Monday, 13 July 2009

Out in Africa

Dave Armstrong reports on Manchester's gay support groups that are providing inspiration for LGBT communities in Malawi and Uganda.

I first called Manchester Lesbian & Gay Switchboard (now LGF Helpline) in 1996. Within days I was using the fabulous Icebreakers social and support group for men who are new to the city and/or coming out. Within months I became one of the facilitators of Icebreakers alongside the wonderful Gary and Gywn. Within a year I became a switchboard operator.

For the past 13 years - give or take some months off here and there - I have been a volunteer at Icebreakers. We have been helping men in Manchester come to terms with and celebrate their sexuality.

But it doesn't stop there...

Being Gay in Malawi

A few years ago Icebreakers were approached by a couple of guys in Uganda and Malawi. People who were embarking on offering services similar to the LGF and Icebreakers around issues of sexuality and sexual orientation.

The group in Malawi operates with a host of volunteers providing workshops and safer sex courses in prisons across Malawi.

In June this year, I visited Malawi and met up with the leaders of the initiative in a Blantyre car park to give them some condoms and lube sent from the UK.

In Malawi homosexuality is still illegal, but progress is being made, one of the members of the G A Y group is now a member of parliament.

However, If you are gay in Malawi there is the possibility of a prison term but no precise indication of the length of sentence.

Being Gay in Uganda

Icebreakers were also approached by a remarkable man from Uganda called Frank.

Frank had seen Icebreakers Manchester and he wanted to create a similar group in Uganda, offering gay men a voice, offering gay men a life where they can be supported by others in their situation and protect gay men from the violence and hatred that they face.

In Uganda, people are publicly outed and then publicly attacked, imprisoned and tortured. Frank has had an amazing battle so far; he's run off into hiding so many times, faced eviction, death threats, but he still continues to fight. He continually challenges the prejudices that LGBT people face in Uganda.

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Association’s 2009 map on LGBTI rights in the world shows that gay people in Uganda face a prison sentence from 11 years to a life-long sentence. In 2005 same-sex marriage was criminalized. LGBT citizens have been granted asylum in other countries.

In April a Ugandan newspaper published an article under the banner headline, "Top Homos In Uganda Named." This followed a recent anti-gay conference in Uganda featuring a board member from the American "ex-gay" organization Exodus International.

We may think our fight for equality is nearing its end but there is so much still to achieve.

Whenever you think that all’s well with the world and that lesbian and gay people are positive, supported and empowered please spare a thought for our brothers and sisters in Africa, who are not only faced with the highest rates of HIV in the World (one in seven have HIV in Malawi and one in eight in Uganda), but also the almighty hatred that still goes on - with no clear end in sight.

To find out more about Icebreakers Uganda and offer words of support and encouragement to Fred, click here.



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