Every LGBTQ+ Person Should Read This

Written by : Sarah Pager , Founder and Director of Quist

Sarah Prager is best known for the creation of the Quist mobile app. Quist is a free app for iOS, Android, and Windows that brings LGBTQ and HIV history to life with a following of over 35,000 from over 100 countries

Sarah Prager is best known for the creation of the Quist mobile app. Quist is a free app for iOS, Android, and Windows that brings LGBTQ and HIV history to life with a following of over 35,000 from over 100 countriesSarah  Founder and Director of Quist

Dearest Queer Person,

Chances are you don’t even know that you are holy, or royal or magic, but you are. You are part of an adoptive family going back through every generation of human existence.

Long before you were born, our people were inventing incredible things. Gifted minds like the inventor of the computer Alan Turing and aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont live on in you. The imprint that bold and brilliant individuals like Lynn Conway and Martine Rothblatt (both transgender women alive today) made on modern technology is impossible deny as present-day engineers carry their torch in the creation of robots and microprocessors. More recently speaking, one of the co-founders of Facebook publicly acknowledged his identity as a gay man, as did the current CEO of Apple.

We were so often gods and goddesses over the centuries, like Hermaphrodite (the child of Hermes and Aphrodite), and Athena and Zeus, both of whom had same-sex lovers. In Japan it was said that the male couple Shinu No Hafuri and Ama No Hafuri, “introduced” homosexuality to the world. The ability to change one’s gender or to claim an identity that encompasses two genders is common amongst Hindu deities. The being said to have created the Dahomey (a kingdom in the area now known as Benin) was reportedly formed when a twin brother and sister (the sun and the moon) combined into one being who might now identify as “intersex.” Likewise, the aboriginal Australian rainbow serpent-gods Ungud and Angamunggi possess many characteristics that mirror present-day definitions of transgender identity.

Our ability to transcend gender binaries and cross gender boundaries was seen as a special gift. We were honored with special cultural roles, often becoming shamans, healers and leaders in societies around the globe. The Native Americans of the Santa Barbara region called us “jewels.” Our records from the Europeans who wrote of their encounters with Two-Spirit people indicates that same-sex sexual activity or non-gender binary identities were part of the culture of eighty-eight different Native American tribes, including the Apache, Aztec, Cheyenne, Crow, Maya and Navajo. Without written records we can’t know the rest, but we know we were a part of most if not all peoples in the Americas.

Your ancestors were royalty like Queen Christina of Sweden, who not only refused to marry a man (thereby giving up her claim to the throne), but adopted a male name and set out on horseback to explore Europe alone. Her tutor once said the queen was “not at all like a female.” Your heritage also includes the ruler Nzinga of the Ndongo and Matamna Kingdoms (now known as Angola), who was perceived to be biologically female but dressed as male, kept a harem of young men dressed in traditionally-female attire and was addressed as “King.” Emperors like Elagalabus are part of your cultural lineage, too. He held marriage ceremonies to both male-identified and female-identified spouses, and was known to proposition men while he was heavily made-up with cosmetics. Caliphs of Cordoba including Hisham II, Abd-ar-Rahman III and Al-Hakam II kept male harems (sometimes in addition to female harems, sometimes in place of them). Emperor Ai of Han Dynasty China was the one whose life gives us the phrase “the passions of the cut sleeve,” because when he was asleep with his beloved, Dong Xian, and awoke to leave, he cut off the sleeve of his robe rather than wake his lover.

You are descended from individuals whose mark on the arts is impossible to ignore. These influential creators include composers like Tchaikovsky, painters like Leonardo da Vinci and actors like Greta Garbo. Your forebears painted the Sistine Chapel, recorded the first blues song and won countless Oscars. They were poets, and dancers and photographers. Queer people have contributed so much to the arts that there’s an entire guided tour dedicated just to these artists at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

You have the blood of great warriors, like the Amazons, those female-bodied people who took on roles of protection and had scarce time or interest between their brave acts to cater to the needs of men. And your heart beats as bravely as the men of the Sacred Band of Thebes, a group of 150 male-male couples who, in the 4th century B.C.E., were known to be especially powerful fighters because each man fought as though he was fighting for the life of his lover (which he was). But your heritage also includes peacemakers, like Bayard Rustin, a non-violent gay architect of the Black civil rights movement in the U.S.

We redefined words like bear, butch, otter, queen and femme, and created new terms like drag queen, twink and genderqueer. But just because the words like homosexual, bisexual, transgender, intersex and asexual, have been created in the relatively recent past doesn’t mean they are anything new. Before we started using today’s terms, we were Winkte to the Ogala, A-go-kwe to the Chippewa, Ko’thlama to the Zuni, Machi to the Mapuchi, Tsecats to the Manghabei, Omasenge to the Ambo and Achnutschik to the Konyaga across the continents. While none of these terms identically mirror their more modern counterparts, all refer to some aspect of, or identity related to, same-gender love, same-sex sex or crossing genders.

You are normal. You are not a creation of the modern age. Your identity is not a “trend” or a “fad.” Almost every country has a recorded history of people whose identities and behaviors bear close resemblance to what we’d today call bisexuality, homosexuality, transgender identity, intersexuality, asexuality and more. Remember: the way Western culture today has constructed gender and sexuality is not the way it’s always been. Many cultures from Papua New Guinea to Peru accepted male-male sex as a part of ritual or routine; some of these societies believed that the transmission of semen from one man to another would make the recipient stronger. In the past, we often didn’t need certain words for the same-sex attracted, those of non-binary gender and others who did not conform to cultural expectations of their biological sex or perceived gender because they were not as unusual as we might today assume they were.

Being so unique and powerful has sometimes made others afraid of us. They arrested and tortured and murdered us. We are still executed by governments and individuals today in societies where we were once accepted us as important and equal members of society. They now tell us “homosexuality is un-African” and “there are no homosexuals in Iran.” You, and we, know that these defensive comments are not true—but they still hurt. So, when others gave us names like queer and dyke, we reclaimed them. When they said we were recruiting children, we said “I’m here to recruit you!” When they put pink and black triangles on our uniforms in the concentration camps, we made them pride symbols.

Those who challenge our unapologetic presence in today’s cultures, who try to deprive us of our rights, who make us targets of violence, remain ignorant of the fact that they, not us, are the historical anomaly. For much of recorded history, persecuting individuals who transgressed their culture’s norms of gender and sexuality was frowned upon at worst and unheard of at best. Today, the people who continue to harass us attempt to justify their cruel campaigns by claiming that they are defending “traditional” values. But nothing could be further from the truth.

But now you know they are wrong. Just imagine the world without that first computer or the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, or a huge part of the music you’ve ever heard from classical Appalachian Spring to classic YMCA (I mean, we’ve held titles from the “Mother of Blues” to the “King of Latin Pop!”). How much less colorful would the world be without us? I’m grateful that you’re here to help carry on our traditions.

So, happy LGBT History Month! I hope to celebrate with you here at Quist. This list of LGBTQ history online resources is a good place to start in exploring more specifics about this heritage.

Sarah Prager

*Actually a term as a way someone signed a letter for a lesbian organization in Mexico decades ago!

This piece was inspired in part by facts and sentiments from Another Mother Tongue by Judy Grahn (published 1984). Ritualized Homosexuality in Melanesiaedited by Gilbert H. Herdt (published 1993) is also referenced. Many of the referenced facts are cited so many places it has become common knowledge. Christianne Gadd contributed significantly to this piece. This post originally appeared in The Advocate.

Not All Transgender People Have Dysphoria – And Here Are 6 Reasons Why That Matters

I remember talking with a friend of mine who is transgender with the assumption that we both experienced dysphoria, which is the distress or discomfort that occurs when the gender someone is assigned does not align with their actual gender.

As I was talking, I could see their eyes start to stare off in another direction.

“Are you alright?” I asked, puzzled by their sudden disinterest in our conversation.

On an ordinary day, Kai and I could talk gender for hours. The only person who seemed more passionate about trans identity than me was definitely Kai.

But suddenly, in conversation that should’ve excited them, they seemed to be someplace else entirely.

“Well, I don’t…” Kai paused. “Don’t judge me or anything, but like, I don’t experience dysphoria.”

At that point, I had never heard of a transgender person not experiencing some kind of dysphoria. But there they were, right in front of me.

My instinct was to be protective over my transness. The idea that dysphoria was not required, and that anyone could just identify as trans if they wanted to, seemed to water down the importance of my identity and the struggles of my community.

No — their community. Our community.

I was getting possessive, trying to deny Kai’s identity, which was so unlike me. Just a minute ago, Kai was my comrade; now, suddenly, I was pushing them to the margins. Why would I try to tell someone what their gender is and isn’t, having spent a lifetime of being told the same?

“Yeah, I get it,” they said, seeming to read my mind. “It’s threatening to a lot of people, so I don’t often talk about it.”

But in my years as an advocate, I continue to meet more trans folks like Kai who don’t experience dysphoria, and further, who are afraid to open up about it.

I’ve been lucky enough to learn from them, and I understand now why my gut reaction – to exclude them – was such a problematic one.

So why shouldn’t we define transgender people on the basis of dysphoria?

Let’s talk about it.

  1. It Suggests That Gender Identity Is for Outsiders to Decide

It’s weird that some trans people are totally on-board with making a rulebook for transness, instead of encouraging people to self-identify and declare their gender identities for themselves.

When we allow other people to make the rules, we strip away the rights of trans people to self-identify. If we tell trans people that their identities don’t belong to them, we uphold a culture where the naming of gender identities belongs to outsiders instead of ourselves.

When I started to doubt Kai’s transness, what I was saying to them was, “You say that you’re transgender, but I don’t recognize that or believe that.” I was saying that I knew Kai’s gender better than they did. Yikes.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to exist in a world where I have to follow a set of prescribed rules before I can claim my own identity.

I should be able to declare what my gender is and have it validated, regardless of how I experience it.

Transgender people constantly have to resist having an assigned gender imposed on them. Do we really want to assign and impose a gender onto other trans people?

  1. It Medicalizes the Experience of Being Transgender

The phrase “gender dysphoria” became the go-to phrase after “gender identity disorder” was deemed offensive and inaccurate. Since then, the two phrases have been used interchangeably in the medical realm.

Need I remind you that Western medicine has been less than kind to trans people historically?

Trans people were “treated” by being encouraged to conform and accept their assigned gender rather than transitioning. Medicalizing the lives of trans people hurt us for a long, long time – it meant that we were treated as having a psychological disorder rather than a valid identity.

Placing the lives of trans people into an “illness” framework ultimately stigmatized their identities and left their needs to be dictated my “medical professionals” rather than trans people themselves.

The medical model disempowered trans people.

Trans people were treated as deviants with a shameful mental disorder, and language like “gender identity disorder” and “gender dysphoria” is tied to that history. The medicalization of trans people was a major source of oppression and harm.

When you suggest that dysphoria is the one way of determining whether or not someone is trans, you are relying on a medical model that wasn’t created by trans people, but rather, created by Western medical “professionals” who viewed transness as a disorder rather than an identity.

And I’d like to move as far away from this framework as possible.

Changing it from “gender identity disorder” to “gender dysphoria” doesn’t change the fact that it’s still operating within the same medical model and still functioning as a “diagnosis.”

  1. It’s a Eurocentric Definition of Transgender

A lot of trans folks will say that “transgender” as an experience didn’t originate in the West – and they would be correct. There have been “trans” experiences in many cultures globally, long before the West had any concept of “transgender.”

Some identities outside of the West that you might know of include two-spirit, hijra, and kathoeys, and they have a history that precedes ours.

Many trans folks in the Western world insist that to be transgender is to be dysphoric, without acknowledging that this is a very Western understanding of what it means to be trans.

It doesn’t acknowledge that transness can exist outside of the West and has existed outside of it long before we came along – with its own definitions, language, insights, and experiences.

To say that being transgender is exclusively about experiencing dysphoria is making a universal statement for all trans people, but it’s steeped in Western understandings about gender. It completely erases indigenous and international identities and experiences.

It’s tricky (and sometimes, really problematic) to apply individual understandings of gender to all people.

“Transgender” as an umbrella is so diverse and complex that it’s best to avoid generalizations altogether, and allow people to name their own experiences.

  1. It Equates Being Trans with Distress and Dysfunction

If someone came up to you and asked you what it was like to be transgender, it probably wouldn’t be as simple as saying, “It’s terrible.”

It can be terrible. The pain can be very real. But for most people, being trans is a very complicated thing that involves a whole spectrum of emotions.

This is kind of where using dysphoria as the exclusive defining characteristic of trans people isn’t necessarily an accurate way of representing the experience of being trans.

As a trans person who does experience dysphoria, I can tell you that dysphoria is not the only thing that makes me transgender. It’s not even the bulk of my experience as trans.

It’s about the journey it took to disregard expectations and find myself. It’s about the layers I had to peel away just to figure out who I was. It’s about the pride and elation I felt when I found the words to describe my identity. It’s about the sense of community I found with others like me. It’s the way that I understand gender and the way that I move through the world.

Gender is complex. Transgender even more so.

The thing that Kai and I have in common is that we underwent a process in trying to understand ourselves and our gender, teasing apart what society asked of us and what we wanted for ourselves. We both discovered through that process that we didn’t identify with the gender we were assigned at birth.

The difference is that this realization doesn’t cause distress for Kai in the way that it does for me.

And if that’s the only difference, so what?

If distress is the defining characteristic, what are we saying about what it means to be trans? And what are we telling our youth, then, too? That who they are is contingent on how much pain they feel?

I want to live in a world where transgender doesn’t equate to pain and suffering. Because ultimately, the pain we feel is not what unites us. It’s the identity we claim and the unique journey we each took to find it.

I don’t want any trans person to go through this thinking that to be trans means to hurt. That only succeeds in saying to the world, “If you want to be in pain, be trans. If you want to be happy, be cis.”

We are so much more than that. Our lives and our experiences are so, so much more.

  1. We Privilege Some Narratives Over Others

I’ve been told before that I’m not “trans enough.”

I was hurting so much the first time I heard it that I actually blogged about it (this was, pretty ironically, before I understood the asterisk is problematic).

As a genderqueer writer, I’ve been told more than once that I have no business writing about the transgender community because I’m not “actually trans.”

And since I experienced that kind of invalidation, I’ve been sitting pretty comfortably in the camp of “everyone is trans enough and your gatekeeping is bullshit.”

At what point will we stop tearing each other apart and start lifting each other up?

I know what it feels like to have an identity that completely opened up your mind and your world, something that gave you new life and a sense of home, come crumbling down at the accusation that you’re not actually trans and, instead, just following the latest trend.

I’m just not interested in creating a power dynamic where some trans people are inherently better, more worthy, more trans, or more important than other trans people. That, to me, is not what social justice looks like.

Using dysphoria as the ultimate measure of transness means that any trans person for whom dysphoria is not present, not the language or framework they prefer to use, or not significant in their experience is suddenly invalid.

It says, “These trans people are the real trans people, and everyone else should be quiet.”

Our community has a history of doing this. Take, for instance, the transgender community’s initial resistance to including non-binary people.

Oh wait, that’s not history. That still happens.

I’m fed up with the power dynamics in our community and see absolutely no need to create more; we are still struggling day after day to dismantle the hierarchies that already exist.

We can already see the ways that certain narratives are privileged over others, the ways that certain voices are heard and others are silenced. And frankly, I don’t want to be a part of that.

I think we should be disrupting those narratives – not going along with them.

We should be affirming that the trans community is diverse, complex, and unique – not monolithic and homogenous.

  1. It Breeds Transphobia

There is a pervasive fear that if we leave “transgender” as a term that relies on self-identification, it will be rendered meaningless by people who claim it for the wrong reasons.

But this weirdly mirrors a lot of oppressive attitudes that are used against all trans people.

Take the trans bathroom debate, for instance. There is a widespread belief that cis people will pretend to be trans just to get into the wrong restroom and violate other people.

Um, when you’re on the side of Fox News, maybe it’s time to reevaluate your stance.

If trans people interrogate other trans people with disbelief, we are giving permission to the rest of the world to do it to us.

If we bully trans people and tell them they are deceiving other people, or following a fad, we’re telling cis people that they can accuse us of being imposters, too.

We’re taking away the right to self-identify and giving the rest of the world permission to misgender us if they, too, decide we’re not “trans enough.” We tell the rest of the world that they don’t have to believe us because we don’t believe in each other.

If you don’t believe a trans person when they say that they are trans, why should a cis person believe you?


When my friend told me that they didn’t experience dysphoria, my initial reaction was one of hostility, judgment, and skepticism. I’m forever grateful, though, that they took the time to educate me.

I had no idea that there were trans people who didn’t experience dysphoria – but now that I know, I work hard to make sure that Kai and others like them are included in the trans community.

I’ve received a lot of pushback as a writer when I talk about dysphoria not being a requirement for trans people. And I don’t necessarily blame them. I was resistant, too, and it took a while for me to come around.

But I believe that there are greater consequences when we exclude trans people on the basis of having a different experience from our own.

We become the “gender police” that we’ve spent decades criticizing. We become the very thing that has oppressed us for so many years.

If gender isn’t something that someone else can decide for you, then the reality is that it’s up to the individual, and that there’s no wrong answer. It’s not up for debate between outsiders – it’s personal, and it always has been.

Letting go of our need to control who’s in and who’s out and, instead, investing that energy into affirming and uplifting others in our community seems like a much more worthy effort.

So who is transgender? Let’s keep it simple: Anyone who identifies differently from the gender they were assigned at birth. Full stop

Written by:  samdylanfinch

Sam Dylan Finch a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. He is queer writer, activist, and educator based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Learn about Sam Dylan

LGBT Voice urges the government to withdraw the proposed bill

James Wandera Ouma  Executive Director LGBT Voice Tanzania

James Wandera Ouma
Executive Director
LGBT Voice Tanzania

LGBT Voice Tanzania urges the Tanzanian Government to withdraw the proposed anti-LGBTI  bill (The Bill to Prohibit and Control any form of Sexual Relations between Persons of the Same Sex, 2014’) from the parliament immediately  and amend Sections 154 to 157 of the Penal Code of Tanzania that makes homosexual acts between men an illegal offense punishable with a maximum of thirty years’ imprisonment (1993, 332), it is a violation of human rights.

The significant limitations in Tanzania’s protection of human rights are the non-compliance with its international human rights obligations and the absence of protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and inability of same-sex couples to marry.

Tanzania must be held accountable for failing to recognize marriage equality rights for all couples regardless of their sex, sexuality or gender identity.” The Government should act immediately and amend the Marriage Act to ensure all people can marry because Marriage is a civil institution, governed by secular laws.

There must be specific anti-discrimination laws to protect people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Tanzanian Government makes commitments that will ensure the existence of anti-discrimination law to benefit all Tanzanians.

We also call for further reforms to ensure the legal recognition of children living in same-sex families, because under international law, children are to be afforded legal recognition and protection, regardless of their family structure. As such, all adoption and surrogacy laws should not be permitted to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

LGBT Voice Tanzania strongly encourages bipartisan support for the implementation of the recommendations to ensure effective human rights protection for all sex, sexuality and gender diverse people in Tanzania.

May God Bless  Tanzania

By James Wandera Ouma

LGBT activist Ouma on work, Tanzania and future hopes

LGBT Voice Tanzania AfricaFor 41-year old James Wandera Ouma, LGBT activism has become his life’s work. As the executive director of LGBT Voice Tanzania , Ouma works to advance equality, diversity, education and justice for LGBT people in Tanzania.

Recently, Ouma was in attendance at the Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association’s ( OPALGA ) annual awards gala at the invitation of two of the organization’s founders, Mel Wilson and Nathan Linsk. Wilson and Linsk met Ouma when they traveled to Tanzania two years ago and last year they wrote a viewpoint article for this publication about Ouma and his organization. Ouma also attended the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association ( ILGA ) World Conference in Mexico City, Mexico following his visit to the Chicago area.

“Tanzania is a country where human rights are not respected. LGBT people need to be recognized and respected as human beings and Tanzania doesn’t recognize us as human beings,” said Ouma. “We have a law that allows for a minimum sentence of 30 years in prison to life imprisonment for males who are accused and convicted of homosexual activity.”

Ouma, who is openly gay, said that he’s been arrested nine times for LGBT activism. The biggest problem, Ouma noted, are police officers who arrest people and leave them in jail for weeks or months without a trial.

“I just got released from police custody after spending four days in jail. They charged me this time with trying to recruit young people,” said Ouma. “Recently we started a safe house for young people who’ve been thrown out of their homes. Our goal is to provide food and shelter for these young people. We also encourage them to continue their education so they will have a better future. When the authorities learned about this project they immediately came to me and accused me of training the young people at the shelter to become homosexuals. That was my only charge.”

Ouma noted that the Tanzanian government has accused the west of importing LGBT people and ideas into the country as well as giving his organization money to recruit people into homosexuality and that isn’t true. The fact is, Ouma explained, the west is importing religion into Tanzania not LGBT people and ideas.

“I was born in a remote village without any roads and I didn’t have a car, motorbike or bicycle. I knew I was gay when I was young and at that time I had no contact with the outside world,” said Ouma. “The life I lived didn’t allow me to know anything because we didn’t have telephones, radios or the Internet in my remote village. The question is how could I know anything about western culture if I didn’t have access to any information about the outside world growing up.”

Ouma said that it’s not just the government that teaches hate, religious leaders in Tanzania also teach hate towards LGBT people. “I believe they [the government and religious leaders] are afraid,” said Ouma.

One of the initiatives that Ouma’s organization is working on is conducting a study to document human rights violations that are taking place based on a person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity. “We want people to share what is happening in their homes, work places, health facilities and public places. We want to talk to employers and find out why they don’t want to hire LGBT people and we want to hear from parents who have LGBT kids,” said Ouma. “We will be compiling a report that can be used as a tool and will be submitted to the members of parliament so they have first hand information about what is happening to LGBT people throughout Tanzania.”

“We want to see Tanzania be a country where people are free to express themselves,” said Ouma. “We want our country to be a place where people aren’t sacrificing their lives because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Where people won’t go to prison, get thrown out of their families, get expelled from school or lose their jobs just because they are LGBT. We want to reach a place where we can celebrate our lives. Even if we don’t see equality in Tanzania today, the foundation has been laid for that to happen in the future.”

Ouma explained that it is important for the international community to speak out about what is happening to LGBT people in Tanzania as well as put pressure on the Tanzania government so LGBT people in his country can be free and have the same rights as other Tanzanians.

As for funding, Ouma noted that LGBT Voice Tanzania doesn’t have an institutional funder so all of their funds come from individual donors who make donations online. “Our organization needs money so we can continue running our programs. We want to start a clinic where LGBT young people can access healthcare and we already have the building but we need money and technical support so we can open the clinic,” said Ouma. Ouma noted that OPALGA has already donated $500 to the clinic project.



By Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

Gay and Living on Africa’s East Coast

Pictured right: Mohamed Mbata, Deputy Director of LGBT Voice Tanzania Meddy

This past November, I sent my associate Chris Westling to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to meet with LGBT activists and discuss the lack of progress in the area of human rights as related to LGBT issues. Currently, it is a crime punishable by imprisonment to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender in Tanzania. This year, the business magazine International Business Times ranked LGBT rights in the country among the fifth worst on the continent behind Nigeria, Uganda, Cameroon, and Senegal. While some of the countries on this list are less widely known for their human rights offenses as related to the LGBT community in Africa, Uganda and its attempts to make being LGBT punishable by death is no surprise, and probably the most notorious of the lot. As sub-Saharan Africa becomes more of an economic force in the world I wanted to start looking into specific countries on the continent where human rights violations are either overlooked or just not in our collective consciousness – ones where this type of environment allows and even condones violence against LGBT youth. It’s imperative that we all know more.

Once in Tanzania, Chris met with Mohamed Mbata and James Wandera Ouma – two men who work together at LGBT Voice Tanzania. As it stands now, the penalty for gay relationships in this East African country is life in prison. But this is not the top worry of Mohamed Mbata, the openly gay deputy director of LGBT Voice. His primary concern is violence toward gay youth in a climate where assailants can act with impunity.

As a young gay man, Mbata experienced violence as a direct result of his sexuality. Once, he said, “in Dar es Salaam, I was beat up on the street by a man who had identified me for my work on LGBT rights. Stories like this happen every day. I came out as gay at 25 years old and my family was shocked,” Mbata said. “My father hated me. They’re fine now, as long as I stay far away from them.”

Mbata’s organization, based in Dar Es Salaam – Tanzania’s largest city – gives three months of entrepreneurship training to the gay youth living on the streets. The training helps vulnerable youth establish micro-businesses to help them become more self-sufficient. Mbata is cautiously optimistic and says modestly, “We are making progress little by little.” This truly is a good way to help the youth establish roots in their community, but it is only a first step and coastal East Africa needs more programs like this for change to take place on a larger scale.

The international community continues to condemn Tanzania for the open persecution of LGBT people. In a 2011 report by the U.S. State Department it was found that not only do LGBT persons in Tanzania face arbitrary arrest and violence, they also experience restricted access to health care, housing, and employment. The consequences of these actions are devastating. “Due to discrimination, many people in the LGBT community face high unemployment. They are not able to contribute to the economic growth of Tanzania,” said James Wandera Ouma, the director of LGBT Voice. It has been proven time and time again that a lack of safe healthcare services can increase HIV infection rates among men who have sex with men (MSMs).

Ouma says that “while Tanzania is a recipient of PEPFAR funding [a US initiative started by former President George W. Bush to control the spread of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa], the country cannot reach the initiative’s goals because many in the LGBT community are not reached by the services. The government must prioritize programs targeting the LGBT community for the prevention, support, treatment for the disease.”

The response to this underserved community has been met by a host of international actors. Among them is Dr. Robert Gallo’s Institute of Human Virology (IHV) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. IHV, through the leadership of Dr. Robert Redfield, has provided HIV care and training assistance to 25 facilities in the country. This vital care is proven to help reduce the amount of HIV virus in a person’s system, which can in turn reduce HIV infection rates. IHV’s team is always mindful of local environments and takes pains when delivering care to ensure a safe setting that avoids subjecting the patients to public scrutiny.

Joep Lange, the leading HIV researcher and president of the International AIDS Society (IAS), who tragically died in Malaysia Airlines flight 17 last summer, took a strong interest in Tanzania. Beginning in 1995, his team set out to dramatically improve the situation for those living with HIV/AIDS in Tanzania. International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) reports, “some 500,000 Tanzanians are now on HIV treatment. The trial Lange sent [his team] to Tanzania for was the Petra Study, part of the landmark research showing that HIV drugs could reduce the risk of breastfeeding mothers transmitting the virus to their babies.” However, despite all of this progress, the LGBT community still faces significant barriers.

In 2011, at a meeting of Commonwealth countries, UK Prime Minister David Cameron warned that his country could start withholding aid to countries that criminalize same-sex relations. In response, Tanzanian foreign minister Bernard Membe exclaimed that, “homosexuality is not part of our culture and we will never legalize it. We are not ready to allow any rich nation to give us aid based on unacceptable conditions simply because we are poor. If we are denied aid by one country, it will not affect the economic status of this nation and we can do without UK aid.” This attitude is still present in the Tanzanian government today.

Discriminatory laws in Tanzania have received support from other governments in the region. In neighboring Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni continues to try to make being gay a crime punishable by death, and he has succeeded in making it an offense punishable by life in prison. In response to this law international donors have redirected or suspended over $140 million in aid to Museveni’s government. The bill’s supporters, in turn, argued that Western influence was responsible for the small but growing Ugandan LGBT rights movement. Ironically, US-based anti-gay groups have allegedly instigated much of the recent legislative push, which has been so detrimental to the human Rights of LGBT persons in Uganda. These Western groups take the Christian message of peace and harmony and deftly twist it into anti-gay politics.

In the neighboring country of Kenya, Deputy President William Ruto, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for his connection to electoral violence in 2007, has rebuked President Obama’s call for African nations to affirm LGBT rights on the grounds that such rights do not apply to gay Kenyans. Such laws, however, have their roots in British colonial legislation from long before independence. While the UK government has long since liberalized such prohibitions, the laws remain on the books as a vestige of the former British Empire.

In one of the more publicized incidents, a mob attacked the KEMRI HIV/AIDS research center in the coastal town of Mtwapa, Kenya in 2010. People’s fears were exploited; they were incited to violence by misinformation and hatred towards LGBT people. Over the course of the next three years, as a result of this violence, local religious leaders staged a campaign to bring awareness and understanding of LBGT issues. “Most people don’t know the truth, that is why they hate,” said local Mtwapa Bishop Lawrence Chai of the reconciliation efforts over the years.

Back in Tanzania, James Wandera Ouma, continues to speak about the fundamental role local activists play in this movement. “I know what life is like for LGBT Tanzanians. I know how it looked thirty years back and how it is today. Things have gotten worse. Hate speech from political leaders has increased, arbitrary arrests of gay people are on the rise, and reports continue to flow into our office of suicides due to rejection of an LGBT family member. As more and more people come out of the closet, we are experiencing violence on the streets like never before.”

Despite deteriorating political conditions, there is still a sense of hope in the LGBT community. “I was thinking for a long long time, that I thought maybe one day people could hear about me,” said Ally of the LGBT Voice. “This organization is perfect for me. Through it, people in East Africa and around the world can hear what is happening to our gay community.”

LGBT Tanzanians are not alone in being violently persecuted for their sexuality. As the profile of gay rights grows globally, so too has the backlash from anti-LGBT campaigners. In response to this ongoing struggle for equality and safety, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton established the Global Equality Fund in 2011. The fund is a collaborative effort of governments, businesses, and civil society to support local programs, which work to advance the human rights of LGBT persons around the world. Secretary of State Kerry has worked with and supported the Global Equality Fund. Now 11 countries have joined together (including the first Latin American partner, Chile) to promote social justice in Tanzania and other countries where it is a criminal offense to choose who you love. To date, the fund has already contributed to local LGBT rights programs in over 50 countries. As Secretary Clinton said in Geneva in December 2011, “gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.” I encourage you to visit state.gov/globalequality to learn more about the work being done in the name of equality for all.


Written by 

Chairman & CEO, JOD Global Philanthropies

The Real Situation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Individuals and Activists in Tanzania

DSCN2943  By James Wandera Ouma,

Executive Director

LGBT Voice Tanzania




Homophobia against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and activists in Tanzania (LGBT) in Tanzania is well known. The challenges vary from everyday personal hardships to high-level factors such as hostility from civil society organizations, religious bodies, government, and law enforcement. In many cases, homophobia is perpetuated by policies that criminalize Homosexuality or neglect our basic human rights. Harassment, rejection, and violence lead many of us to actively hide our feelings and relationships, denying ourselves the social support that could improve our health and quality of life. As people come to know LGBT people and have better information about us, we may achieve common understanding that LGBT people are interested in the same rights and privileges as others in our society.


Section 1: History, causes and expressions of homophobia and discrimination in Tanzania

The root causes of Homophobia against LGBT are many and varied. Lack of knowledge about Homosexuality is an important factor, leading to misperceptions and fear of promotion of Homosexuality.

The Tanzanian Penal code section 154-157 criminalizes Homosexuality with a penalty of 30 years imprisonment, and in some cases life imprisonment. Facing such laws, we cannot disclose our sexual orientation to a health care provider, employer, and school teachers even family without risking criminal sanctions. This hinders provision of vital prevention information, testing, and care, threatens family and community support, may lead to loss of housing, employment and exclussion from school. There are no outreach workers providing HIV prevention information and services to LGBT due to the fear of being accused of supporting illegal activities, such as “promoting homosexuality.

Negative images of Homosexuals in the media and linking Homosexuality with illegal or “immoral” behavior increase Homophobia. The growing trend toward criminalizing Homosexuality heightens the homophobia which is realized through various forms of discrimination, including a statement made by Tanzania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Bernard Membe, on 3rd September 2011 excluding us from the Tanzanian family, the resulting isolation is devastating.

LGBT persons continue to experience oppression and violence that derive from:

  1. Archaic and barbaric colonial laws against adult consensual sex,
  2. Colonial Victorian ideas of morality disguised as African traditional values,
  3. Patriarchal notions of gender and gender expression,
  4. Religious fundamentalisms
  5. Strongly held social constructs that contradict the African values, acceptance, peace and shared co-existence.


Section 2: LGBT Voice

Until recently there was no voice for LGBT persons in Tanzania, and no venues for making connections, developing programs or advocacy. The  need for such a voice led  to  the establishment  of LGBT Voice  in 2009 by a group of LGBT with a cause for other LGBT in Tanzania. LGBT Voice  is a registered National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) organization with over 200 members, working to advance equality, diversity, education and justice. LGBT Voice works to advance recognition of human rights based of sexual orientation and gender identity at the national level and promote the articulation of clear national norms and mobilize international pressure because our government failed to live up to those standards.

Since 2009 LGBT Voice worked to amplify the voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people during the review of the HIV/AIDS prevention and control policy review, development of Stigma reduction strategy.  LGBT Voice is now the leading organization that works directly with the social media to ensure that our stories are heard – because as people get to know the LGBT community they come to understand that we simply seek and deserve the same things all Tanzanians do: to take care of each other and our families, to have good jobs, to support our neighborhoods and to publicly serve our local, national, and religious communities.

LGBT Voice is struggling to create a national network to ensure that groups and individuals working on these issues do so not in isolation but as part of an effective coordinated national movement, will strengthen mechanisms for monitoring, documenting and reporting human rights violations and create opportunities for leading national stake holders to work effectively together to advance clearly articulated strategic goals.


Section 3: Empirical findings on the lived experiences of LGBT persons in Tanzania

LGBT Voice`s findings show that LGBT who experience discrimination and harassment are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior. Violence and threats from family members and other sources have been linked with heightened risk behaviors, such as unprotected anal sex. Hostile behaviors directed against gay men in Tanzania — including harassment from our families and the need to pretend to be heterosexual — have also been linked with high-risk sexual behavior.

The pressure to marry and have children is also placing enormous stress on LGBT people in Tanzania. When we Gay people succumb to pressure and enter into heterosexual marriage, we maintain sexual relationships with male partners and this result in unseen sexual networks, increasing HIV risk and making it difficult to reach us with prevention information.

LGBT Voice learned through members that expectations of rejection and actual events of discrimination and violence contribute to mental health problems. Gay men in Tanzania have been found to exhibit hopelessness, chronic worry, and hyper vigilance, and common psychological responses to perceived discrimination. Social discrimination directed at LGBT leads to a greater risk of street life, laziness, suicidal thoughts, risky sex, and substance use.

Hostile conditions push us underground, making us extremely difficult to reach. A recent survey by CDC on MSM in Dar es Salaam found that only about half used a condom the last time they had anal sex with another man, and less than a third had tested for HIV in the last year. Because HIV resources are often offered at sites that provide other health services, homophobia in these settings can make it particularly difficult for Gay men to get care. Even health care workers who declare acceptance of homosexuality have been known to display homophobic attitudes when providing services, breaching ethics standards and compromising the care of sexual minorities.

An HIV diagnosis in itself can lead to significant stigma and discrimination, even from the systems that deliver HIV care. Often health care resources are not available and misinformation is common.  For example those who learn they are HIV positive may not be able to get the needed tests (e.g. CD-4 and viral load) or the required anti-retroviral treatments.  However in the community they may hear that drinking battery acid will kill the virus. So in Tanzania, we  Gay people living with HIV may medicate ourselves with battery acid rather than subjecting ourselves to stigma from seeking HIV treatment from the medical establishments.


Findings and Recommendations for the African and global social work communities

LGBT persons in Tanzania continually face stigma and discrimination, harassment and arbitrary arrests, alienation from family and faith, lack of access to social services including health, justice, housing, education and dignified livelihoods. All these, despite Tanzania being signatory  to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, particularly Article 2, and the AU values of equality and non-discrimination.

We as Tanzanian LGBT activists are not asking for any new or special rights, we urge you as African and the global, social work communities, to help us advance recognition of human rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity at the national level and promote the articulation of clear national norms and mobilize international pressure because our government failed to live up to those standards.

Support us both financially and technically in the struggle to create a national network to ensure that groups and individuals working on these issues do so not in isolation but as part of an effective coordinated national movement. Our hope is to strengthen mechanisms for monitoring, documenting and reporting human rights violations and create opportunities for leading national stake holders to work effectively together to advance clearly articulated strategic goals.


Finally we call upon our government to end violence and discrimination against LGBT citizens, abolish all discriminatory laws in existence and also call upon our government to create legal and social environments conducive to the equal enjoyment of all rights for all citizens.


Same Sex Marriage and LGBT Rights in Africa

A little over a year ago, during the June 2013 Gay Pride celebration in San Francisco, California, it was announced that that the same-sex marriage ban in California would officially be repealed. The sense of relief and celebration was palpable. A cheer went soaring through the streets and the Castro District (San Francisco’s historically gay neighborhood) turned into a massive street party.

Earlier this year, on the 24th of February, 2014, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda signed into law a draconian new Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which has led to a brutal crack-down on the country’s LGBT Community. In 2001, President Sam Nujoma of Namibia stated that, “The enemy is still trying to come back with their sinister maneuvers and tricks called lesbians and homosexuality and globalization… They colonized us and now they claim human rights when we condemn and reject them. In Namibia there will be no lesbian and homosexual left. Those who want to [continue with homosexual activities] must pack and go back to Europe.” While the president of Tanzania hasn’t said anything with regards to same sex marriage, a look at newspaper editorials in Tanzania, with a few notable exceptions, seems to support the stance that the presidents of Uganda, Namibia and many other African countries have taken.

The question I have been debating is how has the increasing movement towards same-sex marriage in many Western countries affected the situation for LGBT people on the ground in the 76 countries which still criminalize homosexuality, the majority of which are in Africa and which include Tanzania. Has the increased attention that has been given to LGBT rights throughout the world, and particularly the movement to legalize same-sex marriage, led to a backlash and a greater amount of homophobic violence in African countries? Has the Western LGBT Rights movement served to make things worse in other regions of the world, or is this the first step towards global acceptance of the LGBT community? (The early stages of the LGBT movement in the US and Europe were also fraught with great levels of violence).

A great deal of the criticism of the LGBT movement in Africa has mirrored what President Sam Nujoma has said and has given the accusation that the LGBT community is “Un-African,” that it comes from the West, that it is a form of neo-colonialism or “recruitment of children” on the part of the West and that it is unnatural. The irony in this is that it was actually colonialism that brought the anti-sodomy laws to Africa given fact that there were many indigenous traditions of homosexuality throughout the continent. According to Human Rights Watch Report titled “This Alien Legacy,” these sodomy laws were used as a way of “civilizing” indigenous Africans and were a tool of social control, so in a way “it would be an emancipatory rejection of the historical wrong of colonialism to decriminalize homosexuality.[1]”

So where do we stand now? Each and every day more countries are legalizing same sex marriage. Currently 16 countries around the world, including South Africa, have legalized same sex marriage, and same sex marriage has been legalized in certain jurisdictions of other countries. However, at the same time, there are still 76 countries that criminalize homosexuality and 5 countries that have the death penalty for same-sex relations. Same sex marriage is a long way off from being legalized in Tanzania, but the tide is slowly shifting throughout the world. As the tide changes, things may begin to get much worse for the LGBT community as the moral crusaders attempt maintain their power and politicians use the LGBT community as a scapegoat for other serious issues affecting the country. However, change will come and grassroots activist organizations such as LGBT Voice Tanzania will be at the forefront of bringing that change in this country.

“End the persecution of people because of their sexual orientation, which is every bit as unjust as that crime against humanity, apartheid” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 2004

[1] http://www.hrw.org/reports/2008/12/17/alien-legacy-0

Author : Bryan Weiner


What does it mean to be gay in Tanzania?

The International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) releases a map which shows gay rights by country. The countries with the most homophobic laws are shown in red and the countries with the most open laws are green. In between are various shades of orange, yellow and light green. Tanzania is colored a bright red, indicating that it has some of the harshest anti-gay laws in the world, short of the death penalty (those countries are shaded a dark red). The penalty in Tanzania is 14 years to life in prison for homosexuality.

But Tanzania rarely seems to make the headlines in the way that Uganda and other countries that have enacted harsh new anti-gay legislation have. There seems to be very little direct prosecution or sentences handed down to LGBT individuals in Tanzania. A new anti-gay law, similar to the one enacted in Uganda, had much less traction here in Tanzania. In many ways homosexuality seems like an issue that isn’t specifically discussed in the country, either positively or negatively.

But yet, the laws are still on the books and as a gay mzungu trying to find a sense of a gay community in Tanzania (Zanzibar specifically) it seems like either one doesn’t exist or it is so deeply hidden that there is no way for an outsider (and probably young LGBT Tanzanians) to access it. Additionally, there still is a great deal of homophobic violence and discrimination facing the LGBT community, even if it has not garnered the headlines that other countries recently have.

However, despite its lack of visibility, there is word of an active underground gay community, particularly in Zanzibar, that has filled in the void left by the strict control of male/female relations in the deeply Muslim culture on the island. One of the local nightclubs, Bwawani, famously has a gay night once a week and caused a furor in 2004 when they held a “gay marriage” on the premises.

Despite this, there are no typical signs of the “gay scene” or gay community that is found in many Western cultures. There isn’t much of a movement and it doesn’t seem to be discussed openly on very many levels. There is a strong connection between men and between women in Zanzibar that often probably turns into affection and occasionally into a physical relationship, but it doesn’t threaten the hetero-normative concept of traditional marriage; if men fool around in their youth, there is still no question that they will get married in the proper way. And often, married men also have homosexual extra-marital relations.

Every day, though, LGBT rights are increasingly an international conversation. It is an issue that is beginning to be discussed to a greater extent in Tanzania, and this discussion highlights the homophobic violence that does occur here, as well as the need to protect the concept of heterosexuality and “family values” as a core basis of society.

What does this mean for homosexual identity and rights in Tanzania and Zanzibar? What is the situation facing people who identify as LGBT or who are questioning their sexuality? How does this effect the process of “coming out” for LGBT individuals?

In this blog I will begin to explore these issues. It will look at LGBT rights in Tanzania and Zanzibar as well as a greater notion of LGBT identity in this country. I understand that as an outsider, I don’t have all of the specific answers and the direct connection to the local LGBT community, but hopefully through interviews and personal stories, this can become a rich picture of LGBT life and LGBT rights in an East African country.

Human Rights Day

LGBT Rights Tanzania Africa

James Wandera Ouma, LGBT Voice Executive Director

Today the Tanzanian LGBT community joins millions of other people in commemorating the International Human Rights Day. This day is a time for people worldwide to reflect about the meaning, importance and need for human rights. It is an occasion for the government and people of Tanzania to re-commit themselves to the spirit and letter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which we are a signatory.
The theme of the 2011 International Human Rights Day, Dignity and Justice for all of us, is especially important for the LGBT community in Tanzania particularly in the wake of increased hate speech from government officials, the Minister for foreign affairs and international cooperation, religious leaders and discriminating and criminalizing legislation against sexual minorities, which have resulted in mass hateful uprisings, direct harassment, violence intended to silence activists advocating for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender in Tanzania. These violations deprive sexual minorities of the dignity and justice guaranteed to all peoples under the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
As we celebrate this year’s International Human Rights Day, the LGBTI community in Tanzania recommits to working towards a more inclusive and tolerant society that will ensure that every Tanzanian lives in peace and with dignity, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. We emphatically stress on this day that LGBTI rights are human rights and not special rights.
LGBT VOICE Tanzania stress that human rights as stipulated by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights are God-given and inherent. It is a violation of those God-given rights to witch-hunt LGBT individuals and makes us scapegoats for all the moral and social problems that the nation is contending with. It is a violation of our human rights to deny us the right to live peacefully and contribute to the social, economic, and political progress of our country. It is also a violation of our human rights to deny us the right to access appropriate health care and education, and force us to change from our God given sexual orientations and gender diversities.
In light of this the LGBT community denounces the government’s complacent position and continued refusal to accord LGBT Tanzanians equal access to the human and civil rights every other Tanzanian is entitled to under the Constitution, and for continuing to make same sex relationships criminal.
It is LGBT Voice Tanzania`s fervent belief that the promotion of human dignity shall remain hollow unless we transform our social and political attitudes to eliminate hate and ensure tolerance for diversity.

May God bless Tanzanian and all LGBT in Tanzania?

LGBT Voice Tanzania featured in good 100 magazine


James Wandera Ouma , Executive Director LGBT VOICE

James Wandera Ouma , Executive Director LGBT VOICE

James  James Wandera Ouma wants you to imagine that someone you love is seriously ill. Now imagine taking your loved one to a hospital or clinic where care is readily available, but being turned away because he or she happens to be LGBT. For Ouma, who identifies with this LGBT community as a gay man, this is a common reality in Tanzania. As the executive director of LGBT VOICE,

Original LGBT Voice Logo Courtesy of Deane Nettles
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