Thursday, July 3, 2008

Getting Voices Of Witness Out Of Africa

By Katie Sherrod

Reposted from with permission.

Several of us have been trying for months to figure out how to get the voices of LGBT Africans heard at the Lambeth Conference -- you know, as part of the listening process that every Lambeth Conference since 1978 has called for. And as a response to those bishops who insist there aren't any LGBT people in Africa.

Getting LGBT people physically to Lambeth was proving very difficult because it's hard for them to get passports/visas because so many of them can't get jobs because they are gay -- or in the case of straight allies, because they are sympathetic to the LGBT cause. The British immigration people don't care why they are jobless -- they won't let them in if they don't have a job back home.

So the idea of a Voices of Witness Africa video similar to the Voices of Witness 2006 video produced by Louise Brooks for Claiming the Blessing seemed a natural way to do it. But videos are expensive to produce and raising money takes time. The first bloc of money didn't come in until the first of June.

So with less than ten days to prepare -- getting visas, lots of shots, setting up interviews, arranging for equipment, reassuring spouse/partner/children that we would be safe, and taking a big gulp of faith -- Cynthia Black and I headed off to Africa to try to talk to as many LGBT Africans as we could. We were looking for witnesses to the fact that yes, there are LGBT folk in Africa, just as there are all over the rest of the world, and yes, many of them are faithful Christians, even -- dare I say it -- Anglicans.

We videotaped their stories to show at Lambeth to as many bishops as we can corral, and perhaps, at General Convention 2009.

We had raised enough money to get us to London, where we could interview some GLBT Nigerians who had fled there for sanctuary; and then on to Uganda and Kenya. And to get us back home, where I am now trying to compress 20-plus interviews into a reasonable time frame for a video while doing justice to the stories of these courageous people.

It is an awesome responsibility, for just by talking to us these folks are risking more than any of us privileged people can begin to understand.

Among those we talked to is
* a transgendered [F to M] Nigerian
* a partnered lesbian activist in Uganda
* a transgendered [M to F] Ugandan
* one of a pair of gay 20-something twins in Kenya
* a gay Ugandan farmer whose dream is to own two acres of land to grow his sugarcane
* gay partners in Kenya who dream of having their union blessed
* a gay Nigerian who was beaten badly simply for being gay

There were many more. We also interviewed some of their straight allies -- a Ugandan bishop, a Kenyan Anglican priest, a Ugandan law professor and feminist; and a Kenyan Methodist minister.

And while my editor and I are putting together a dynamite video, this isn't the finished product.
We need to raise money to:

1. Visit more African nations and interview even more LGBT Africans.
2. Add production values such as more music, archival footage, etc., that cost money for rights.
3 Distribute copies of the expanded video to each and every bishop in the Anglican Communion.
4. and pay Cynthia and me for our work-- something that would make our long-suffering loved ones happy.

We can do items 3 and 4 for about $15,000. To do items 1 and 2 we'll need at least $35,000 -- travel in Africa is very expensive.

If you can help get these Voices of Witness out of Africa and into the hands of the bishops, here's how:

Integrity is set up to be the fiscal agent for VOWA. Checks should be made payable to "Integrity" with "VOWA" in the memo line and mailed to the address below.

There is a VOWA option for online giving

When I asked these Africans what they wanted to say to the church, here's some of what they said:

"If the church happens to allow inclusion and let our voices be heard and let us tell our story how it is, it will go a long way because as a gay man or lesbian woman -- your dreams and aspirations are most times caught at a point . . . you have ideas and you have visions and you want to do things for the common good for humanity but you are kind of like, you get caught up and you don’t want your voice to be heard and you don’t want to raise the dust as they say, so you just stay quiet and so your voice, your dreams, your vision just dies with you." -- A gay Nigerian

"Another question is do they really know that we have gay people in our churches? Do they really know that they worship in those same churches and when they preach sermons which are going to send them away rather than to bring them to Christ what are they really doing? What do they think when people run away from Christ rather than come closer to Christ? Do they really know that this is a reality? Those are questions that they should ponder, they should sober up, come together and reflect, not fight amongst each other. We are one. God is not happy, and God wants us all together." A gay Kenyan

"It is because the high profile people in Uganda and to hear them inciting the public how to treat us it really hurts me. These are people especially the Church leaders who are supposed to be preaching love, tolerance, and acceptance and instead they are the ones trying to preach the opposite of that. Like in today’s newspaper the whole head of Church in Uganda, Orombi, is busy wasting time about gay marriages in UK instead of concentrating on pressing issues that affect the people of Uganda like the war in Northern Uganda. They are busy talking about people married in UK. They are wasting time on issues which are not really a big deal." A lesbian Ugandan

"Well, I think the bottom line, when it comes to God – God is love. And that should be it. Homosexuals do not practice something else, we are not killers, we are not murderers, we are not molesters, we are not bad, We are like your average people, except that we choose to love in a different way, but at the end of the day it is love -- we love deeply, truly, honestly, and we should be given a chance to show that to the world. Do not force people into closets. Instead talk positively about people like us, homosexuals, so that people who for whatever reason they think that we are bad because they do not know any better, when they hear this from leaders in the church, they might change their attitudes and make it better for us to exist." A lesbian Kenyan

"I would love to let people know that homosexuality is not the epitome of what is wrong in this world. I’m out, but I’ve come to realize that people perceive me as what is wrong with this world. If asked what is wrong with this world, I’m sure they’d go like "that gay man is wrong with this world." Now I’d love people to know, that is not what is wrong with this world. There are far more worst things to be in this life, worst things that they themselves do behind closed doors. I’m open about this and this is not the worst thing to be in life and if anything, it’s the best thing." A gay Kenyan

Let them be heard.

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