Boys will be boys, and girls will be jailed

Girls are entering into the juvenile `justice’ system at an alarmingly increasing rate. One reason is that girls are arrested more often than boys for status offenses and are more severely punished for those offenses. The thing is those `offenses’ are not crimes. That’s what makes them `status’ offenses. If the girls were older, there would be no offense, no crime.

But they are girls, and they must be protected from themselves. This is the vicious cycle that has been constructed in exactly the same period that has witnessed girl power on the rise: “In a 2010 national census of youth in custody, girls comprised 16% of all detained youth but 40% of those were detained for a status offense. At one time and in some states, girls comprised more than 70% of youth detained for status offenses.” This is the United States’ program of no girl left behind. This is girls’ educational program in the United States.

Why are girls so lucky, when it comes to prison? One answer is paternalism, which expresses itself as a need to protect girls from themselves and the world; a curious comfort with “with using locked confinement to access services for girls with significant needs”; and intolerance towards “girls who are non-cooperative and non-compliant.” Boys will be boys, and girls will be jailed.

At the same time, “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth are twice as likely as other youngsters to be detained in a juvenile detention facility for status offenses.” Why? LGBTQ youth often run away from home or, more precisely, from family rejection. According to one report, 40 percent of homeless youth self-identify as LGBTQ. Living on the streets means engaging in “survival crimes”, like theft. But it also involves an expanding and intensifying universe of so-called status offenses. Once again, LGBTQ youth are jailed to protect them from themselves.

This program for LGBTQ kids is the United States national education program. In schools LGBTQ children suffer harsher punishment, both formal and informal, for truancy, absenteeism, and dress code violations. A vicious school-to-prison pipeline drives the “non-cooperative and non-compliant” further and further into the ground … or else.

Today, the Treatment Advocacy Center released The Treatment of Persons with Mental Illness in Prisons and Jails: A State Survey. Here are the numbers: “In 2012, there were estimated to be 356,268 inmates with severe mental illness in prisons and jails. There were also approximately 35,000 patients with severe mental illness in state psychiatric hospitals. Thus, the number of mentally ill persons in prisons and jails was 10 times the number remaining in state hospitals.” Since 2008, the situation has worsened.

From girls to LGBTQ youth to those living with severe mental illness, the crime committed is that of living, of being alive. And what of those at the crossroads of this nightmare, what of young lesbians who are living with severe mental illness? They are marked as non-cooperative and non-compliant, many times over. They were never meant to survive.


(Photo Credit:

Mujeres unidas, jamás serán vencidas!

From Madrid to Paris, from London to Berlin and all over Europe, women and men went to the streets to demand respect for women’s rights, including the right to decide to continue or end a pregnancy. These massive demonstrations were a response to the attempt from the Spanish government to curtail women’s rights with an outrageous bill.

In Spain women and men rode the “train of freedom,” to reach the capital. The older participants remembered the time before the first laws in the 80s when women risked their lives for not pursuing an unwanted pregnancy. The younger were afraid for the future of their lives. Men expressed worries for their partners, their daughters. Many were afraid of the moral and social setbacks and the threat of the extreme right rule. After all, the time of Franco dictatorship left its marks on the Spanish population.

Sizeable demonstrations took place in 32 cities in France. Thirteen women politicians from the left to the right, who also recently supported LGBT rights, launched an appeal to the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. They noted that Spain has often led Europe in passing progressive laws that made headway in defense of women’s rights, especially targeting sexual and sexist violence. Spanish law inspired other countries like France in shaping better anti sexist laws to address violence against women.

People who joined or supported the demonstrations know that what is happening in Spain is just one side of a multifaceted battle against women’s rights and public services that is raging across Europe. These rights are social rights.

Annie Ernaux who wrote an iconic book on her experience with abortion when it was illegal, asks, “Is it really unfathomable to imagine a return to clandestine abortion? I have always been convinced that nothing is ever definitely won for women.” What happened to women when their reproductive rights were not respected? “We would see women dying of hemorrhage, septicemia, or losing their uterus” recalled Martine Hatchnel a gynecologist who started working before the Veil abortion law.

As the neoliberal crisis has extended its grip on populations through austerity measures, Europe has experienced a certain hardening on human rights issues and the rise of far right power. However, the Spanish government’s attack on women’s rights has galvanized a stronger opposition than expected. 81 % of Spanish people oppose the bill; throughout Europe support for reproductive rights is increasing. In France these rights have been reinforced in law, social organization, and public support, which is large.

There is a movement that demands that these rights be recognized as nonnegotiable in the EU. For example, Portuguese European deputy Edite Estrela has tried to have sexual and reproductive rights recognized through a vote on her Report on Sexual and Reproductive Rights, which had already been altered with the removal of LGBT sexual rights.  Her report was defeated by only 7 votes, largely because a translation error led to some thirty votes being misdirected. Estrela is appealing the decision. This Report would have broadened the commitment to sexual and reproductive rights within the EU, especially directed toward Ireland, Poland, Spain, Malta and Italy.

Revolt and indignation are brewing across Europe, according to Isabelle Louis, of Paris Planning Familial and one of the organizers of the Paris demonstration. Visibly pregnant, she read the declaration of the French Family Planning in support of sexual and reproductive rights. She said that there was something very important taking place during this demonstration as she observed the varied crowd, men, women and definitely with a trans-European coloration. She saw older women too old to march showing their support from their windows and balconies.

Isabelle Louis concluded that the battle continues and this time she’d like to believe that it could be won!


(Photo Credit: L’Humanité)

Make way for Alice Nkom

Alice Nkom

Last year was a busy year for Cameroonian lawyer Alice Nkom, but then again … it was a busy year for the Cameroonian government, and its various allies, persecuting and prosecuting anyone it suspects of being gay, lesbian, transgender, of a sexuality, feminine, or different.

This year promises, or threatens, to be equally busy. This week, leading Cameroonian LGBT rights activist Eric Ohena Lembembe was found tortured and murdered. These are urgent times in Cameroon, as noted today at Africa Is a Country, and Alice Nkom, as ever, is in the thick of the urgencies.

Alice Nkom was the first woman to become a lawyer in Cameroon. That was in 1969, and she was then 24 years old, and she’s been kicking through ever since. Over the last four decades, Nkom has been a leading civil rights and women’s rights activist and advocate in Cameroon, and for the last decade or so has become famous, or infamous, for her defense of LGBTIQ persons, communities and rights.

In February 2003, Nkom established ADEFHO, L’association pour la défense des droits des homosexuel(le)s. The Association for the Defence of Homosexuals has suffered threats, attacks, intimidation. Nkom has received death threats. She has been imprisoned. She has been threatened with being disbarred. And she persists and returns to court again and again.

In December of last year, Alice Nkom once again was in the news when an appeals court upheld the three-year sentence of her client Jean-Claude Roger Mbédé, whose crime was sending another man a text message that read, “I’m very much in love with you.” In July, Mbédé was released provisionally, and so this sends him back to jail, to the harassment and assaults “at the hands of fellow inmates and prison authorities on account of … perceived and unproven sexual orientation”. He goes back as well to the general hellhole of Yaounde incarceration, a prison originally built for 600 that now houses 4,000.

In February 2012, 10 women were arrested on suspicion of being lesbians. No proof was given. No proof was needed. Suspicion is enough, when it comes to protecting the nation. Men have been arrested and imprisoned for hairstyle and for drinking Bailey’s Irish Cream. These crimes of fashion proved the men were feminine and thus gay and therefore worthy of incarceration. Perception is everything.

All of this is happening, as Alice Nkom has argued repeatedly and to varying degrees of success, in a country that has a modicum of respect for the rule of law, to the extent that it has codified due process. The law that authorizes the current abuses is Article 347, which, somewhat ironically, may not even exist. Again repeatedly and to varying degrees of success, Nkom has argued that the law never passed through the appropriate committees and procedures in the National Assembly.

No matter. Somehow this non-law law has authorized the State disruption of a seminar on HIV/AIDS education and prevention, because there was something in the air about empowering sexual minorities. Perception is everything.

It’s not easy taking the high human rights road to attack the State. In Cameroon those organizations that have argued and mobilized around health issues pertinent to same-sex relationships, and particularly to MSM communities, have fared better in the international sphere, vis a vis funding, and have even received some support from the Cameroonian government. But when Nkom received funding from the European Union, “she was immediately threatened with arrest and a fatwa by pro-government youth groups.”

Last year, when her own arrest seemed imminent, Nkom wrote to leading Cameroonian LGBT activists: “Do not worry for me. I believe I will be arrested in the coming days, but I will not lose sleep over this or, especially, abandon what we have begun together.” It’s been a busy year for Alice Nkom, a year of pushing on, pushing back, pushing forward. Nkom has heard the rumble of violence, menace and threat, and has a direct response: “Threats like these show us that the fight must continue”

(A different version of this was originally published at Africa Is a Country. Thanks to Sean, Tom and the collective for the collaboration and support.)

(Photo Credit: Journal du Cameroun)

Welcome, asylum seeker, to the society of the queer spectacle

In the United Kingdom, gay asylum seekers increasingly feel pressured to prove they are gay. In the last three years, the United Kingdom Border Agency rules, and application of rules, for those seeking asylum based on persecution of sexual minorities in their home countries have changed.

Previously, the policy was one of `discretion’, in which gay asylum seekers’ applications were rejected because, it was felt, the asylum seeker merely needed to act with greater discretion. If she or he was tortured, it was her/his fault. If she or he was killed, again, her/his fault. If she or he was kicked out of family and community and left to suffer the ravages of the streets, she or he should have known better. It was a policy of shut up, go away.

In 2010, a Supreme Court decision changed that. In the case of HJ(Iran) and HT (Cameroon) vs. Secretary of State for the Home Department, an Iranian gay man feared imprisonment and lashing, while a Cameroonian gay man was terrorized by his neighbors. The Court rejected discretion: “An interpretation … which denies refugee status to gay men who can only avoid persecution in their home country by behaving discreetly (and who say that on return this is what they will do) would frustrate the humanitarian objective of the Convention and deny them the enjoyment of their fundamental rights and freedoms without discrimination. The right to dignity underpins the protections afforded by the Refugee Convention.”

Since then, with mounting austerity-led, privatization-pushed campaigns by the State to close the non-existent asylum pipeline so as to protect the country from the non-existent tsunami of asylum seeking detritus, that compassionate “opening” has been translated into a cross between a peep show for the State.

Gay? Lesbian? Transgender? From a dangerous, toxic place, which could be your household, could be your neighborhood or `community’, could be your country, because you’re gay or lesbian? Prove it. Hunted down by the State and/or Civil Society because of your sexual minority status? Prove it. If you don’t have the scars to prove it, well … show us some skin.

It’s the society of the spectacle, in which gay and lesbian asylum seekers, who have not only suffered so much but have had to work strenuously to finally make it to “safe haven” are told they must labor some more … now to prove their sexual identity. In 1967, Guy Debord described a new society of the spectacle, in which labor and capital were shifted from production of goods to production of spectacle. He began writing and thinking of an “integrated spectacle (that) has transformed the world economically … using police methods to transform perception”. In 1992, Debord wrote: “The same formidable question that has been haunting the world for two centuries is about to be posed again everywhere: How can the poor be made to work once their illusions have been shattered, and once force has been defeated?”

How? Make them work to prove their claims to identity. Make them work to prove their claims to existence. This is where the spectacle of queer asylum seekers makes economic sense.

A lesbian woman from Uganda fled for her life to the UK. Upon arrival, “the UKBA officials wanted me to prove that I was lesbian but they wouldn’t tell me how I could.” Her application was denied. She spent months in Yarl’s Wood. She brought copies of Ugandan newspapers that called for her murder if she should be seen in Kampala. These were disregarded. Finally, she was given asylum. But first she had to do all the work. The State said no, sat back, and watched.

There all sorts of legal debates about the implications of the Supreme Court decision, touching on `queer cases’ and the law, the legal meaning of discretion, where lines should and shouldn’t be drawn, assessment protocols for LGBTQ asylum seekers, good sense and common sense, the centrality of LGBTQ rights on the map of human rights, the rights of gay men and lesbians to live freely, openly and on equal terms. The list goes on.

But there’s something else, something not of the courthouse but rather of the everyday world of work. Major investments are made in prisons and their outlying service networks for asylum seekers. It costs money to house a Ugandan lesbian asylum seeker for months. It costs money to threaten her with deportation, day in and day out. Major profits emerge from those investments. At the same time, there’s a newer form of extraction, that of making the asylum seeker work to prove identity claims. So … welcome gay man, lesbian woman. You have traveled so far and struggled so much. Welcome to your new workhouse, your new poorhouse … your body, your self, the new, and not so new, queer spectacle.

Read Study Work

Read Study Work

Read study work
(pardon my punctuation)
jailbirds all equal
in their prison-orange

(Adult education courses
will be compulsory
ABET from levels 1 to 4)

Read study work
pardon the spelling
and the homophobia
of a tweeting Hawk

Remember your Vaseline,
Jub-Jub, quips he,
unaware apparently
of sexual violence inside

A fresh-faced musician
hip-hopping his way
guilty on murder charges
(what example is he
to our fresh-faced youth)

Read study work
rehabilitate yourself
and the homophobes
wherever they masquerade
(befrocked, veiled and the like)

Rehabilitate yourself
so that you may join
the world outdoors
of your particular prison

Read study work
in prisons transformed
into schools (where matrics
go through the rites)

Like we didn’t know
of the school called prison
and their myriad graduates

Student of life – and French-speaking too – Hawks man McIntosh Polela says sorry for tweeting ‘in poor taste’; whilst Jailbirds to ‘read, study, work’ (Cape Times briefs, Friday Oct 19 2012).


(Photo Credit: Readucate)


Thinking Through Lesbian Rape: The silence is deafening, crippling and deadly!

June 2012: raped, mutilated, shot, killed and murdered

Phumeza Nkolozi

Thapelo Makhutle

Sasha Lee Gordon

Sana Supa

Hendrieeta Thapelo Morifi

May 2012 Geneva

Navi Pillay spoke loudly against Hate Crimes in South Africa and Africa.

February 2012 Present on Hate Crimes in South Africa at CSW55

Minister  of Women, children and people with disabilities Ms.Lulu Xingwana

Minister of Correctional Services Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Ngakula

Minister of Social Development Ms Bathabile Dlamini

Deputy Minister of Police Ms Maggie Sotyu

2011 stoned, stabbed and murdered Noxolo Magwaza

2010 raped, murdered and raped again: Nontsikelelo Tyatyeka;

2010-raped, strangled and living Milicent Gaika

2009 beaten to a pulp and later died Girly Nkosi

2008 raped, stabbed and murdered

Eudy Simelane…list continues…


Why are our Women leaders silent…when children are being killed like animals in South Africa?

As I write this article, the silence of women, mothers, and women ministers is deafening.  I feel crippled and my bones are no longer strong to stand and I ask for mothers of South Africa and women to stand and fight now to end this massacre.

The list above is nothing to celebrate after Youth Day events on June 16th -celebrating the memories and strength of resisting oppression that lead to the Sharpeville massacre. The above list of youth who have lost lives in the same month we celebrate many youngsters, by year and women we are counting on to take this agenda on and stop killing your children and you to be here and fight for lives of women you know and do not event know.

How could we have celebrated Youth Day when there is again a massacre! Where are the  women loving women, lesbians and gay men in my country to stand and stop this gendercide?  Who is writing about us and telling the world we are being killed? We need to take stock and action as see fit to be the ones to make a change. Our sisters, mothers, aunts, lovers and women are being raped, murdered, raped again and savagely cut under the gaze of the world.

Ms. Lulu Xingwana in February 2012 she presented at CSW55 on taking action on LGBTI issues of hate crime. Three months later we have bodies of LGBTI people-killed brutally- and No word Ms Minister! The time isnow!

What has happened to women leaders in our country who have not shed a tear or been seen or heard to condemn these crimes? As many mothers cry for their murdered and watch brutally severed bodies- that are not even recognizable many appear to console and give sympathies.

So we wait for the next one and then the next and go for after tears drinks and wait for the next.

It that how we are living, by the gun so to speak?

How many lesbians, women who love women and gender-free people are in line? What are we doing? This is a war declared on our bodies and we Must Stand together and there is not time to shine as individuals. We work together or divided we are falling. Fast into the dust.

Just this past Sunday, we marched in Paris with many women who had the opportunity to be in France from South Africa, at that time bodies were found, women shot, raped and I fear that the silence of our women leaders is serving our deaths. We are in danger with no choice to life.

We marched in solidarity with the world and all people who know of humanity-mothers, fathers, and brothers. Muholi  also remarked that the march was for all  LGBTI individuals who can’t because of homophobia, lesbophobia, queerphobia, transphobia, xenophobia… all the phobia that are there to be. We made a mark and our presence was clearly heartfelt by those who were there and yet the reality back home is just too scary to imagine, she said.

Muholi said, “Rape has made us powerless, though we threw our hands in the air and said ‘Amandla’ it is a pity that power we supposed to claim is imaginary as we continue to lose our LGBT people along the way”. Muholi, who brought her all women football team Thokozani to participate the Foot for Love Games said she was feeling destroyed inside at the silence of women ministers in particular, those stood in at the Commission on the Status of Women to protect our rights to life. We are worthy women too!

“They read newspapers and none of them have said a word. It is disheartening and I feel crashed at the thought of families who are going through this pain”, she said. And yes we all hear it and it is time that we stand and speak to our mothers and save lives that are falling so fast to dust as we weep and mourn for another life lost.

Mothers, mothers who is protecting your children when they  are being attacked and raped and no voice speak to say enough! The men, who are allowed to rape, kill and rape at will -as they please at their pleasure. Is this the freedom we talk about?

We cannot be silenced any longer and those in power that we all vested for you to represent us Stand Up! I am standing! Are you?

This is not JUST to brutally take lives as though they are free for taking! We will not be silenced and-if you choose to remain silent and unheard- then you have blood on your hands! Justice must prevail for all and I call you, you and you to end violence.

Glenda Muzenda

This post first appeared here: Thanks to Glenda and to Sokari Ekine for this collaboration.

Security of Sex: Legally Bound (and Gagged)

In the good ‘ol US of A, we’ve been seeing some odd juggling around not just civil but human rights under the new administration. President Obama has been under fire for reneging on his campaign promise to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and for offering support of DOMA, though Obama recently issued a statement negating his previous statement. And the good news has been that there has been vigorous debate and even some voting regarding the Matthew Shepard Act.  These three issues are supposed to represent the pinnacle of LGBTQ rights in America: the right to shoot people for my country, the ability to legally enter into a heteronormative institution and the ability to put more people in jail for longer. OK.  These are considered basic civil rights that affect the entire ‘community’.   The problem is that none of these topics actually relate to the needs of the larger LGBTQ community, because is there is no community, no consensus.  The only thing uniform about this community is that there are individuals across every major racial group, ethnicity, gender, sex, religion and class that consider the ability to discriminate and even harm LGBTQ persons a necessary right.  Such universal disempowerment only exists for one other group: women.  Despite this, the larger issues affecting the LGBTQ community of domestic and sexual violence and abuse, unusually high suicide rates, under-education, harassment both generally and by police, discrimination, heteronormativity, etc. are overwhelmed by marriage, military and prison. Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, the struggle for ‘equality’ looks a little different in South Africa, but only a little. Africa’s largest economy has had full legal equality for LGB persons since the ratification of the post-Apartheid constitution, gender identity and expression or transgender rights are not listed.  Despite having one of the most liberal constitutions in the world, South African LGBTQ persons are commonly subject to brutal acts of violence.  And they aren’t the only ones.  In particular, African lesbians in South Africa have been explicitly targeted for gang-rapes.  I’ve talked about this particular situation before, that women and specifically queer women are targeted is no accident.  That these acts are not causing mass outcry or even being consistently investigated is no accident.

The United States of course is no better we just have a legal term for these types of acts. Individuals who commit these ‘hate crimes’ are often portrayed as either marginal and extreme or victims themselves of an awkward circumstance, in South Africa they are generally faceless groups of males, assumedly black.  Such portrayals justify larger apathy and inaction by removing these acts from the larger debate. When violence against LGBTQ persons is mentioned as being part of larger systemic prejudices, it is usually to say that violence is caused by laws against LGBTQ persons, that it will wane once there is full legal equality.   It is the same argument that has been used for women for more than a century.  Yet, the elephant in the room is the fact that South Africa has those legal rights that the mainstream American LGBTQ organizations are hung up on and not only are LGBTQ persons in South Africa not equal, they are the subjects of intense discrimination and violence.  Full legal equality, whatever that means, will not magically create a society of equals because the issue is only in part about laws.  It’s like giving someone painkillers and saying it will cure cancer.  No amount of legal progressivism will undo the damage of a country’s President making a mockery of rape and being elected despite it.  It is primarily about power and how disempowered groups are balkanized and ranked creating a system in which low class African males in Johannesburg and minority males in California gain power through the gang-rape of lesbians.

Reliance on law, regardless of whether or not the laws are good, has not accounted for a lack of willingness to enforce.  The U.S. is established as the imprisonment capital of the world and South Africa is playing catch up.  If a state emphasizes that criminalization and long sentences equal justice but refuses to actually prosecute or even investigate acts of violence against LGBT persons, of color and women especially, then that government not only seems to condone these actions but sends the message these are just actions.  They are public services.  It’s the same message that both the Apartheid and Jim Crow governments sent in their heydays.  Yet, now the messages are masked by so called legal progresses. The moral of the story remains the same as it has always been, ‘no one’ cares if you are poor, black, queer and/or female, no matter where you are.

(Photo Credit: