On Wednesday, November 8, the Peace and Conflict Studies, Africana Studies, and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies departments hosted “The Human Consequences of Anti-LGBTQ Policies” in the Rehm Library. Hosted by Denis Kennedy, head of Peace and Conflict Studies, the seminar featured Rev. Canon Dr. Kapya John Kaoma, a Zambian, U.S.-educated scholar, pastor, and human rights activist from Boston University noted for his research on LGBTQ+ rights and homophobia in African politics, as well as Al Green, LGBT Asylum Task Force Director and an asylum seeker from Jamaica. In addition, the panel featured two other asylum seekers, including Allan from Uganda and Neston from Jamaica.
After Kennedy’s introduction, Rev. Kaoma began by saying that discussion of LGBTQ issues should focus less on abstract policies and more on the people that are impacted by them. In many African countries, it is taught that people who advocate for LGBT rights are being paid by the West to recruit young people into homosexuality and anti-LGBTQ policies are viewed as protecting African youth from an insidious “gay agenda.” This belief is widespread, even among educated professionals.
Despite the absurdity of this claim, the West has indeed been involved in the problem: Britain took control of much of Africa during the colonial period and introduced a repressive Victorian morality. More recently, American evangelical missionaries have come to Africa and spread antipathy toward gender and sexual minorities, especially in Uganda.
Kaoma countered these proselytizers by emphasizing that there are verses in the Scriptures that are widely translated incorrectly, and that there is a condemnation of wearing mixed linens in the same chapter as the condemnation of same-sex relations. This condemnation and antipathy leads people to view gays and lesbians with utter contempt.
“Many Africans view the LGBT community as subhuman, like dogs […] we should accept that we are all human beings, and if we do this, we can relate to people who have to leave their home countries” said Kaoma. Despite the depressing status of gay rights on the continent, Kaoma urged the audience not to feel pity for the community, but rather advocate and actively work for change.
After this were the stories of the asylum seekers. Neston introduced himself as gay, highlighting the fact that it would be inconceivable for him to say so publicly in rural Jamaica. Growing up, he was verbally bullied and physically abused by his peers and emotionally scarred by the actions of adults and teachers. Seeking an escape, Neston left for the city, hoping that it would be more welcoming. It was worse. In 2014, Neston came home from work to find his partner had been attacked; he was unconscious in a pool of blood. To make matter worse, when they went to the police they were mocked at the station.
Alan knew he was different from a young age. He never wanted to leave his native Uganda, but he had no other choice. His name was put on a Red Paper, a newspaper that outs and publishes the addresses of LGBT Ugandans so that the general public and the police can harass them. Alan lost his job, ironically from a human rights organization. He sought asylum in the United States, not knowing anyone who lived here. In that process, he came across the Worcester LGBTQ Asylum Task Force, which made plans for his arrival. He misses his family very much, but prioritizes his safety above all else.
Al Green from Jamaica was also helped by the Task Force and is now a director of the organization. He came to Worcester at age 18 to attend WPI and first heard about the Task Force while there. Mr. Green said that he brings this events to colleges and churches across Massachusetts, with the primary goal being “to inspire people to activism for LGBTQ refugees.”
Kennedy brought the discussion to Holy Cross to get students in his department, and also students in general, to “think about pressing international issues related to gender,” which is a topic that might be overlooked otherwise. This objective seems to have been accomplished.
Nathan Manna ’21 remarked, “I know Pastor Judy Hanlon personally [from the Task Force] but I always thought about this issue as one of isolated cases. Hearing personal stories from asylum seekers was impactful. We [the Worcester LGBT community] are privileged because even though we might experience homophobia and hate crimes, we do not have an entire nation that is out to get us. It also made me wonder how many more LGBT Africans are in need of asylum but don’t have the money or resources.”
You can learn more about the Worcester Task Force at lgbtasylum.org.