On 19 August 2003, we lost 22 colleagues in an attack on the United Nations in Baghdad, Iraq. The tragedy profoundly changed the way in which humanitarians operate – from being respected, to being targeted – and led to the creation of World Humanitarian Day (WHD).
Today, 20 years on, our work has grown in scale and complexity. We aim to help almost 250 million people – 10 times more people than in 2003.
Out of tragedy, good things can emerge.
It is my privilege to know many people who do their bit to help others: women, refugees, detainees, children, convalescents, palliative care, disempowered and dispossessed others.
Thank you to them all. I draw inspiration from their example, and I hope that others do as well.
“Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” (Schindler’s List, 1982).
Today, and every day, let’s do something to help our fellow humans (and other living/sentient beings), and to make the world a better place for our having been a part of it. Our personal journey is finite, but we can contribute to a larger story.
Leaving a legacy of having saved or helped others, increasing the sum total of love and compassion in the Universe – surely there is no greater legacy or form of immortality.
“They say in Heaven love comes first
We’ll make Heaven a place on Earth.”
Belinda Carlisle, ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’, MCA, 1987,
Written by Rick Nowels and Ellen Shipley.
About fifty years ago, I was a geeky (and closeted gay) teenager living in a family that identified as members of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. My father was an elder, and my mother – although equally intelligent and capable – was consigned to women’s duties that were deemed to be fitting given the church’s sexist attitudes. Dad was involved in the discussions between elders of three churches at the time: Presbyterians, Methodists, and Congregationalists – who ultimately agreed to form a new church, the Uniting Church in Australia.
I recall Dad expressing frustration over the many meetings that he attended as part of these talks. He recounted arguments by those debating what would happen to expensive church property after the merger, for example: would individual churches keep the property and revenue from private schools, or would these resources be merged and shared?
Often, questions about sharing money were asked in ways that would appeal to the better angels of their nature: “What would Jesus want?”
But the common response was more cynical about keeping it for themselves: “Jesus has nothing to do with this.” – A reply that frustrated my somewhat idealistic father.
Even though I was still a young lad, I also found such hypocritical selfishness to be disillusioning to my naive childhood faith. Here were people publicly proclaiming their belief in a religious figure who, for them, represented lofty ideals – but when it came to walking the walk, they turned away from his principles. Five decades later, I see the same hypocrisy in many religious people today: televangelists, megachurches, homophobes and transphobes, cathedrals dripping with opulence while beggars starve in the streets outside. And their homes – like their hearts and minds – so often remain fortified and insulated against welcoming strangers and sharing their abundance.
This lack of hospitality created another philosophical quandary in my young life – religious folk proclaiming that sodomy was homosexuality and therefore an abomination; whereas the Bible itself explicitly explains the abomination of Sodom: “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy” – Ezekiel 16:49 (ESV). How many religious people gorge themselves upon their promiscuous materialism and overflowing cups of plenty, while refusing to extend little more than tokenistic breadcrumbs of hospitality to the stranger, the refugee, or the homeless – thereby practicing the true sin of Sodom? By contrast, how few of them open their empty megachurch buildings at night, offering their sanctuaries to those seeking sanctuary? Or donating spare rooms in their manses or parishioners’ homes to those needing shelter from the storms of life? Or gift lovingkindness to victims of domestic violence? Open their hearts and homes and families to members of our wider human family?
Such blindness to their own ethical double standards, and their willingness to seek scapegoats by blaming LGBT+ people for imaginary sins as a distraction, helped to sow the seeds of doubt in my young mind regarding the ethics of religion.
Any philosophy that presumes to explore profundity, deep meaning, or significant cosmic consequence, should concentrate on important matters instead of intellectual detritus. Even today, whenever I walk past a religious street peddler who is distributing religious tracts to passersby, I want to ask them (as I wanted to ask them when I was ten years old): why aren’t they using their time and resources to feed the poor or save lives?
Do theists want to prove their god exists? Then they should go out there and change the world. Stop navel gazing and self-indulgent debating of meaningless rhetoric. Stop showing off your imaginary piety on street corners or from the top of pulpits; get out and walk the walk. Feed the poor. Solve poverty and inequality and systemic injustice. Cure cancer and HIV and a hundred other medical problems. Abolish guns and cluster bombs and nuclear weapons. Resettle sixty million refugees. Solve anthropogenic climate catastrophe. Educate people out of their racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, cultural white supremacy and tribalism, and their worship of gluttonous capitalism. Provide universal shelter and safety. Establish a universal basic income. Provide free and universal education and health care. And what about the orphans and widows and prisoners?
Tear down the divide between western society and the so-called ‘developing world’ – a form of apartheid that is more global than the Berlin Wall, more genocidal than Hitler or Atilla the Hun, and more unethical than the white supremacist attitudes that permitted a division between slaves and slavers.
Build a better world today instead of waiting for some imaginary afterlife. It is not only immoral to ignore the approximately 14,000 children under five who die every day, but it is also akin to people in the 1930s who looked away and chose not to see the Holocaust happening before their eyes. You say you are pro-life? Then get out there and stop killing people through your wilful neglect.
Instead of waiting for some presumed miracle from elsewhere, work hard to be that miracle here and now, today. Be the answer to your own prayers or aspirations. Whatever higher ethical principle you claim to follow, let that principle live today in your life and works.
None of these actions will, in themselves, go one splinter towards providing evidence that a god actually exists, but they will help to demonstrate that maybe a form of heaven is possible, and that maybe certain ethics and aspirations are worthy of some consideration. Are theists promoting a culture that worships death, or one that promotes life, and a more abundant one at that?
These same questions could also be asked of atheists and humanists.
The distance from the Stonewall Riots of Saturday 28 June 1969 to Kakuma Pride in Kenya on Monday 26 June 2023, some 54 years later, seems like a world apart across time and space – but sadly, they are not far enough apart in ways that really matter. Both involve the oppression of LGBT+ people who have been marginalised because of nationality, sexual identity and race. This says a lot about the world – and about all of us.
With thanks to the many people who offered testimony, photos or videos of the events depicted herein. Due to safety considerations, I cannot mention their names or show visual representations of the faces of participants.
For people in western nations, attendance in a Pride event can be a fun and safe way to participate within, or support, local LGBT+ communities. I have attended many such events, and my involvement in the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras some years ago – with its startling and invigorating involvement of people from many nations – showed that such events can provide supportive and safe spaces for LGBT+ people who live in cultures that are not so free as our own.
Much of the modern LGBT+ equality and Pride, came from queer civil rights activists a generation ago, who protested and ‘came out’and stood against the police brutality and societal/family violence, the political and religious hate speech, and the oppressively homophobic and heteronormative culture of their times. Most famously, the Stonewall Riots that began on 28 June 1969 helped to shape the modern push for LGBT+ rights. The cohorts who led those riots – drag queens and trans folk – are currently the target of hate, discrimination, and lies by phobic people across the western world. But the fight continues.
Meanwhile, when pondering the glam and the glitter, the fun and fabulosity, and the steamy sexuality and supportive solidarity of such events, it is perhaps no wonder that young LGBT+ people in oppressive cultures might also want to hold their own Pride, as a way of feeling self confidence and personal pride within societies that still reject, criminalise, imprison, or oppress them on a daily basis. Yet, for them, the battle continues on a much deeper level as they aspire for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
In 2018, Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya was the site of what is believed to be the world’s first LGBT+ Pride Parade to take place in a refugee camp. Five years later, the Kakuma Pride 2023 organising committee issued a passionate and worthy statement that was ignored by the #UNHCR, by #KenyaPolice, the #CommonwealthSecretariat, the #EuropeanParliament, the #InternationalCriminalCourt, #BlackLivesMatter, and by the #BBC and #NBC and #AlJazeerah. Not even the #HumanRightsCampaign or #HumanRightsWatch – although Amnesty International has recently acknowledged that Kakuma is unsafe for LGBT+ refugees.
For historical and activist purposes, I am proud to document this declaration of queer independence on behalf of my friends involved in Kakuma Pride 2023:
As we celebrate our pride today, we stand before you as LGBTIQ asylum seekers who have experienced immense persecution and injustice. Our journey has been one of resilience and courage, but also one filled with pain and discrimination. Today, we want to shed light on the dire situation faced by many individuals like us, particularly in the context of signing of the Anti-Gay bill in Uganda.
The signing of this bill in Uganda marks a dark chapter in the history of human rights and equality. It not only perpetuates hate and discrimination but also exacerbates the struggles of individuals seeking refuge and protection. For years, the LGBTIQ community has faced persecution, violence, and marginalization, both within their home countries and in the refugee camps they escape to in search of safety.
As LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees in the Kakuma refugee camp, we have experienced firsthand the daily challenges and injustices we face. Despite the fundamental principle of refugee protection, many of us have not been recognized as refugees. This lack of recognition denies us access to work, education, scorlaships, free movement, marriage, legal protections among others. We are left vulnerable, exposed to further discrimination and abuse, our lives are totally miserable.
It is disheartening to witness the international community turning a blind eye to our plight. Our dreams of finding safety and acceptance are shattered when faced with the reality of being denied recognition as refugees. We are left in a state of perpetual limbo, our lives hanging in the balance with no certainty of a better future.
The Anti-Gay bill in Uganda further exacerbates the challenges faced by LGBTIQ individuals. It institutionalizes discrimination, promotes hatred, and perpetuates violence. It is a direct attack on our inherent rights as human beings, rights that should be universally protected and cherished. It is a step backward in the fight for equality and social justice.
We must not forget that human rights are not conditional. They are not privileges bestowed upon a select few; they are inherent to every individual, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Our struggles are not isolated; they are interconnected with the broader fight for human rights, equality, and freedom.
We implore all of you today, both within kenya and international to take a stand against the injustices faced by LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees in kakuma refugee camp. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that no one is left behind, that no one is forced to endure persecution simply because of who they are or whom they love.
We must collectively urge governments and international organizations to recognize and protect the rights of LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees. We must advocate for inclusive and comprehensive policies that foster an environment of acceptance and understanding. By doing so, we can create a world where every individual, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, can live without fear, prejudice, or discrimination.
Together, we have the power to bring about change. Let us join forces to dismantle the barriers that perpetuate hate and discrimination. Let us create a world where love triumphs over hatred, where acceptance replaces intolerance, and where justice prevails over injustice.
*Happy Pride to you all*
A transgender woman and LGBTQ refugee advocate in Kakuma, tells me:
“The day started like any other colourful normal days since all along we have been anxiously waiting for this to happen, it’s our day and happens once in a year. Folks came in bigger numbers well dressed in rainbow colors, miming , modeling ,and for others were in kitchen busy preparing the best meals of the day. The theme of the of the day was, ‘Say No to Homophobia, Out and Proud’.”
She also confided why rainbow coloured umbrellas were so common among those who attended or participated: they had awaited the day like Christmas, and they knew that police might attack any rainbow flags; so they wore rainbow colours and carried rainbow umbrellas, which were equally out and proud. She states: “We didn’t like any trouble with police, that’s why we did it smart”.
Social media was filled with photos and videos of the Pride Kakuma event: happy, laughing young people, dignified and snappily-dressed trans women and drag queens, couples laughing and dancing and gyrating together joyfully, families and children watching the show and cheering and applauding. Stage decorations and rainbow flags and bunting and balloons, and the promise of a communal lunch for people who can be ordinarily denied food by an inadequate UNHCR rationing system that bullies and excludes LGBT+ refugees from collecting food. It did my heart good to see scenes of young LGBT+ people – so often denied dignity and respect and even life in Kenya – enjoying a sense of pride and community for just one encouraging day. Sadly, in order to protect the safety of those involved, I cannot share most of these joyous photos and videos with the world.
Due to the intervention of Kenya Police, it started to all go wrong. The event was stormed by truckloads of armed police, the decorated stage was destroyed, the flags were ripped down, and starving people had their food stolen. Arrests were made, and joyous crowds were intimidated and dispersed. Once again, this time in order to protect the safety of the victims, I am unable to share widely the photographic and video evidence of this stormtrooper brutality.
One lesbian connected to the Kakuma Pride 2023 organising committee sent me a report on what happened:
A REPORT ON THE PRIDE EVENTS THAT TRANSPIRED ON JUNE/26/2023 IN KAKUMA REFUGEE CAMP, KENYA
On June 26, 2023, a significant incident unfolded during a Pride ceremony organized by LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees in Kakuma refugee camp. This report aims to provide an account of the events that transpired, focusing on the police intervention that resulted in the removal of decorations adorned with rainbow colors.
We organized a pride ceremony as a community of LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees to celebrate our identities and advocate for our rights. The event was planned as a peaceful gathering to foster unity, raise awareness about the challenges we face as a vulnerable group, and to promote inclusivity and acceptance. Our theme was “Say no to homophobia”.
Kakuma Refugee Camp is formed of several blocks that add up to an estimate of twenty five blocks plus Kalobeye settlement which is made up of villages that contain LGBTIQ folks (asylum seekers and refugees), this pushed us to have several meetings spire headed by the current LGBTIQ elected committee to decide on where to have our event from, majority voted for Block 13 compound hence our ceremony took place at Block 13 compound where we decorated the area with vibrant rainbow-colored flags, banners, and other symbolic elements representing the diverse LGBTIQ community. Participants, including asylum seekers, refugees, activists, and allies, gathered to share personal stories, speeches, engage in performances, and demonstrate solidarity.
During the pride ceremony, a contingent of police officers arrived at the scene in lorries and other police vehicles, the squad moved towards was lead by the OCS Kakuma main police station, they were then approached by human rights defenders and amnesty International focal person in Kakuma however no genuine reason was for their coming was presented, they then proceeded to put down our simple stage and other decorations adorned with rainbow colors, citing unspecified reasons for their actions. The sudden intervention by the police caused confusion, frustration, and distress among us, our rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly were violated and as normal human beings, everyone condemned the action even in their presence.
As LGBTIQ asylum seekers/refugees we expressed deep disappointment over the police intervention. Many viewed the removal of the rainbow decorations as an act of discrimination against the LGBTIQ community, undermining our right to celebrate and express our identities openly. The incident caused a significant disruption to the pride ceremony and left us feeling marginalized.
The events that transpired on June 26, 2023, during the LGBTIQ pride ceremony for asylum seekers and refugees in Kakuma resulted in the removal of decorations adorned with rainbow colors by the police. This incident sparked widespread controversy and drew attention to the ongoing struggles we face as LGBTIQ individuals seeking asylum and refugee in Kenya. It underscored the importance of promoting inclusivity, understanding, and respect for the rights of all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. further more, investigations and dialogues are necessary to address the concerns we have raised as LGBTIQ community and ensure that similar incidents do not occur in the future. It is crucial to create an environment where all individuals can celebrate their identities and advocate for their rights without fear of discrimination or persecution.
The trans woman also reported the arrival of a contingent of police trucks filled with officers who surrounded the event, disrupting celebrations and preventing the scheduled Pride March. She exposes the heartbreak of what began as a day of joy:
At exactly 1:00pm the Kenyan police stormed our Pride party before we even had lunch which our team had taken long hours preparing. Six police patrol vehicles arrived, and one big truck full of men in police uniform with batons, guns and tear gas tins. They didn’t ask anything from us. They just started demolishing our stage and our decorations in Block 13, and they even took our flags. When we tried to ask them questions.they never answered us. I guess their mission was to stop and demolish the party. That was the end of the party: tears and grief wrapped up our day.
A gay man in the camp tells me:
As the Pride celebrations went on, we saw police vehicles pass by in abnormal numbers. As we went on during the lunch hour we fell into an ambush of police trucks which had police officers with whips guns and tear gas. They stormed and dismantled the our celebration and flags torn down threatening to arrest us all if we didn’t vacate and call off any celebrations.
Another trans woman reveals that the violence spread beyond the police:
“I was going back home from the Pride event in the evening and I met a Sudanese gang. I didn’t manage to know how many were they in number, but they were many. They immediately started beating me, but I managed to run quickly as soon as they started beating me. But reaching home I found myself having a lot of pain on my face and the neck.”
Meanwhile, oppressed LGBT+ communities across Africa remain vibrant, largely underground and subversive, informed and self-educated – if somewhat in the closet. I have been introduced to their writings, poetry and music, and have been privileged to publish some of it on my blog. The remnants of colonialism continue to rob Africa of seeing and acknowledging some of its sensitive, creative, and diverse intellectuals and artists. But they will endure.
This is perhaps the most challenging legacy from Stonewall: that LGBT+ rights were triggered by a rebellion led by trans and drag folks – many of them non-white – who inspired privileged white queers to demand their civil rights. Today, those same racial and sexual minorities call upon those with privilege to ally themselves with fighting injustice. Do we heed their call?
Among the diverse queer communities in Kenya, another voice summarised the Pride events in Kenya with a sound of informed optimism:
END OF PRIDE MONTH 2023 MESSAGE!!
As the clock ticks endlessly towards the end of the month of June, time has passed, and here we are ending the Pride Month of June 2023, the International Pride Month in the Rainbow Community. This is the month that marks the refusal by the patrons of the Stonewall gay bar in New York to bow to the brutality of the NYPD in 1969, thus triggering world-wide resistance to homophobia. But as we here know so well, and perhaps more than many, the battle is far from won, and may never be, as people around the world listen to the hatred spewed out of the mouths of homophobes, encouraged by politicians out for a quick vote, and bigoted religious leaders out to control the hearts and minds of those who follow them.
We have to believe that we will be free to love whom we wish, and that there is nothing shameful or perverted in being LGBTQ. We are not the children of Satan, as so many would have you believe, thus breaking up families, and turning parents on their children, children who should be seen as the most precious elements in their lives. Let us stand together, whatever our differences in the LGBTQIA+ community, for, united we stand, Divide We fall.
Africa has so much to offer the world: culture in the form of music, dance, the visual arts, and the intelligence of technology. It is a vibrant continent, but can only be truly so once it embraces the wonders of sexual diversity, and puts aside old perceived and unquestioned ideas concerning whom or what one may love and identify with.
#SOLIDARITY ACROSS BORDERS.
QUEER HUB AFRICA .
I commend such wisdom from those whose fight continues on a daily basis.
Postcript: Information from Pride Kakuma was delayed following sad news, received the next day, of the death of an LGBT+ refugee in Nairobi. The whole LGBT community in Kenya – refugees and others – mourned the loss of their friend and comrade. I am aware that Edgar is not the only loss since Pride. RIP also to Jeremiah who was lost in Kakuma this week. This is the reality against which Pride Kakuma is working, and it behoves the rest of the world to confront this violence and homophobia.
To all the heroes of Kakuma, I say: Please be ‘out’ and proud of yourself – but only in ways that are safe. Be wise. Be careful. Be vigilant. Protect yourself and your rainbow family. We want you all to stay alive so you can change your world.
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There are many legitimate local fundraising efforts to assist LGBT+ refugees with food, medicine and shelter – such as this and this and this. You are invited to contribute, or to investigate further.
My own work includes being a volunteer Board member of Humanity in Need – Rainbow Refugees – please donate here to maybe save a life or alleviate genuine suffering, and I also invite you to investigate further and maybe join our efforts.
NOTE: This report may be subject to change as further information becomes available. I defer to the writings and wishes of those whose perspectives I seek to give a voice.