What aren’t we hearing in the media?

May 30, 2017

By CJ Rowe

QMUNITY joined Zee Zee Theater in hosting an evening of cabaret and discussion titled Canadians concerned about Chechnya in early May. It was an invigorating evening of performance and conversation hosted at The Cultch. Rainer Oktovianus, Zdravko Cimbaljevic and Sharalyn Jordan represented Rainbow Refugee on a panel discussion where they shared both personal insights and concrete action for those interested in learning more.

Rainbow Refugee, a Vancouver based community group, was founded in 2000 to support people seeking refugee protection in Canada because of persecution based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and/or HIV status. This group engages in significant work locally, nationally, and globally.

The event and conversation was sparked by the outrageous news released in early April about gay and bisexual men being kidnapped, detained, tortured and killed in Chechnya, Russia.

In our conversation, Zdravko Cimbaljevic shared information regarding the situation based on communications he had been having with The Russian LGBT Network organizers. Many of the men have been returned to their families since being detained though officials exposed their sexual orientation to their families and encouraged relatives to carry out “honor killings.” Some have escaped Chechnya and remain in danger in other parts of Russia as threats continue against them. As of late May, no new abductions have been reported; however, a number of men who were targeted remain in detention.

Recognizing that violence against LGBTQ people is not relegated to the Russian Republic, Rainer Oktovianus spoke eloquently about the situation of LGBTQ individuals in Indonesia. At the time of the panel, very little to no reports of this violence was being circulated in North American news. Only those interested or with connections to others in Indonesia had a sense of what was taking place. What we now know is that LGBTQ persecution in Indonesia is on the rise. Men accused of being homosexual have been sentenced to public flogging, there was a raid on a hotel room where gay men were reportedly hosting a party, and recently well over a hundred men are facing 15 years in prison after police raided a bathhouse. Just last week, police in Indonesia’s most populated province announced that they are deploying a taskforce to investigate LGBTQ activity.

The news of what’s happening in Indonesia is slowly starting to gain traction in North American media. Yet, I’m curious to know what coverage we aren’t hearing in our mainstream media?

I have heard quite a lot about what’s taking place in Chechnya but not much has come to the forefront in terms of the violence being faced by LGBTQ people in Indonesia. There is also little to no coverage of what is currently taking place in Uganda.

Do you know?

Let me share a little bit of information with you.

In 2014, when President Museveni signed the now defunct Anti-Homosexuality Act into law, hundreds of outed and persecuted LGBTQ people escaped Uganda and sought asylum in Kenya. Over the last number of years, many have been resettled abroad, often waiting years in unsafe conditions. For those who remain, things are looking bleak. Within the last month, Kenyan police arrested 18 LGBTQ people and have sent them to a refugee camp where they face the prospect of assault and abuse at the hands of homophobic people in those camps. The hope for these refugees was that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) would be able to provide adequate protection for them. This is not the case. While heterosexual refugees are guaranteed protection within the refugee system, a similar guarantee to members of LGBTQ refugee communities has not been established.

It is time to make a deliberate plan to accommodate the safe shelter for LGBTQ refugees.

In our panel discussion, I had the opportunity to ask Sharalyn Jordan this question: given what we’ve heard from Zdravko and Rainer, what is Rainbow Refugees doing? And, what can those of us who want to help do? In her response, Jordan stated that we are “encouraging Canadian communities to organize sponsorship of LGBTQ refugees where they are supported by a Circle of Hope for their first year in Canada. As queer and trans folks we have been organizing mutual care and support as chosen family for generations. That’s how we’ve survived. I understand sponsorship as an extension of that work.”

If you are interested in listening to a recording of the panel, Xtra posted a recording of the full panel discussion on Facebook. Photos are available here.

I walked away from this discussion with a renewed sense of purpose. We as individuals and as communities of LGBTQ/2S people can organize to sponsor those who need support now.

Are you inspired to be involved?

Here are some upcoming opportunities to explore:

STRUT on June 3rd, an annual walk-a-thon that raises funds to support Foundation of Hope’s efforts towards charities that actively support LGBT+ refugees and newcomers.

An Evening in Damascus: A Fundraiser for Queer Syrian Refugees on July 28th. This event is moving into its third year in a row and will raise funds for two sponsorship groups supporting Syrian lesbians to join our communities here in Vancouver.

Visit Rainbow Refugee’s website to find out more about how you can establish a Circle of Hope amongst your chosen family.

Tune in to Roundhouse Radio for news coverage that strives to capture the lived experiences of LGBTQ/2S people in Vancouver and around the world.

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