covers LGBT refugee issues every day on LGBT Asylum News. His site is filled with stories of those who escape their torturous nations with the hope of discovering a new life in a more tolerant society, only to find a less than friendly immigration system waiting to send them back into the grips of hell.

Despite the challenges they face establishing legal status in their new country, they still have an opportunity at life, like Robert Segwanyi who was spared deportation. Paul Canning led a campaign on to spare him deportation back to Uganda.

Frankly, if Paul had not done this, Robert would have surely been killed upon his arrival in Uganda. Robert is safe now. He is free in the UK because of the kindness of thousands perfect strangers who signed Paul's petition.

But for every person who gets out there are hundreds left to fend for themselves. John Bosco told me about the life of Ugandan gays in prison. He said, "There are no beds in prisons in Uganda - no mattresses - just the concrete floor. The prisons are packed. You sleep on one side. You don't have room to turn around," John recounted. "There are no toilets, there is no running water. There are buckets where everyone eats. No blankets, no curtains. It is hell. It is even worse than the place that they keep pigs," John explained.

Life is getting worse for Uganda's gays and lesbians, as an active witch hunt pursues anyone showing any signs of homosexuality, like not marrying or dating women. Who cares if you just have not met the right woman? If you don't have a girlfriend or wife, your life could be in danger.

Uganda could soon pass a law that would give gays and lesbians the death penalty. Few people realize, the law also makes it illegal to be supportive of gay rights, so straight people who are not vehemently anti-gay could also face persecution - leaving Uganda's LGBT people with no where to turn.

LGBT people in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and other Western nations live relatively comfortable lives in comparison. Yes, we have our problems to deal with at home, but we also have the capability of helping our brothers overseas who are facing the worst circumstances imaginable - rape, torture, imprisonment, and death.

During the holocaust, people sheltered Jews and others being persecuted by the Nazis. An underground railroad shepherded some victims to safety. In the United States, an underground railroad moved African Americans from the South to the North where they could live freely and help others escape.

Clearly there is a need for this now. There are literally thousands of people who need to be rescued from oppressive populations, but the task of removing them to safety is not easy. A network of volunteer families, lawyers, corporations, and elected officials must work in concert to ensure the safe harbor of those in danger.

I don't pretend to be an expert on how to make this happen, but the need is there. I see it every day. I guess the first question to ask starts with you. Would you be willing to let a perfect stranger live in your home for a period of time while they negotiate the legal and immigration systems? Would you be willing to be a part of the new underground railroad?

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Absolutely. While the ever elusive goal of equality in our own countries (Canada and US)are important, we are allowing the Religious Right to distract us from providing critical life saving services to our persecuted, beaten, and tortured brothers and sisters elsewhere.

I would shelter such people in my home. If they were to be deported from my country back to a place of danger, I would still hide them. I would do whatever necessary to ensure a Ugandan (or similar) GLBT did not have to return there against their will.

Where do I sign up?

No question I would let someone stay in our house. I would even break the law and hide them. Where do I sign up?? Or are Mark and I going to have to go this alone? I also would like to point out that I know many LGBT people in my little community that would do the same thing. Question is... how do we get them here?

Wilberforce1 | September 7, 2011 4:09 PM

No need to break the law. We could set up assylums in South Africa. But that would take money, and most gay cash is busy paying for HRC cocktail parties.

Yes, let's gather them all up in one place while leaving them in a country where the law says to kill them. Then, we can replace the showers with gas and... oh... wait. this sounds eerily familiar. but yeah. we should institutionalize them. Don't try to get them somewhere safe. no... that's ridiculous.

I would shelter a particular LGBT person that was a victim of violence, if that was a specific proven case.
I wouldn't agree with setting up a network to remove all LGBT people from those countries because I don't think their oppression is so different from the situation of heterosexual women: they too are not allowed any self-determination in sexuality matters. Perhaps not so much in those countries you mention (I don't know) but certainly in others, and where would we draw the line?
Since it is impractical to shelter every women, it is better to try and promote democracy in their countries, supporting women and LGBT activists.

Yes, we do.

There's already the beginnings of one, for Intersex infants. They're usually abandoned by their parents - or killed shortly after birth.

A significant number if Intersex kids in orphanages in Uganda were recently spirited out. Section 24 (IIRC) of the "kill they gays" act classifies them as illegal, homosexual by definition. Same with Trans people.

While a significant number of Christian churches were working to kill them off, an even more significant number were quietly and without any fuss putting them out of reach of the law, should it be passed.

Albinos have a similar problem - again, they're either abandoned, killed shortly after birth, or sometimes butchered to make traditional medicine (as are Intersex babies).

i am Junior mayema , i was mentioned in the article, i am not a lesbian but a transgendered woman living a gay lifestyle , all the information given about me are true, i am now in South Africa and not safe at all, one week ago , i was assaulted by a Congolese gay, who was pretending to be gay and wanted to kill me after going out with him for a date, we have issued a petition for my resettlement to the USA, i want you all to sign, i really need safety to continue with my activism work here is the link on

Absolutely positively. Anything at ANY TIME that my husband and myself or our congregation (we are both pastors of a GLBT affirming church) can do to help, we are 100000% willing. This is NEEDED.

Uganda is a failed state - about 45% of its GDP comes from aid money from wealthier nations.

The US and Europe (Europe in particular as it is the biggest aid donor to the failed state of Uganda) needs to send a very clear message to Uganda.

it is this:

Unless you end this persecutuion of the gay community in Uganda then not a single cent more in aid money will be given to you.

Uganda is stating very clearly that it does not require aid money, if the authorities there have the resources to persecute the LGBT population there.

Stopping all aid money would have devastating consequences for the country.

But seeing as the genocidal homophobia being proposed by the Ugandan government is shared by the majority of Uganda's population (particularly through the sickeningly bigotted christian cults in the country) we do not need to worry too much about them.

Uganda cannot continue to beg for money while engaging in this type of monstrous savagery.

It's that simple.

African colonialism was a terrible thing causing devastating consequences for the continent. Yet in country after country it seems that they have learned nothing from their own history.

I completely agree that such underground railroads are urgently needed.

They have already been established in a limited way, but need to be extended and reinforced:

Paige Listerud | September 10, 2011 1:47 AM

There is already an Iraqi queer underground railroad--operating for at least 9 years--getting LGBT Iraqis and Iranians out of the middle east into the UK and Canada. No reason not to start up something for Ugandans, Somalis, jamaicans, etc.

The more help we give the better. To each and every organization donate and let them know you are willing to help.