Friday, 16 June 2017

Panel Focuses on the Global Struggle for LGBTQ Human Rights

By Neil Armstrong

Left-right: Latoya Nugent, Carlos Idibouo, El-Farouk Khaki, Kimahli Powell, and Debbie Douglas at the "Until We Are Free: The Global Struggle for LGBTQ Human Rights" panel discussion at The 519 in Toronto, Canada on June 15, 2017. Photo credit: Keith Cunningham

“Until We Are All Free: The Global Struggle for LGBTQ Rights,” one of the human rights panel discussions being held during Pride Month, shone a light on some of the grassroots organizing efforts taking place around the world. 

The event was held on June 15 at The 519 agency on Church Street in Toronto, Canada.
Moderated by Debbie Douglas, executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI), the panel consisted of Latoya Nugent, an LGBTQ human rights advocate and activist in Jamaica and the co-founder of the Tambourine Army, which organized the country’s first major protest against sexual abuse.

The other panelists were: Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad, an organization that helps LGBT people escape state-sponsored violence globally; El-Farouk Khaki, a refugee and immigration lawyer, and human rights activist on matters including gender equality, sexual orientation, and progressive Islam; and Carlos Idibouo, co-founder and executive director of Apha Gender Omega, and an LGBTQ rights activist.

Nugent noted that there are several pieces of legislation that discriminate against LGBTQ people in Jamaica, and although the buggery law has received a lot of attention, there are ones related to property rights, same-sex domestic partnerships, and so on.

For example, same-sex partners who are in relationships for 5 or 10 years wouldn’t be guaranteed leave from work to mourn the death of a partner.

“Despite that we do see some progress. This year, we’ll be celebrating Pride for the third time since 2015,” says Nugent, noting that even though Jamaica isn’t the most friendly place for LGBTQ, “we are members of humanity, we are Jamaicans like everybody else.”

Reflecting on the last five years, she said they have built supports of activism with organizations such as The 519 and Rainbow Railroad.

Although the violence is real and discrimination is real, Nugent said that things are bad for some and not so bad for others, and that they are learning to do their advocacy differently.

They have also increased the kinds of social justice work that they do which is resulting in a change in people’s perception of LGBTQ people.

Addressing the issue of sexual violence affecting women and children, and focusing on the intersectionality of advocacy are some of the strategies embraced by activists on the ground in Jamaica.

Idibouo, who is from the Ivory Coast and came to Canada in 2006, said it is very difficulty for some African countries to move forward on LGBTQ rights.

As a Francophone, he said in his work helping organizations in other countries he has found that language, which is a part of the identity of French-speaking African countries, can become a difficulty if things are said and written in English and people cannot understand them. 

Khaki said the Canadian society is founded on injustices that continue to this day. 

Representing refugees from 130 countries, he spoke of the intersectionality of HIV and human rights.

He noted that the internet creates safe spaces, but with increased queer activism there has been an increased backlash. Khaki said that with election of Trump nuanced safe spaces for queer people are being erased.

“What I see in Canada – white supremacy – is the freedom of its circulation.” He noted that ignorance, hate, and bigotry did not go away.

A spiritual activist, Khaki said it is incumbent on everyone in society – and there’s a long way to go – to ensure civil liberties and the dignity of each other.

Regarding Islam, gender justice, and queer liberation, he said he founded Salaam in 1991, as a support group for queer Muslims.

Khaki, who co-founded the Unity Mosque with his husband, Troy Jackson, said it is a safe space, noting that there is room for everybody.

Powell said Rainbow Railroad fielded over 200 requests in the past six weeks and heard some horrible stories of persecution by the state.

He noted that there are 72 countries where laws persecuting LGBTQ people are on the books, and his organization provides a lifeline for individuals who do not want to stay in their countries.

Rainbow Railroad, which was founded in 2006, has moved 98 people around the world since January. 

These are people who were forced to flee at very little notice with only the clothes on their backs, said Powell, talking about the situation of LGBTQ people in Chechnya, a country he visited recently.

He also alluded to LGBTQ Ugandans who have been in refugee camps in Kenya for a long time, and the situation affecting Syrians.

Powell is urging Canada to have a robust strategy to help refugees and not to just move from one crisis to another.

Nugent said she felt the love and empowerment from people in the community, locally and globally, when she was recently arrested.

She noted the significance of strategic alliances on the ground to help control the narrative about LGBTQ people, and results in debunking the narrative of the Religious Right.

The Tambourine Army has exposed the abuses of persons of the Church resulting in the clergy seeming to have less access to the decision makers in government. However, the Church has been a barrier to LGBTQ rights in Jamaica, notes Nugent.

Powell said there are some newcomer Jamaicans in Argentina who are now learning Spanish – these are LGBTQ refugees that his organization helped to get out of Jamaica.

He lamented the fact that there are legacy refugee claimants who have been living here for many years and whose lives are in a limbo as they await a refugee hearing.

These legacy files, visa access, and the suspension of some legal aid services for refugees by Legal Aid Ontario, effective July 1, were some the issues examined. 

Sebastian Commock, a staff member at The 519 who has been rallying support for LGBTQ legacy claimants, said a new advocacy group was recently formed to assist in this effort.

Commenting on the difficulty of accessing visas by refugees, Nugent said it's a betrayal of the foreign policy commitment that Canada has made to the world.

Regarding the visa application process and the costs associated with it, Nugent hopes that Canada will establish a new waiver application process, which will help those affected by poverty and other vulnerabilities – those who really need to leave. 

She notes that solidarity from Canadians, relationship building, and engaging the LGBTQ community in the global south are very important to activists working on the ground.

On Wednesday, June 21, the Pride human rights conference entitled: “Transfeminism: Beyond Bodily Binaries Towards Gender Fluidity” will be held at The 519, 7-9pm.

The panel will be moderated by Dr. Laura Mae Lindo, director of Wilfrid Laurier University’s diversity and equity office with expertise in anti-oppression pedagogy and education.

Panelists include Professor Jack Halberstam, academic and author of Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal; Professor Kathryn Bond Stockton, specialist in queer theory and author of Beautiful Bottom, Beautiful Shame: Where “Black” Meets “Queer”; and Professor Anne Sauvagnargues, specialist in the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze.

The conference is presented by Pride Toronto in partnership with the 10th International Deleuze Studies Conference and The 519.

The “BQY Bloq Pawwty” will be held on Friday, June 23, at Alexander Parkette beside Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 7-11pm. BQY (Black Queer Youth) represents Black, African/Caribbean, and multiracial youth, and has been operating and providing a safe space for Black Queer Youth since 2001.

“This is their fifth youth showcase for Pride Toronto and as always, they will be demonstrating the talent, culture, and art of being Black with high energy performances. Come and support our youth and celebrate the beauty that is Black culture,” notes the Pride Guide 2017.

At Yonge-Dundas Stage that night the focus will be on classic disco featuring the “living legends of 70s and 80s era of disco – Boney M. featuring Liz Mitchell. Step into another era where disco dominated the charts.” Boney M. performs at 10pm.

On Sunday, June 25, 12-11pm, Blockorama, organized by Blackness Yes! and entering its 19th anniversary will take place at the Wellesley Stage, across from Wellesley subway station.

“A celebration of Black, Caribbean, and African communities, Blockorama has set the stage for one of Pride’s biggest, most well-attended, and most lively events,” says the Pride Guide. DJs include Blackcat, Craig Dominic, Pleasure, Nik Red, Carm, and Vaughan. 

The hosts are Lali Mohamed, an African writer and public speaker who is deeply connected to social justice advocacy, and Zinduru (aka Kim Ninkuru), a performance artist from Bujumbura, Burundi, based in Toronto.

The headlining acts are Cakes da Killa, an American rapper based in Brookly, New York, and the prolific American singer, Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King, whose songs, “Shame” (1978), “I’m in Love”(1981), and “Love Come Down (1982) were hits.

For more information about Pride Month activities, visit

[Tonight, June 16, Debbie Douglas received the 2017 Community Service Award from the Transformation Institute For Leadership & Innovation at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto. Congratulations, Debbie!]

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