A Dream Beyond Borders

The Eid of Unity and Peace: A Dream Beyond Borders

This poem was written by a LGBT+ refugee in Africa, who self identifies as Christian, and who wants to commemorate the end of Ramadan among his Muslim neighbours; his poem is published here in the spirit of acknowledging our common humanity and hoping for human peace regardless of background or belief.

ai-generated image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Beneath the crescent moon’s gentle gleam,
Eid al-Fitr whispers a collective dream.
A dream where faith and hope intertwine,
Uniting Muslims in a bond divine.

From Mecca’s sands to Jakarta’s shores,
The call of peace our heart implores.
With prayers and smiles, we break our fast,
In gratitude for Ramadan now past.

Yet, in our joy, we cannot forget,
Those under shadows of sorrow’s silhouette.
In Palestine, where olive trees weep,
For innocent lives, the cost is steep.

Children, mothers, and LGBTQ souls,
Caught in conflict, a heavy toll.
Their dreams of Eid, tinged with despair,
Yearning for peace in the air.

To our siblings in humanity’s embrace,
We send our love to that troubled place.
Wishing for the day when freedom rings,
And from every minaret, peace sings.

We call upon Israel, with hope in our voice,
To choose compassion, to make the choice.
To halt the persecution, the pain, the fears,
To dry the tears, to end the years.

Let this Eid be more than a feast,
Let it be the day when love increased.
Where every heart, near and far,
Joins in the prayer for an end to war.

So, as we celebrate, let’s not forget,
The power of love, to conquer yet.
Eid Mubarak, let this be the start,
Of a world where peace doesn’t depart.

Composed by Joseph. K

This blog ©2024 Geoff Allshorn. All rights for this poem returned to the poet Joseph K.

Women Who Inspire Inclusion

“We have heard enough about a paradise behind the moon. We want something now. We are tired of hearing about the golden streets of the hereafter. What we want is good paved and drained streets in this world.”

Although it is over a century since Lucy Parsons uttered the above words in 1889 Chicago, women humanists have contributed to the fight to shape the modern world with a commitment to reason, compassion, and social change.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we aim to #InspireInclusion, and work towards a world that’s free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination, and where difference is valued and celebrated. We do this by highlighting a diverse range of women who have made recent strides in the promotion of Humanism and advancement of human rights in the Humanist community.

Sonja Albertine Jeannine Eggerickx (born 8 February 1947) is a Belgian secular Humanist who was president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), now Humanists International, a position she held for nine years until stepping down in 2015. In 2016 she was awarded the Distinguished Services to Humanism Award 2016 for her ground-breaking work in secular education and ethics.

(Video: PATASCON2015: Sonja Eggerickx, IHEU President (Opening Remarks) (youtube.com)

Marissa Torres Langseth is a Board Member of Humanist Alliance Philippines, International (HAPI), having founded the organisation in 2013, after previously founding the Philippine Atheist and Agnostic Society (or PATAS, which stands for “equality” in Tagalog) in 2011.

(Video: Marissa Torres Langseth – Openly Secular – YouTube)

Lola Tinubu is of Nigerian descent and is one of the organisers of Association of Black Humanists formerly known as London Black Atheists. She has a story of losing faith and having to confront the fear and stigma associated with leaving religion. It was only on coming to the UK that she found the freedom to leave religion behind. She muses: “When I became an atheist I discovered science, theatre, music, literature, going to museums, appreciating nature. I’m sure I don’t understand nature like a university professor, but I have a new appreciation of it: landscapes, earthquakes, continental drift, all of that. I’m like a little girl in a candy shop.”

(Video: Celebrating black humanism and freethought – Black History Month | CLH Talks (youtube.com)

Anne-France Ketelaer (Belgium), General Manager of deMens.nu (the umbrella network of Dutch-speaking liberal humanist associations in Flanders and Brussels), former Vice President of Humanists International (2016 to 2023). She has stated: “Humanists disagree on many things. We embrace that diversity, because it is such a big part of freedom of expression.” Upon her retirement from the Board in 2023, she was awarded the 2023 Distinguished Service to Humanism Award, and thanked by Andrew Copson, President of Humanists International: “Through her visionary leadership and unwavering dedication, she has elevated the cause of humanism to new heights.”

Anne-France Ketelaer (photo from Humanists International and demens.nu)

Roslyn Mould (Ghana) is the first African to be elected Vice President of Humanists International. She was Secretary and Chair of the Young Humanists International African Working Group from 2014 to 2019 and a Board Member for Humanists International from 2019 to 2023. She was a member of the Humanist Association of Ghana since it was founded in 2012 and held several positions, including President of the group from 2015 to 2019. She is the Coordinator for the West African Humanist Network, an Advisory Board member of the FoRB Leadership Network (UK), a Board member for LGBT+ Rights Ghana, and President of Accra Atheists. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Linguistics and Modern Languages. She has once said, “Humanism teaches me to be free from dogma and religious/cultural misogynistic beliefs. Humanism informs my liberation as a person”.

(Video: Roslyn Mould: Pioneer of Freethought (youtube.com)

Nicole Carr (USA) is the Interim Executive Director of the American Humanist Association, Editor of the Humanist magazine, and Senior Editor of TheHumanist.com. She recalls: “It wasn’t until I left home for college that I started questioning religion. Slowly, I moved from considering myself religious to “spiritual but not religious,” to an understanding that this life on earth is what we have and we should make the most of it. I came to believe that each person must find ways to make their own lives meaningful and fulfilling and that being and doing good in the world was a big part of instilling that meaning.”

(Video: What’s New at the AHA with Nicole Carr (youtube.com)

Maachelle Farley, President of Humanists Barbados, who in 2023 called upon Barbados to improve its human rights record in a number of areas, including improving the rights of women and LGBTI+ persons, eradicating corporal punishment, and working for the abolition of the death penalty.

(Video: Barbados Challenged to be More Inclusive (youtube.com)

Inga Auðbjörg Straumland (photo from her website)

Inga Auðbjörg K. Straumland (Iceland) is a Humanist Celebrant, (former) President of Icelandic Humanists / Siðmennt. She states that since her deconversion from Christianity as a teenager: “I have been burned for secular society. A society where there is full freedom of religion and people have full personal freedom to choose the path that suits them in life, without having to be constantly in the shadow of state religion, discrimination and facilities.”

(Video: Nordic humanism – its challenges and future (youtube.com)

Eva Quiñones, President of the Secular Humanists de Puerto Rico / Humanists of Puerto Rico. She co-founded the Humanists of Puerto Rico team in 2011, and is one of the few Hispanic women activists who internationally represents the Puerto Rican lay community before various forums and organizations, including Humanists International. Eva states: “Humanism, compassion, rationalism, science, are the proven best ways for nation building”.

(Video: Humanism in Puerto Rico » Understanding Humanism (YouTube)

Kirstine Kærn, Vice-President of the Danish Humanist Society (Humanistisk Samfund) and recently travelled the world to meet and network fellow humanists, and runs a podcast on Babelfish. She speaks of her increased involvement in humanism: “11 years ago I heard about the founding of Humanistisk Samfund and decided to join. I’ve never been religious nor a member of the Danish state church (75% of Danes are members of the protestant state church). Human rights and humanism have always been important to me, but besides sponsoring Amnesty I’d never considered being part of a humanist organization. I was a member for several years before I became active.”

Kirstine Kærn (photo from Humanistisk Samfund)

We aim to make every day a commemoration of a world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive. We thank these women for their commitment to this same cause.

©2024 by Roslyn Mould (Ghana) and Geoff Allshorn (Australia).

Fighting Ghana’s Anti-LGBT+ Hate Bill

The struggle for freedom continues on Ghana’s Independence Day

It has been a very long and arduous journey in the quest for freedom and justice (the motto of Ghana’s republic) for LGBT+ people in the country.

The LGBT+ community has faced various levels of persecution, abuse and discrimination for decades and today, we’re at a crucial moment in Ghana’s history since Ghana’s parliament ‘unanimously’ approved of the draconian Anti-LGBT bill titled “Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Act 2024”.

The bill threatens to jail LGBT persons and allies for up to 5 years for simply identifying as such, mandates every citizen to have the duty to report any person or persons that violates the Bill, takes away access to housing, healthcare, education, jobs, freedom of association and freedom of speech, etc to anyone deemed to be a person who is “involved in the promotion of, propagation of, advocacy for, support or funding of LGBTTQAP+”.

Despite the opposition of the Bill by LGBT activists who have put their lives on the line, allies and CSOs, the proponents of the Bill have forged ahead with blatant lies, propaganda and far-right, bigoted rhetoric to impose their religious ideas and put fear and intimidation on Members of Parliament.

For years’ influential people such as the former speaker of Parliament, Rt. Hon. Prof. Michael Ocquaye and Lawyer Foh-Amoaning have written articles and spoken in public gatherings advocating for the punishment and continued bashing of LGBT people in Ghana. This was so much so that, Mr. Foh-Amoaning started a coalition with the same name as the original title of the bill, “Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values” and went on a campaign to promote it through the media and in 2019, they hosted the first anti-LGBT conference in partnership with the World Congress of Families, an American Far-Right Christian extremist group tagged as a HATE group. The WCF was added to the list of organizations designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as anti-LGBTI+ hate groups in February 2014 for its involvement with the 2013 Russian LGBT propaganda law and opposing LGBTI+ rights internationally. The WCF have been notorious for imposing their fundamentalist ideas of patriarchy, misogyny, Islamophobia, white supremacy and homophobia in the United States of America and other parts of the world.

Come January 2020, LGBT+ Rights Ghana, an LGBT advocacy group championing the rights of LGBT persons in Ghana and working to support victims/survivors of physical, social and mental abuse, acquired a space and invited some members of the diplomatic corps to Commission the space. However, upon hearing of the event, The Coalition called for the closure of the LGBT advocacy center but failed to mention how so many other Ghanaians also spoke up about their support for the Center and their disappointment of its closure. The Center, which was the first of its kind was to support the various NGOs and individuals get the much needed help from our education, healthcare and security agencies to curb the constant abuse and discrimination of real and perceived LGBT+ persons against blackmail, stigmatization, lack of employment, high suicidal rates, domestic abuse, sexual assault, mob lynching and emotional abuses, etc. that are prevalent in the country and have been researched and documented by Human Rights Watch. This Bill was therefore borne out of the homophobia and fear of the Coalition without the proper understanding of the event for the Office Opening, the work of LGBTI groups or without engaging with the participants and stakeholders of the LGBT+ Community. The police raided the Center and it was closed down.

A year later, the Anti-LGBT Bill was born and with the support of the current Speaker of Parliament, Rt. Hon. Alban Bagbin, who gave the go ahead for the sponsors of the bill made up of 8 MPs led by Sam George (MP, Ningo-Prampram), alongside Emmanuel Bedzrah (MP, Ho West) Della Adjoa Sowah (MP, Kpando), John Ntim Fordjour (MP, Assin South), Alhassan Sayibu Suhuyini (MP, Tamale North), Helen Adjoa Ntoso (MP, Krachi West), Rita Naa Odoley Sowah (MP, La Dadekotopon) and Rockson Nelson Dafeamekpor (MP, South Dayi).

Soon after the introduction of the Bill in Parliament, the Committee on Legal, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs of the Parliament of Ghana requested feedback from the general public, and hearings were heard for days from concerned citizens and the international community, including the then-UN special envoy for Gender Equality and other CSOs such as the ‘Big 18’ made up of renowned Ghanaian scholars and legal practitioners against the bill. Those for the bill were mainly from the religious community.

Prior to and since the inception of the bill, abuse cases against real and perceived LGBT persons have significantly increased such as the arrest and detention of 21 alleged LGBT people, beatings and suicide rates have gone high, most of which are not reported as the police tend to also act as perpetrators of abuse on victims.

It has been a tough back and forth with the media, religious leaders, entertainment icons, politicians and academics debating and arguing to and for the Bill for the last 3 years. In a highly religious country like Ghana, It came as a bit of a surprise to many that the Bill took this long and faced such strong opposition. However, with the Speaker of Parliament declining the request for a secret ballot to be held amongst the MPs, it was unfortunate that last Wednesday, the 28th of February 2024, the Bill was passed supposedly unanimously even though it’s alleged that less than 50% of the quorum voted verbally with seemingly no opposition, leaving the decision on Ghana’s President Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo Addo to assent to it or not before it becomes law or is thrown back to Parliament. Incidentally, Parliament has threatened to override the President’s veto decision if he doesn’t assent to it.

Immediately following the passage of the Bill in Parliament, the backlash towards the government soared both locally and internationally with Matthew Miller, a spokesperson for the US Department of State, saying in a statement that the United States is “deeply troubled by the Ghanaian Parliament’s passage of legislation, officially called the Human Sexual Rights and Family Values Bill …The bill would also undermine Ghana’s valuable public health, media and civic spaces, and economy. International business coalitions have already stated that such discrimination in Ghana would harm business and economic growth in the country,” Miller said.

UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said the bill is a barrier to ending AIDS.
“If it becomes law, it will obstruct access to life-saving services, undercut social protection, and jeopardize Ghana’s development success,” she said in a statement.

The International Monetary Fund also voiced its vigilance over the passage of the bill. The IMF said it’s monitoring events in Ghana after lawmakers passed a bill seeking up to three years in jail for people identifying as an LGBTQ person. “Diversity and inclusion are values that the IMF embraces,” the Washington-based lender said in a statement. “Our internal policies prohibit discrimination based on personal characteristics, including but not limited to gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation. Like institutions, diverse and inclusive economies flourish.”

Soon after these statements, Ghana’s Ministry of Finance pleaded with President Akufo-Addo not to assent to the recently passed anti-LGBTQ bill by Parliament. In a press release on Monday, March 4, the Finance Ministry cautioned that approving the bill could result in significant financial consequences for Ghana. According to the Finance Ministry’s statement, Ghana stands to lose a substantial amount of World Bank financing, estimating a potential loss of USD$3.8 billion over the next five to six years. Specifically, the impact for 2024 includes a loss of USD$600 million in budget support and USD$250 million for the Financial Stability Fund, adversely affecting Ghana’s foreign exchange reserves and exchange rate stability.

On the 4th of March 2024, The President issued a statement speaking for the first time since its passage in Parliament. He said Ghana will not backslide on its human rights record, and added that the bill had been challenged in the Supreme Court. “I have learnt that, today, a challenge has been mounted at the Supreme Court,” Akufo-Addo said in a statement. “In the circumstances, it would be as well for all of us to hold our hands and await the decision of the Court before any action is taken,” he added.

Given that Ghana was the first African country to gain Independence on the 6th of March 1957, there would be protests online and in-person in Ghana, Canada, United Kingdom, South Africa, Germany and Denmark to demonstrate against the Anti-LGBT Bill and to plead with the President not to assent to the Bill. The show of love and support from the International community in solidarity with the LGBT Community in Ghana and with the quest to save Ghana’s Democracy and secular constitution has come with much appreciation, admiration and love.

This marks an historic moment and we hope that reason and compassion will win over dogmatic bigotry. Long live Ghana!!!

#queerghanaianlivesmatter
#killthebill
#nanaaddokillthebill
.

Roslyn Mould
Vice President, Humanists International
President, Accra Atheists

This blog ©2024 Geoff Allshorn. All rights for this article returned to writer Roslyn Mould.

Australia: Support the UNRWA

Dear Senator Penny Wong,
Minister for Foreign Affairs

I am writing as an Australian with a long-time concern for human rights. In this spirit, I respectfully urge you to please reverse the decision to temporarily pause disbursement of recent funding to UNRWA.

UNRWA is the largest humanitarian organisation in Gaza. Over 2 million people in Gaza depend on UNRWA for survival. Today, those people face unparalleled humanitarian catastrophe. This inhumane decision will deal a devastating blow to more than two million refugees in the occupied Gaza Strip

The decision was made following allegations that 12 UNRWA staff were involved in the 7 October attacks carried out by Hamas. These allegations are serious and must be independently investigated, and those responsible must be held accountable.

However, the alleged actions of individuals must not be used as a pretext for cutting off humanitarian aid in what could amount to collective punishment.

Norway, Spain, Ireland and Belgium have announced they will not suspend funding, recognizing the critical role that UNRWA continues to play in the distribution of humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling recently concluded that the survival of Palestinians in Gaza is at risk. In accordance with the ICJ’s ruling, and as a signatory to the Genocide Convention, Australia must do everything it can to prevent genocide. The ruling ordered ordering Israel to take immediate and effective measures to ensure the provision of humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians in Gaza as a step to prevent genocide.

I ask that Australia reverses the decision to temporarily pause disbursement of recent funding to UNRWA, and does everything it can to prevent genocide in Gaza, including calling on Israel to allow humanitarian aid to that sufficient humanitarian aid can reach the people of Gaza.

I await your kind response to hearing of what action you have taken.

Yours most respectfully,
Geoff Allshorn
Victoria, 3094, Australia