Trump’s comment about “s-hole countries” impacts LGBT asylum seekers

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Rev. Irene Monroe
Rev. Irene Monroe

President Trump’s proclivity for racist remarks comes as no surprise to me. His now- infamous comment stating a preference for immigrants coming from a Scandinavian country like Norway than from Africa and Haiti, which he depicts as “shithole” countries with nothing to offer the U.S, is based solely on his ignorance.

Mr. President, Africa is a continent. As a matter-of-fact, black African immigrants are the most educated demographic group in the U.S., surpassing those of us born here — black or white. According to the Los Angeles Times, they come from five major countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa.

Trump’s comment now makes it more difficult for these immigrants to enter the U.S. The challenge, however, will be particularly arduous for LGBT asylum seekers. Many people flee their countries to avoid criminalization, torture, violence, public persecution, political scapegoating, and moral cleansing.

Many of the governments they flee argue they do not like the world’s interference in their business, especially the U.S. They contend that being LGBT are anathemas to African and Afro-Caribbean identities, cultural and family values. It is one of the many ills brought over by white Europeans. It is a similar homo/transphobic polemic still argued among religious and uninformed conservative African Americans.

Sadly, the debate between” authentically “African” and Western colonial remnants always finds some way to dispute the reality of the black LGBT existence. Therefore, coming out LGBT in many of the African and Caribbean countries is dangerous. For example, approximately 38 of 54 countries in the African continent criminalize same-gender consensual activity.

We all have heard of the human rights abuses of Uganda’s LGBT population. The country’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill dubbed “Kill the Gays bill” criminalized same-sex relations. And, depending on which category your sexual behavior was classified as — ”aggravated homosexual” or “the offense of homosexuality” — you’d either receive the death penalty, or if lucky, life imprisonment.

Gay activist David Kato was the father of Uganda’s LGBT rights movement. He didn’t live to receive either punishment. Kato, beaten to death with a hammer, was murdered in January of 2011.

John “Longjones” Abdallah Wambere, a friend of Kato’s and co-founder of Spectrum, an LGBT rights organization, is also an activist. Fleeing from persecution Wambere was approved asylum in 2014. He now lives in my ‘hood” of Cambridge, MA.

Last summer, at the 2017 DignityUSA conference in Boston Warry Joanita Ssenfuka, director of Freedom and Roam Uganda, spoke on being a Catholic lesbian activist in Uganda. LGBT people have no legal protections there. They frequently suffer violence and imprisonment. Ssenfuka is a plaintiff in “Sexual Minorities Uganda v. Scott Lively.”  Lively, a white racist, homophobic Pentecostal pastor of Springfield, Massachusetts, is accused of persecuting LGBT people abroad, resulting in the introduction of an Anti-Homosexuality Bill he helped engineer in Uganda. The bill is a crime against humanity under international law say activists.

Throughout the African continent, there are stories of homophobic bullying, trans bashing, and every kind of abuse of its LGBT population. However, the one country you don’t expect to hear anti-LGBT rhetoric and human rights abuses from is South Africa.

South Africa is the first African country to fully support LGBT civil rights. But South Africa has a problem with its LGBT population, especially its lesbians. South Africa’s method to remedy the problem with lesbians is “corrective rape.”

On any given day in South Africa, lesbians are twice as likely to be sexually molested, raped, gang-raped than heterosexual women. Reported estimates of at least 500 lesbians are victims of “corrective rape” each year! And in Western Cape, a province in the south west of South Africa, a report put out by the Triangle Project in 2008 stated that as many as 86 percent of its lesbian population live in fear of being raped.

In Haiti, a country that is predominately Roman Catholic, homosexuality is condemned. Among Haiti’s LGBT middle and profession classes they find ways to socialize out of the public “gaydar” and with impunity. However, for the poorer classes of LGBT Haitians who live, work and socialize in the densely populated and impoverished capitol city of Port-au-Prince and its countryside, discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender expressions is commonplace. The 2002 documentary Des Hommes et Dieux (Of Men and Gods) by anthropologist Anne Lescot exposed the daily struggles of Haitian transwomen. Blondine in the film said, “When people insult me because I wear a dress I am not ashamed of how I am. Masisis (gay males) can’t walk down the street in a wig and dress.”

Trump’s administration may very well make it difficult for Africans and Haitians to come to the U.S. But, he cannot stop asylum seekers.

Legally, it is a universal human right to seek asylum, and the U.S has been offering asylum to LGBT people from around the world since 1994. And, morally, governments have an obligation to come to the aid of those fleeing persecution, a minimum standard any decent government recognizes.

But as much as Trump’s “shithole” comments didn’t surprise me, any effort by his administration to halt LGBT asylum seekers from black nations would shock me even less.