As I write I need to remember to tell you of the good amazing works being done by LGBT rights activists in Cameroon. Under some of the most dangerous situations you can imagine, men and women LGBT and straight allies risk their lives (literally) and safety of families to push for the rights of LGBT persons. In addition, the important connection is being made between the rights of women and girls to that of LGBT persons. These two groups must work together and the burgeoning Cameroonian LGBT civil society movement. Advocates here know it. Anything done for “us” without “us” does not help “us” – I am told by advocates. Cameroon get’s the “us”- women, girls and LGBT persons and straight allies must be included in civil society and human rights conversations.
The rights groups we met with (in coordination with The St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation which is doing a yeoman’s work in the Global South with no money so you should go immediately here to support them with a tax free donation) in Yaounde and Douala know the risks of speaking freely to the press. We discussed it. As a writer, a journalist I must ask permission to tell these stories. How are they told? Pseudonyms? Photos or no? Mentioning dates and locations? What are the benefits vs. the risks of coming out to the press?
All the groups agreed and told me: “Be transparent, we want you to tell the truth”. They went on to say that I may use organization names doing the LGBT/women’s rights work. They have all been threatened. One woman who heads an amazing group in Douala had to move her children to France to protect them while she stayed behind to do the work. Another defender has left to France and been granted 2 year asylum. He probably won’t be able to come back. Others are arrested simply as a means of intimidation and extortion. Grease a few police palms and you are on your way. No money? Prison then.
I told them that my writing might fall on deaf ears. Or, could take off. The American media is kinda fickle like that. Cameroon is far less sexy than an anti-gay propaganda law in Russia during the Olympics. I told them in the event it does take off they have to be prepared for the increasing exposure. I am not the first person to write about Cameroon – but – there will be a lot of truth telling and a different level of involvement in some of the stories I am going to be producing.
They all nodded yes, they are ready – either way.
These groups need our help to tell their stories. But they are already on their way organizationally. They as Cameroonians are addressing a Cameroonian problem. They are organized though just really getting their feet under them. The heavy lifting comes in creating a coalition of like minded LGBT and straight ally groups throughout the country. They need to get to where Uganda is. With all its problems – Uganda’s civil society is a model they are striving toward. There are straight allies from Uganda who volunteered to help them achieve this. There is much work to do and it will not be easy.
Internet connection is patchy at best in Cameroon and expensive. There isn’t international money pouring into their country to aid their fight. There is certainly some – but so much more is needed for very simple things like bus fare between Douala and Yaounde for meetings, the prison program to buy food for LGBT prisoners and on and on and on.
So my challenge and my privilege is that they are letting me follow them on their journey and have given me permission to amplify their voices. For that I am truly grateful and incredibly humbled. More soon.