By Dumisani Dube

Kashindi Shabani Gady lives in Bukavu, a town in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo with his family and friends.  For the last 3 years he has worked as the Executive Secretary of Savie Asbl NGO LGBT PGEL, an NGO whose aim is to increase the number of work places that are LGBTIQ inclusive.

To understand his life today, lets walk down memory lane. During the 1990s he lived in the Republic of Ireland. There, he had worked with a variety of NGOs. It was during these years that he learnt about how to support vulnerable people with healthcare, security, shelter and emotional support. His journey in Ireland was incredibly rich. He gained invaluable experience in human rights. 2017, he returned to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and started to run Savie Asbl NGO LGBT PGEL, which assists local LGBTQ communities in health, education, media campaigns and fundraising.

In early 2019, a crowd of 1,000 people burned tyres outside Bukavu’s city hall to protest against our LGBTI community to enter into market to buy or sell. The mob gathered after posters started appearing around town calling for homosexuality and gender diversity to be criminalised. The man behind the posters was a local pastor who regularly told congregants and his radio show audience that LGBTI people should be banned from entering the main market and kicked out of the country.

There are no specific laws against being LGBTI in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but there’s plenty of hatred. Human rights of queer people are constantly being violated on daily basis.  They face arbitrary arrest for illegitimate offences, rejection from family members and society, discrimination in places of employment and education, inadequate healthcare, the ever increasing “corrective” rape, and other forms of violence. The persecution is relentless. 

The dangers faced are so extreme that many LGBTI people are scared to live 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 many queer people in DRC, life is misery. There’s no money because there’s no work, which means there’s no food. Most survive by begging in the streets and sex-work. 

” I never thought the hardest part of my journey of LGBT activism in the Democratic Republic of the Congo would be in facing the difficulties that came with working in a country where homosexuality is not legal. Not authorised.” Kashindi says “With the Savie Asbl NGO LGBT PGEL, we often have to use code numbers to identify clients and members in order to protect them from being identified and subjected to harassment, detainment or beatings. We store staff information, such as CVs, names and so on offsite, to preserve anonymity and security in case our office is raided.” Religious institutions support this persecution. 

This last year, with the Covid-19 pandemic having made its way to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, most members of the LGBTQ communities and LGBTQ activists in Bukavu town in the South Kivu region had to self-isolate. The pandemic and ensuing lockdown in Bukavu Town are having devastating impacts on the healthcare needs of poor LGBT persons. As an activist, Kashindi has been trying to address a range of community needs for LGBT people, including the provision of emergency food and/or shelter, access to safe and competent healthcare, safety and security, financial stability and other unforeseen negative impacts brought about by the pandemic such as homelessness. 

Many LGBT persons have faced exacerbated exposure to the Covid19 contagion. LGBT youth will now be forced into isolation within hostile, homophobic environments with unsupportive family members or co-habitants as results of lockdown measures.   

Homosexuality acts have never been explicitly outlawed in the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, Kashindi is the promise of hope for the Queer community in his country. Merci beaucoup!

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