Several years ago at an event in San Francisco I asked renowned trans American Actress Laverne Cox if she would be interested in speaking out for transgender people who are being criminalized in African countries. She was on an event stage when asked the question, and in front of all present answered along the following lines: In America trans people, and especially trans people of color, have too much hardship, taking on anything more would be just too much out of reach. I found this response truthful, sad and disappointing. Why does advocacy locally preclude advocacy globally? If anything, our increasing freedoms here, albeit fraught with hardship, calls for more attention to the lack of freedoms abroad - and our duty as an LGBTQI community screams for global involvement. This month I reached out to leadership at Transgender Law Center, asking for a conversation - and despite three emails and several telephone messages have had zero response. The American transgender community is ominously silent while African transgender people are being imprisoned.
This month two transgender women were sentenced to 5 years in prison in Cameroon due to their gender identity. This headline appeared in the New York Times:
Cameroon Sentences Transgender Women to 5 Years in Prison - Human rights groups and lawyers said the sentences are the latest examples of a crackdown on homosexual and transgender people in Cameroon:
Two transgender women were sentenced to five years in prison in Cameroon this week after they were found guilty of “attempted homosexuality” and public indecency, the latest example of an increasing crackdown on gay and transgender people in the West African nation, human rights groups say.
Shakiro, identified in police documents as Loïc Njeukam, and Patricia, referred to as Roland Mouthe, both identify as transgender and were arrested in February as they were having dinner at a restaurant in Douala, Cameroon’s economic capital.
On Tuesday, they were also found guilty of failing to show proof of identity and given the maximum fine of 200,000 CFA francs, or $370.
Shakiro, a social media personality who has amassed tens of thousands of followers through her posts calling for more tolerance toward gender minorities in Cameroon, has stopped eating and shared plans to die by suicide since the verdict, according to her mother, Joséphine Marie Njeukam, who visited her in prison on Wednesday.
Ms. Njeukam said her child told her, “‘Mum, I won’t survive here for five years.’” She said that her child didn’t kill anyone or steal, and that her sexuality “shouldn’t be a crime.” (READ MORE HERE: NYT)
Here is my statement:
Melanie Nathan, ED of African Human Rights Coalition condemns in the strongest terms the witch hunts, unlawful detentions, arrests, and prison terms in Cameroon. It is time to decriminalize people's sexual orientation and gender identity in Cameroon and across Africa. The Penal Codes must be repealed - noting the extent to which they are actually abused through faulty application and through providing license for persecution by state and no state actors, alike.
We call upon the American Transgender Community and all LGBTQI communities to bring pressure to the Biden and Harris administration, and to make their American representatives aware of the prison sentences.
To jail a person for 5 years simply because they are living according to their innate and authentic gender identity and sexual orientation, is cruel and dangerous and one of the worst imaginable human rights infractions, especially because these women are unlikely to survive the five years.
This, in effect, is a death sentence.
We must bring awareness to the Cameroonian leadership, and deliver a better understanding of what it means to be trans. It is not okay to merely admonish Cameroonian leadership, without having provided the educational awareness. Not enough has been done in the realm of correcting the harm done by Colonialists who delivered hateful penal codes criminalizing and punishing sexual orientation and gender identity.
It is incumbent on all of us to work on behalf of Patricia and Shakiro, to get them released from this cruel injustice. With all this said, it is important to note that when we do advocate, protest etc. from foreign continents, we must do so with informed care, and always under the guidance of those on the ground in the countries concerned. Melanie Nathan: nathan@AfricanHRC.org Where is trans America? Where is LGBTQI America? Time to ACT NOW or we may as well note that our SILENCE = DEATH!!