By Melanie Nathan, September 25, 2012
Today a lesbian couple from Africa will arrive in a foreign country with a couple of hundred dollars and two pieces of luggage to their name. That is enough money to survive for a few nights. They ran for their lives. Literally!
Until they are safe and their escape complete, I cannot reveal the names of the couple, and so will refer to them as Mari and Cara. Their government considers them criminals, just because they love each other. I cannot name their country of origin or reveal their destination, at this time. But will in due course,
When they are safe and secure I plan to publicize their entire story and it is an horrific account of being a young lesbian couple in an African country where being lesbian or gay is criminalized.
We all know that our LGBTI sisters are persecuted in Africa. What many of you may not know is the fact that there are very little ways and means for people to escape the horrors of extreme situations like this one.
I sought the help of the US State Department, LGBT and other organizations, and I was promised help but no one came through. Finally we have orchestrated their escape, and now need your help – we need community to step in.
Five years ago, when Mari and Cara’s parents found out they were in a lesbian relationship they were kicked out of their homes. Mari’s mother invited them back and they thought her invitation was conciliatory. However that night after a dinner cooked especially for them, they both became violently ill. The dinner food had been poisoned. They miraculously survived and fled.
After being shunned by friends and community, the couple went from place to place. They have been on the run for years – and because of their appearances and perceptions by community – they became targets, wherever they have stayed. They have been assaulted, and continually threatened.
They contacted me a year ago about their situation in desperate need of help to escape their increasingly impossible situation. And our Skype communications began as well as a quest to get them out of their country.
During this time matters became worse and some months ago, after they had rented a new apartment and started a small business, their circumstances became a matter of life and death. The neighbors assumed they were lesbians and in a relationship. Their dog was poisoned, epithets were written on their walls, their work equipment was stolen and destroyed and they were told “we are going to rape and burn you.”
Survival became impossible.
Then the siege in earnest began; day and night for months. Neighbors would cut off their electricity and the water supply and each time it was repaired it would happen again and again. Neighbors prevented them from leaving the house. Groups of people would appear intermittently outside shouting slogans and threats. Their food began to run out and they had to take risks to go on the streets in a nearby area to sell their belongings to survive. They had lost all ability to function normally and to work to sustain themselves. They would take turns to sleep at night with a hatchet their only weapon.
As we spoke in the many late hours on Skype, I bore witness to the banging on the door, the threats, the mayhem on the street outside and their sheer terror.
There were times when the power would be cut in the midst of our Skype calls and I wondered if they had made it through the night.
Of course they could never call the police as being gay could be interpreted as illegal under their country’s Penal Code. Their biggest fear was being detained by police and separated. Their country has a brutal police force – and their fear is well founded.
They taped images of the siege on a mobile phone, showing men lingering outside their apartment. One such video shows a man sitting for hours under their window, threatening them while exposing himself and masturbating.
I sought help for them from various authorities including the U.S. Department of State, at the highest of levels. I asked a few members of the LGBT community for ideas, solutions and for money. I reached out to organizations asking if they had emergency funds. There was no help. The e-mails, which will remain private for now, tell the story.
I think this community is going to be shocked at just how impossible it is to find basic help in such a situation.
While we have great talk of support of these very human rights issues from our President and our Secretary of State, very little has filtered down to those in urgent and desperate need and people like Mari and Cara have, in effect, no help from the U.S.A.
We need change – we need special laws to help LGBTI people in this situation. I have been told by a source that the protocols are changing and soon, but I have yet to see any help, only words.
It is here and Erev Yom Kippur that I recall how my own grand mother, who became known as an Ochberg Orphan, was rescued from Eastern Europe, a Century ago, by an individual philanthropist and how my fellow Jews were smuggled to safety when persecuted by the Nazi’s. Now it is our turn as most of Africa has turned on gay people.
You would think that a modern day America would have a plan in place, other than for activists only, to deliver gays and lesbians currently under threat, like Mari and Cara from harms way. Well the way the system works, forget it – there is no help for people like them.
Now I really need your help. I need to find a way to accommodate them financially so they can survive accomplishing their asylum in a new country. Otherwise they may find themselves on the streets of the country which is foreign to them and worse yet returned back.
Mari and Cara are in need of legal help, accommodation and money for food. I anticipate a six month process at best. If you are able please send donations however small – c/o Melanie Nathan, to Private Courts Inc. [email protected] – I will make the mail address available via e-mail.
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