"The Promise of Hope": Being an LGBTIQ+ activist in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Kashindi Shabani Gady is an LGBTIQ+ activist in Africa, specifically the Democratic Republic of Congo; their work is essential in a country that does not protect its LGBTIQ+ citizens due to their sexual and gender identities.
LGBTIQ+ activism is needed in every part of the world; activism varies from one region to another depending on the local needs. In some part of the world, being an LGBTIQ+ activist is a risk some people are willing to make for the well-being of their community.
Kashindi Shabani Gady's (They/Them/Their) journey in activism started in Ireland in the 1990s where they worked with a variety of NGOs where they learnt “how to support vulnerable people with healthcare, security, shelter and emotional support”. Following their return to the DRC in 2017, they started working for Savi Asbl NGO LGBT PGEL, an NGO whose aim is to give support to LGBTIQ+ people and, particularly through increasing LGBTIQ+ inclusivity in the workplace. The organisation assists local LGBTIQ+ communities in health, education, media campaign as well as fundraising. Today, they work now as Executive Secretary of the NGO, making them an important person for the community in Bukavu, the capital city of the South-Kivu province (East of DRC) where it remains difficult to be a humanitarian.
"My journey in Ireland was incredibly rich. I gained invaluable experience in human rights."
In early 2019, around 1,000 people gathered in Bukavu and burnt tyres outside the city hall to protest against the LGBTIQ+ community of the country. The mob did not start out of nowhere: posters had been plastered around the city, calling for the criminalisation of homosexuality and gender diversity. A local pastor had been regularly telling congregants and his radio show that LGBTIQ+ people should be banned from entering the town’s market and being kicked out of the country altogether.
While the Democratic Republic of Congo does not have any law criminalising LGBTIQ+ individuals, they still face legal difficulties that cisgender straight people will never face. Since 2006, same-gender marriage has been banned; same-gender couples and households don’t have the same protection and benefits as opposite-gender couples. On top of this, LGBTIQ+-phobia is common, making the lives of LGBTIQ+ individuals painful, especially with curches' leaders supporting LGBTIQ+ persecution. “We face arbitrary arrest for illegitimate offences, rejection from family members and society, discrimination in employment and education, inadequate healthcare, so-called “corrective” rape, and other forms of violence.”
Many queer people in the country face difficulties in employment due to their gender and/or sexual identities, leading to them living a life in poverty, sometimes turning to sex work to be able to afford basic human necessities such as food and a roof above their heads.
"The dangers we face are so extreme that many LGBTI people are scared to leave wherever they call home. For some, home is five people living in a tiny room, forced together to survive after being shunned by family members or evicted by homophobic or transphobic landlords."
For Gady and the Savie Asbl NGO LGBT PGEL, the main goal is to protect the LGBTIQ+ individuals of their community from persecution and harassment. To do so, staff and member information are stored offsite, and code numbers are used to identify clients and members; anonymity is essential to ensure each person's safety in case of a raid in their office by the police or the National Security Agency (ANR).
Meanwhile, COVID-19 has isolated many of the members of the LGBTIQ+ community as well as the activists, sometimes even putting their lives at risk as many LGBTIQ+ youths saw themselves being in lockdown within hostile environments. The pandemic has had a disastrous effect on poor LGBTIQ+ individuals as their access to healthcare is limited. Gady and their organisation try to address to variety of needs of the LGBTIQ+ community, from safe healthcare access to the provision of food and/or shelter, along with the noticeable increase in homelessness among the LGBTIQ+ youth and financial stability. “More than 20 people have COVID-19 in our local LGBTQ communities, and there are no medical staff to provide support. Though, I’m no longer at the isolation due to lock down, I speak with people still trapped there every day.”
You can find and support them on Facebook, their page's name is "Savie Asbl NGO LGBT" and on their official website, or contact them on WhatsApp at +243973734462.