By Rob Watson
A few weeks ago, I told the story of a teen named Corey who was driven from his birth home when his parents found out he was gay, and into the arms of a loving home that rescued him. His unique story was read widely and shared by tens of thousands of people. Sadly, the thing that made Corey’s story unique was not that it happened, but that it happened and he got rescued. Many other teens are expelled from their homes and quickly fall into drug abuse and prostitution.
A lucky few of them find help through homeless services and by a growing awareness that they exist and need help. Outside of the United States, rejection of such teens can produce a much harsher reality.
Meet Hakim. Hakim is every bit as engaging and fine a young man as Corey. Hakim is barely out of his teens. I am a dad, and I can’t help but feel he is one of my kids, our kids. As Harvey Milk told us, “hope will never be silent.” I am speaking up. I will be speaking up.
Hakim is the third eldest son in his family, and was raised in a major city. Hakim knew he was gay from a very young age, “Thoughts came through my mind, that am cursed, maybe I wasn’t meant to be a human,” he told me. At different times in his adolescence, he attempted to poison himself. He never confessed his orientation to his family, instead, three things happened that prevented him from keeping his secret. The first, he fell in love. The second, he fell in love in Uganda. The third, he wrapped himself in the arms of the man he loved while staying at his parent’s house.
His aunt discovered the lovers. She immediately alerted his parents. Shocked and furious, the family meeting that ensued was not civil. His parents raged with shame and demanded he leave immediately, “That was the day I will never forget in my all life because it was the day I started suffering in this world up to now. Because my parents they were so angry with me, disappointed and they abandoned me and chased me away from home. I left with nothing and I had no choice.” His family had no concern for his safety or welfare, they simply wanted him removed from their sight. He was just 18 years old.
Hakim traveled to an uncle who, at least temporarily, was willing to look the other way on news that his nephew had same sex relations. Superstition was the demon that raised its head this time, as a series of bad events befell Hakim’s uncle, and he decided that the true source of the misfortune was having protected Hakim.
Hakim’s uncle was not satisfied in simply exorcising Hakim from his house. To him, in order to do it properly, he had to have Hakim arrested for the crime of homosexuality. Hakim recalls, “They took me into the jail for two months and they tortured me to a severe extent. They asked me to reveal other groups of gays and give them names. But I didn’t tell, and they continued the torture every day. They tortured me every after my first day there and they took one to two days without giving me food. They beat me and beat me to every part on my body, in fingers, on the ankles, while asking me the other gay groups. The next month they took me to the court because they were expected my uncle to come and give out the proof that I was gay.”
Fortunately, Hakim’s uncle did not show up in court. With their sole testimony against him gone, the authorities had to let Hakim go. He went to the streets.
His life since has been to survive in the slums, constantly on the run with other secretly gay and HIV positive individuals. “In this place I met gays who had suffered more than me and some even died of AIDS because of poor standards of living they were staying in. I really reached an extent of seeing that I had paid more than enough for being gay. Support groups came in and we reached out to them. They learned that most of our members lacked proper medication but these organizations little did they help us. They only came to us to make their documentation, reports to their donors, and making accountability reports as well,” he recalls.
As Hakim worked with the other gay people on the streets, he came in contact with several journalists. He found that many who came into Uganda to study the situation, or to write about it, left without giving any real help or comfort to the people suffering. The first were from France. They interviewed him and promised help in exchange for his story. One day, however, they returned to France, and Hakim never heard from them again. The next journalist with whom he came into contact was even worse. He shadowed Hakim and worked with him as he met with people in need on the street. His purpose was not as he stated however.
He did not write a story about the plight of gay people in the slums of Uganda—he instead allegedly constructed a list of “gays” and published them in the paper as part of a notorious “red list”. Hakim’s name was prominent on that list.
The Ugandan authorities are now seeking Hakim, as a “known gay”. He is one official confrontation away from going to jail, where through legal means or not, he is likely to be killed.
Hakim has not asked, but Gavin of the Facebook page “Gavin’s Gay Friendly Group” is trying to find means to get him to safety. Those means are not readily apparent however. Different activists are working on unique strategies to help, but each of those is limited and in most cases, targeted towards a few already identified individuals. There seems to be no significant asylum program underway through the Obama administration or the state department.
Hakim was one of the people who were at the Makerere University Walter Reed Project in the Ugandan capital of Kampala when it was raided. Fortunately, he escaped. Hakim later got a message that it was not safe for patrons to go there. “How will so many get their medicine,” he asked. “We are going to die.”
For many progressive people, we are at a loss as what to do, and how to help. A blogger friend of mine from Nigeria, who wishes to stay anonymous, recently wrote a piece called “Jail the Devils” and shared the perceptions he encountered outside of Africa. “I of course made friends with several gay people in several European cities, … a recurring theme amongst them has always been …why is it that of all the multitude of issues plaguing most parts of your continent, your governments devote so much time and energy in pursuing homophobic and discriminatory agendas? …Coming from the sort of open and progressive backgrounds they do, it is extremely hard for them to understand. They do not live in a society where the leadership seeks to make scapegoats of gays as a means of scoring cheap political points while diverting the attentions of the populace from more pressing issues. They do not live in societies where the clergy is allowed unfettered liberty to propagate hatred and bigotry and to manipulate a clueless congregation as they see fit.”
This inability to understand the absurd ignorance of Nigerian and Ugandan leadership has lead many in the United States and Europe to just ignore the problem all together.
I do not attribute the avoidance of the subject to apathy, however, but to helplessness. There are no courts to appeal to, no election initiatives to form. We who want to affect change in these nations have absolutely no leverage, so many move on to issues in which they feel they can have impact. The U.S. Embassy in Kampala is shockingly devoid of any mention of the LGBT abuse going on in Uganda. The most recent notices in fact are concerned with assuring Ugandans that the US will not cut funding on healthcare, and celebrating that 50 Ugandan business people were attending the International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago. The grotesque human rights violations against LGBT people in Uganda are completely and totally ignored.
Our government also needs to restrict the visas and assets of Ugandan and Nigerian officials. They enjoy travel and freedoms they would deny their LGBT citizens.
Meanwhile Hakim communicates with me by borrowed cell phones. My friend Gavin has been trying to get him small amounts of cash so that he can eat. Because the police confiscated his passport, Hakim cannot show ID, and relies on others to retrieve the small amounts of wired cash.
I keep searching for more that can be done. We need to be demanding an asylum system through our state department. Short of that, we need to stay vocal and engaged with those who need us. We need for our embassy there to step up.
Our greatest contribution to our LGBT Ugandan and Nigerian brethren right now is caring. We need to communicate, we need to listen, and most importantly, we need to let them know we are here trying to figure something out. For many of us, the issues we fight are to be able to love freely as we want in our lives. For Hakim, loving is a luxury. Currently, he is simply fighting to survive.
I got a text late one night from Hakim. “To be sincere i don’t know how other gays survive, because even me I don’t know how I survive, the bigger problem I have all the gay friends I had here they no longer want to associate with me because they fear to see them with me since most people knew that am gay so I have like ten friends here. Of course police can easily find me and I fear every situation I am in here but I have nothing to do, my friend. What gives me hope and promising? What I can say, the only thing which gives me hope is talking to people like you and Mr. Gavin, without you, I have no hope,” and he added:
“Don’t forget me please, please.”
If you wish to contribute to a fund to help Hakim get out of Uganda, please click here:
(Disclaimer: The author or this blog are unrelated to the fund and receive absolutely no compensation in any way.)