Interview with PAI’s Anthony Oluoch: Decriminalising LGBTQI+ on the African continent

An interview with PAI Programme Manager, Anthony Oluoch. By Alex Garner from Hornet.

This article was first published in Hornet.com.

LGBT communities across Africa face all sorts of challenges. Pan Africa ILGA is an organization dedicated to supporting LGBT organizers and activists across the continent. In fact, Pan Africa ILGA just brought together nearly 300 LGBT activists at their regional conference in Gaborone, Botswana. We had the opportunity to speak with Anthony Oluoch, one of the conference organizers, about the struggle for LGBT equality across Africa.

Africa is an enormous continent with diverse LGBT experiences. What is Pan Africa ILGA doing to advance LGBT rights across the continent?

Being an organization with membership across the continent, we at Pan Africa ILGA understand the diversity of social, economic and political contexts that exist in the continent.

The issues people face in North Africa with regard to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression are completely different from those faced in Eastern and Southern Africa. The way to deal with these issues also differs from context to context.

Knowing this, Pan Africa ILGA works with member organizations on the ground who know what they need done and how best to do it. We’re focused on increasing the ability of activists on the ground to better advocate for their rights with regards to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression at national, regional and international levels.

We train activists on human rights mechanisms including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the United Nations Human Rights Council and Treaty Bodies. We give them information on how best to use these mechanisms to fight for their rights and ensure non-discrimination on any ground, including LGBTI status.

We also create spaces in which activists can meet each other and learn from best practice while exchanging ideas on the work they do in their various regions.

What are the biggest issues facing LGBT people across Africa currently?

In most African countries, same-sex conduct has been criminalized. It’s a form of state-sponsored discrimination. The issue of security leaves LGBT vulnerable to violence and harassment, as it is implicitly sanctioned or approved by the government. Also, people may not know what their rights are. Training LGBT to better understand their rights is very important.

What advice do you have for LGBT activists across Africa who want to do more?

Listen to people on the ground and discover what can be done. Listen and act. Don’t just assume they know what the issues are.

What do you think it will take to change anti-LGBT policies in countries like Uganda?

A lot of work. It has to involve a lot more than just changing the laws. We need to focus on the mindset of the community and culture to create long-term change. That can include media advocacy and sensitization among police and other government officials, religious leaders, the health sector and the judicial system.

What are some specific actions people can take to support the efforts of LGBT activists around the issue of decriminalization?

Support activists on the ground. African activists need to be able to lead while global activists assist from behind by sharing resources and offering support, so as not to reinforce the belief of “western import” of LGBT.

Anthony Oluoch is a Kenyan lawyer who has worked within the LGBTI movement since 2011. He worked as the Legal and Human Rights Officer at the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya where he was instrumental in the design and initial implementation of what was then, a strategy towards decriminalization of adult consensual same sex conduct. He then joined Gay Kenya Trust, an organization that works towards equality and non-discrimination for all including gay and lesbian individuals in Kenya. He sits on the advisory panel of the Queen’s Young Leaders Award and the board of the IDAHOT Committee. Tony joined PAI in 2017.