This week, GLAAD was among the many who participated in the Compass to Compassion United Nations Consultation to address global homophobia and criminalization of the lives of LGBT people and its roots in American fundamentalism. The consultation featured stories of persecution and protection for the global LGBT population, especially on the continent of Africa, and addressed the partnership between pro-LGBT faith communities, human rights organizations, and governmental agencies. This is the third such consultation over the course of two years. Participants recognized the need for intelligent, multi-pronged, practical, consistent, and persistent advocacy for all individuals suffering from human rights abuses around the world.
The featured guest was Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, former Anglican Bishop of Uganda, who has opposed a draconian bill still pending in the Ugandan parliament for the last two years which, among other things, would execute gay and lesbian people and imprison those who provide care and protection to gay and lesbian people. Bishop Senyonjo founded the St. Paul’s Reconciliation and Equality Centre, which focuses on providing services and reconciliation for the LGBT community, government, civil society and religious leadership. Those who attended also heard from clergy, service providers and human rights activists in Uganda, Kenya, and Malawi. Hearing these personal stories helps guide US-based organizations to form strategies that support the goals established by credible organizations and advocates on the ground in their respective countries.
Val Kalende, an advocate with Freedom and Rome in Uganda (FARUG), spoke to the participants about the challenges facing the LGBT movement in Uganda while recognizing the success stories. Her practical points helped participants learn how to best support the work in Uganda. When the media exclusively shares the stories of persecution, it sends the message that all of Uganda or all of Africa is homophobic, which works against the efforts by organizations like FARUG. Long-term storytelling is needed to continue support. She also highlighted the need for financial support for Ugandan-based organizations, which are operating on less than $10,000 per year.
Many speakers, including Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family, and the Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma, author of Globalizing the Culture Wars, called on people to “follow the money.” Those of us who are Westerners, who hold voice and vote in the United States, must hold accountable the Western faith leaders, politicians and business people who are exporting homophobia and providing funding to anti-gay movement leaders. Participants were called to do political and theological work domestically and address those Americans who are funding global homophobia.
GLAAD participated in a panel that focused on media strategy. Many of the speakers on the panel spoke of campaigns and the use of social media to make a US audience aware of stories like Uganda. My comments focused primarily on how to bring the complex reality of global criminalization of the lives of LGBT people to a US-based audience and the role of storytelling and personalization to make the general US population aware, educated, and activated.
Although this gathering is over, organizers hope to develop this idea into a coalition that continues to work in a multi-pronged fashion to address the flow of money and influence from US American fundamentalism and political groups, as well as work to support the organizations operating on the ground. People who are interested in getting involved in Compass to Compassion are encouraged to visit their website. GLAAD is proud to be a partner in the Compass to Compassion effort to promote safety for LGBT people around the globe.