By: Ingrid Schoonraad, IAM Regional Program Manager

In November 2009, IAM and The Rainbow Project (TRP) Namibia hosted the First African Dialogue on Christian Faith and Sexuality.  77 Participants from 13 African countries participated. This dialogue was unique in its aim to show people of faith, be they lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or straight, that they can be Christians who are open about their sexuality and beliefs.  It was a first encounter for many participating clergy (some commented that they “had never seen a LGBTI person!”) and LGBTI people (some reported they were “scared of the power religious leaders hold in their communities”) to talk with one another. Most participants expected a fight, some a war, instead IAM and TRP created a space where people could be themselves and respect diversity.

After the dialogue the individual voices became a collective shout from southern and east African countries, asking IAM to please help them to prepare for dialogue with faith communities and with the integration of sexuality and spirituality in their countries. In 2010 this was the birth of IAM’s Regional Partnerships Program.

By March 2013 IAM (South Africa) had been a catalyst for dialogue and the inclusion of diversity in organisations in Malawi, Kenya, Namibia, Lesotho and Uganda.  Despite different contexts, the challenges LGBTI people experienced were the same. Sexual and gender non-conformity was (and still is) portrayed as un-African, allowing atrocities such as ostracising people from families and communities and even violence. Repressive laws, coupled with homophobic rhetoric, had an absolutely damning and negative effect on the ability and capacity of LGBTI people to organise, express and create visibility, to claim their rights and access the same.  Religious fundamentalists, in their public condemnation of LGBTI people and their rights, gave a green light to the person on the street to express their prejudice and homophobia in horrific, intolerant ways. In South Africa we all came together for a strategy meeting to get to know each other, learn from each other, discuss and plan our work together.

Over the next few months, I’ll introduce you to IAM’s partners in the region.

At present IAM works with partners in nine regional countries – Malawi, Kenya, Namibia, Lesotho and Uganda, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Ghana. In July 2019 we will meet in South Africa again at a regional strategy meeting where we will reflection on and evaluate the long process each country has taken towards inclusion and changing behaviour.  As equal partners, we are excited for all voices to be heard. We believe in collaboration – LGBTI communities and allies working together, and that individual transformation will change the collective and systematic.