In China, most LGBT people ‘choose to stay in the closet.’ In Uganda, an anti-gay law ‘makes your entire being illegal.’ Close to two million people from around the world are expected to take part in North America’s first World Pride, a ten-day celebration with dozens of events around the city. At its core is the fight for equality. Activists coming to the city for the WorldPride Human Rights Conference, taking place at the University of Toronto this week, talk about what it’s like to be a member of the LGBT community in their countries.
Indonesia: King Oey
Mr. Oey is one of the founders of Arus Pelangi (Rainbow Flow), the first organization to advocate for LGBT rights in Indonesia.
Being gay often means that you can be quite alone in life until you can meet up with other gays. That makes it so meaningful to have this type of conference [the WorldPride Human Rights Conference]. It’s not just to socialize, but to be part of a global movement. We’re all working at the same time together for a better life in each country.
It’s particularly difficult in Indonesia because it is a Muslim country, and there is a very strong bias against homosexuality. A lot of people have to carry this burden of guilt of being abnormal. And for us, one of the main [goals] is to bring understanding to LGBT people that they are not messed up, that they are not wrong, that they’re just healthy, normal people who just happen to have a different sexual orientation. We are also working toward better, more LGBT friendly policies from the government.
Indonesia doesn’t have laws that criminalize us directly … but we do have this societal bias, this stigma, against LGBT people, which is mainly a thing of the religious people. It’s particularly difficult because you have to face condemnation from your parents and your family in the first place, the people that you would expect to really understand you and give you support. Unlike other minorities, we don’t get that support from our family, which is the number one adversity that you have to face. That makes it so difficult.
[In Canada], we can have at least a taste of what real freedom is in a country that really respects LGBT people, so we can also learn from all the different types of expressions that you can have without fearing the repercussions. But it’s also partly academic. [In Toronto], I hope to get new learning on how to do things better.
Uganda: Richard Lusimbo
Ugandan activist and the research manager for Sexual Minorities in Uganda, an LGBT rights organization based in Uganda. In February, Uganda’s president signed a controversial anti-gay bill that imposes harsh penalties for homosexuality, including life in prison.
Having a law that criminalizes the work you are doing makes it difficult. Living in a very autocratic society that is filled with a lot of biased information, and a media that is not objective, makes everything very difficult. Once your life is at stake, when you get to work you don’t know whether your offices will be open the following day, or if you’re going to be raided the next minute or not, because of all these threats from the government. [And] then losing your privacy to the media [you] wake up one morning and find your face on the front page [of a tabloid] with very misleading headlines like ‘How I became homo’ and headlines like ‘Exposed gays.’ There’s a lot of insecurity at times when you leave your community, because every time you appear in the media, you lose your entire life. You can’t go shopping for groceries or even use public transport because you’re trying to protect yourself and your face from being abused or beaten up.
[The law] makes your entire being illegal … so life really becomes difficult. The government provides no security for us. The government is not supportive of the community because the government is full of people who are biased, who believe that LGBT people are recruiting young children. They’re claiming … that they’re protecting African values and children who are being recruited into homosexuality.
We’ve seen [recently] that Canada, and Toronto in particular, is a society that has been very accommodating of their LGBT community. [In Toronto] we can celebrate who we are, but we can also have a proper dialogue without fear of being scared that the government or the police are going to raid everything.