From 20-22 July 2019, IAM hosted its first gathering of our regional partners in nearly five years. Over 50 participants representing 10 countries and 15 organizations came together in Johannesburg, South Africa for three days of intense reflection and planning. We looked broadly at the context of LGBTI people throughout Africa, took stock of our individual country and organisational impact since the last gathering in 2013, brainstormed on our shared values and the potential impact of the regional network, and started to more clearly define the partnership.
The network is a loosely affiliated group of organizations that are working on LGBTI issues and recognise the importance of effecting transformation in faith institutions and amongst faith leadership. While some, like IAM, have the mandate to explicitly work with faith institutions to create more inclusive and affirming faith spaces for LGBTI people, other partners focus on issues such as improved health services or legal reform and recognise faith institutions as a critical stakeholder that they must engage with to make lasting change.
The consultation was timely, celebrating the recent win of the Botswana High Court decision to decriminalise same sex sexual acts, while at the same time reflecting on the negative decision by Kenya’s High Court upholding the country’s ban on gay sex. Daniel Olwango, CEO of NYARWEK attributed the loss of the Kenyan petition at least in part to the lack of support and understanding by the religious leadership in the country, who have a significant impact on legislation and public opinion. “If a LGBTI person is being violated,” he said, “they’re being violated because there a religious leader stood in a pulpit and said it is wrong to be LGBTI. But if we have all the religious leaders standing in pulpits and saying let us preach peace, love and compassion then no violations will take place…They are some of the principle instigators of violence towards LGBTI persons. If we ignore them we are doomed…If we do not engage with the religious leaders then we will be in a vacuum. Nothing can happen without engagement with the religious leaders.”
Ingrid Schoonraad, IAM’s Regional Programme Manager, spoke about the importance of the event for the network. “It was important to hear the voices of our partners and get their input of what is needed within their contexts before we move forward as a regional network. I am excited about our future work, although challenging, the network will prioritize positive change (transformation), inclusion and human rights for all people within our different contexts. Partner collaboration, support and solidarity will strengthen us on this journey.”
While the group has operated as a network since 2013, with some partners forming part of the group more recently, there have been few opportunities for this kind of regional cross-pollination of ideas. The group closed the session filled with ideas and inspiration about working collaboratively with their partners, and a renewed commitment to developing the network further. IAM plans to release a report of the three-day workshop publicly later this year, sharing the findings and reflections from the group with others working in the space.