Empowering LGBTI Youth: Uniting for an Inclusive Future was the theme of the 4th Regional Conference of Pan Africa PAI, the federation of African LGBTI organisations. Over two days, more than 250 LGBTI activists and supporters from over 30 African countries met in Botswana.
Opened by UN independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, Victor Madrigal Borloz, the conference featured high-calibre panels and workshops discussing the issues that matter to LGBTI people in Africa. “Our pride and love are greater than our grief and fear,” South African constitutional court justice Edwin Cameron, Africa’s highest-ranking LGBTI official living with HIV, reminded the participants.
One theme of the meeting was the need for the African LGBTI movement itself to become more inclusive. Lesbian, bisexual and queer women continue to experience male dominance in focus, leadership, decision making, and access to funding. Trans and intersex people said they still need to fight for their voices to be heard among their allies. PAI also committed do more to support non-English speakers among its membership.
The economic challenges facing LGBTI youth were another main theme. As the result of oppression, discrimination and persecution from governments, communities and families, many young LGBTI Africans are disadvantaged in accessing educational and economic opportunities. These factors also affect LGBTI people’s access to health services and mental health, especially among the young.
Working with faith-based organisations and religious leaders has proven to be one of way in which social and legal realities can be changed. Another is the use of technology. Social media presents new opportunities for organising, advocacy, and gathering evidence – a topic which was covered in many of the conference’s panels and workshops. However, conversations and personal contact remain the most powerful ways to advance the rights of LGBTI people in Africa, cautioned former UN special rapporteur on peaceful assembly and association rights Maina Kiai:
“If we are going to change mindsets, we are going to have start talking to people.”
Forums like this PAI regional conference present much-needed change to build networks among organisations representing LGBTI Africans. Joint reflection, mutual learning, and passionate debates about the movements’ opportunities and challenges must not be limited to PAI’s bi-annual conferences.
The message from Gaborone to the rest of the continent is loud and clear: United, LGBTI Africans and their allies can and will build a future of equality, inclusiveness and opportunity for themselves – especially for the young people that represent 60% of Africa’s population.