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Global Roundup: Mexico LGBTQ Soup Kitchen, Calls to Reform Nepal Statute of Limitations, Malaysia Online LGBTQ Activism, Nonbinary Reggaeton Artist, Black Queer Musician
Curated by FG contributor Samiha Hossain
ALEJANDRA GUZMAN, THE KITCHEN’S GREETER AND ACCOUNTANT. PHOTOS BY LUIS PIMENTEL via VICE
Manos Amigues is Mexico City’s first soup kitchen by and for the LGBTQ community. People of all ages, genders, and sexualities dine side by side on iridescent tablecloths, between walls adorned with work by queer and transgender artists, as Mexican cantina music shuffles with disco on the speakers. Manos Amigues means “helping hands,” a phrase that typically uses the gendered word amiga, but here is rendered with a gender-neutral alternative, amigue.
Founded in 2021, the mutual aid project first began as a way to address the surge of need around COVID. People formed collectives to fundraise for those whose incomes tanked, buying groceries, masks, and medicine for neighbors or sending money to far-away strangers. In Mexico City, one LGBTQ-led mutual aid project, Burritos No Bombas, used donations from the US to purchase 80-plus bags of groceries every week, which it gave free of charge to queer elders, trans sex workers, migrants, and families. After the project’s leaders began collaborating with an outdoor soup kitchen in Zona Rosa, the city’s gay neighborhood, that seed blossomed into the indoor Manos Amigues kitchen.
Alejandra Gúzman, a trans woman who works at Manos Amigues, said the LGBTQ community was especially hard hit by food insecurity, and she saw many struggle to find work because of homophobia and transphobia.
If the pandemic made everybody vulnerable, imagine how it’s been for the people who were already vulnerable. - Alejandra Gúzman
Manos Amigues has evolved into an anchor of support for hundreds of food-insecure people, as well as a burgeoning meeting ground for Mexico City’s flourishing LGBTQ community. The kitchen, which operates in a converted garage, hosts drag shows, concerts, performance art, parties, and a rotating gallery of visual art. Employees and volunteers come from across the LGBTQ spectrum, and clients include straight elders local to the neighborhood as well as queer and trans people who come to eat in a safer space. Straight elders are able to learn about their queer children and the community through the soup kitchen.
In the long run, Manos Amigues—which in November received an award from the local chapter of international queer advocacy group Impulse—could become a full-fledged LGBTQ community center, something that doesn’t yet exist in Mexico City. But that would require much more funding. For now, they are focused on keeping the doors open.
A project as big and ambitious as Manos Amigues is really promising in many ways. You really feel like you’re building a community beyond just the LGBT… We meet here for a sacred act, which is to eat, and through that, more intimate and personal ties start to take shape. - Rudy Arkadia, non-binary trans-femme server at Manos Amigues
Protesters in Kathmandu call for reform of the rape laws. Photograph: Prabin Ranabhat/Sopa/Rex/Shutterstock via The Guardian
A young woman’s account on TikTok of being drugged, raped and then blackmailed by a beauty pageant organizer when she was 16 years old has provoked outrage in Nepal and prompted calls to reform the country’s “grossly inadequate” rape laws. The former model and child actor detailed in a series of videos Nepal’s statute of limitations that dictates survivors must report cases of rape within one year of the offence being committed.
Days after the videos were posted on May 18, hundreds of protesters took to the streets calling for change to the country’s rape laws, and on May 24, six lawyers filed a petition at the supreme court demanding the repeal of the statute. As a result of public pressure, a man has been arrested in connection with the case but under a section of the law related to human trafficking.
The law is not comprehensive …… It leads to so much unfairness and injustice. It has to be changed. There are so many loopholes in the rape law, most particularly the statute of limitation and the definition of rape. - Dechen Lama, human rights lawyer, Forum for Women, Law and Development
Nepal’s 2017 penal code extended the statute of limitations on reporting rape allegations from 35 days to a year. However, activists and lawyers say the law stands as a barrier to justice for rape survivors and that it helps perpetrators to evade punishment. It does not take into account that trauma, stigma and other factors that often prevent survivors from coming forward.
Campaigners also say that the definition of rape in Nepal’s penal code only recognizes a crime committed by a male against a female, and not against people of other genders. Nonconsensual sexual acts are not included within the definition of rape, and marital rape receives a lesser punishment.
This can be a watershed moment for Nepal. From a human rights perspective, this incident has triggered a conversation around how inadequate provisions are. I think it’s a good opportunity for the authorities to take a moment and go back and see whether rape laws are in line with international human rights standards, and if not, to bring them in line. - Smriti Singh, Amnesty International’s south Asia deputy regional director
Online platforms have evolved into a double-edged sword for Malaysia’s LGBTQ communities. On the one hand, they have created invaluable opportunities for LGBTQ people to connect, communicate, and advocate for their rights. At the same time, online participation leaves them exposed to censorship, surveillance, and attack by those who see these flourishing communities as an attempt to undermine conservative Muslim values.
Nur Sajat Kamaruzzaman has been a trans public figure in Malaysia for well over a decade. She faces vile online abuse including being blamed for the outbreak of Covid-19 in Malaysia. Details of her personal documents, including her passport, driver’s license, and birth certificate, were circulated online. She also received death threats. National government ministers openly urged her to “return to the right path.” In January 2021, she was assaulted by at least three men before being arrested and officially charged with “insulting Islam” for wearing a traditional Malay women’s outfit at a private religious ceremony years before. Rather than attend a court hearing in February, the mother of two left her family and boarded a plane to Bangkok, where she immediately turned to staff at the UN’s International Organization for Migration for help. When she arrived in Australia, she finally started feeling safe.
In Malaysia, same-sex relations remain punishable by whipping and up to 20 years in prison under a law dating back to a period when the country was a colony of Britain. A much-cited 2013 study by the Pew Research Center found that just 9% of Malaysians believed society should accept homosexuality. Against this backdrop, online spaces have provided refuge.
Some online spaces include Purple Lab, which provided a forum for queer women and nonbinary people, and Queer Lapis, a website combining opinion pieces and news articles with resources and even recipes. These online spaces have transformed LGBTQ activism in the country, says Nalini Elumalai, program officer for Malaysia at the human rights organization Article 19. Fifteen years ago, progress could be painfully slow, limited to distributing leaflets by hand and delivering talks to small groups.
With social media we only have to release one or two e-banners, or graphics, and you can start educating people. LGBT communities are now taking up space for themselves as a result. There are a lot of stories out there, and new narratives about LGBT rights are emerging. - Nalini Elumalai
However, this visibility comes with increased anti-LGBTQ attacks. One study by the Pelangi Campaign, a local LGBTQ advocacy group, found that 47% of those who identify as LGBTQ in Malaysia have faced online harassment, with blackmail, stalking, and threats commonplace. Despite the risks, many activists continue to find online spaces essential.
At organizations such as the trans-led SEED Foundation in Kuala Lumpur, experts have been brought in to train members about the intricacies of cybersecurity, teaching them how to prevent devices from being tracked, protect social media accounts from being hacked, and stop emails from being traced. Activists have to take many precautions to remain safe. Many young LGBTQ Malaysians are shunning the exposure of established social media platforms altogether and heading to immersive virtual reality forums to connect instead. It is not an ideal solution, as younger or more tech-savvy members of the queer community may adjust easily to the new platforms, while others prefer to stick with WhatsApp or make voice memos, which are less secure.
If we didn’t do anything, then we wouldn’t be attacked at all, but can we afford to do that? The safest attitude is not to do anything at all. But is that what we want? - Gavin Chow, co-founder and president of the LGBTQ organization People Like Us Hang Out (PLUHO)
La Dani at La Mona Checa, one of the vintage stores where she has worked over the years Photographed by Alba Yruela via Vogue
I always considered myself gay because that’s what I heard, saw... It was the only concept I had internalized. When I started to know about other identities, I understood that I felt close to the non-binary [community]. But to talk about myself, I like to use feminine and masculine pronouns indistinctly. - La Dani
Coming from a military family, La Dani had to move often growing up. She notes how it was hard changing schools as a queer person and starting from scratch, fearing insults and nicknames. Her songs and music videos to date embody an identity and desire underrepresented in the urban music scene—her own. If the queer community isn’t often referenced in music generally, there are even fewer references to it in reggaeton. She identifies singers like Ivy Queen, Lorna, and her contemporary Ms Nina as her heroes.
La Dani had a minor crisis when she recently turned 30, and started asking herself “the typical questions,” as she puts it. At that moment she threw herself into composing what will be her next album, scheduled to come out in the fall. Though she understands visibility is important, especially for people like her who want to make music, she hopes she is reaching audiences beyond the LGBTQ+ community as well.
I’ve listened to Bad Bunny knowing that he doesn’t speak to my experiences. I haven’t always needed to identify with the lyrics of the songs I’ve liked, so I hope that a cis-gendered, heterosexual man can also dance to and enjoy my music. - La Dani
La Dani believes in living her sexuality in the way she wants, regardless of what society says. Looking back to her childhood she says she is “everything that child dreamed of.”
NBC News / Getty Images
Queer british singer-songwriter Arlo Parks, whose real name is Anaïs Oluwatoyin Estelle Marinho, has been releasing indie pop songs to the masses since she was a teenager. She earned two Grammy nominations this year for her 2021 debut album, “Collapsed in Sunbeams,” about happiness, heartbreak and sadness.
Parks was raised in London and is of Nigerian and Chadian-French descent. Some of Park’s most critically acclaimed work, like “Black Dog,” which is also from her debut album, discusses mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. She says she uses music as an outlet to cope with life’s challenges.
I started making music to work through difficult things, and that’s kind of my instinct, so I kind of never really filter myself. And I think that you should have a little bit of nerves when you put out a song — it should feel a little bit close to the bone, because then it means you’re saying something real. - Arlo Parks
Parks came out as bisexual as a teenager, a moment she described as liberating.
Coming out as bisexual was freeing in a way, because it allowed me to talk about experiences and feelings about certain things and people that I didn’t feel able to before. Obviously there’s still judgment and it’s still taboo, and I didn’t want to pigeon-hole myself as the bisexual artist; that’s just a part of who I am. - Arlo Parks
Parks says her parents fully support her identity, which has not been the case among many of her peers. Last year, she won the BRIT Award for best new artist and the Mercury Prize for “Collapsed in Sunbeams.” Her recently released single “Softly,” which debuted this year, is about reconciling and coming to terms with the ending of a relationship.
Samiha Hossain (she/her) is a student at the University of Ottawa. She has experience working with survivors of sexual violence in her community, as well as conducting research on gender-based violence. A lot of her time is spent learning about and critically engaging with intersectional feminism, transformative justice and disability justice.
Samiha firmly believes in the power of connecting with people and listening to their stories to create solidarity and heal as a community. She refuses to let anyone thwart her imagination when it comes to envisioning a radically different future full of care webs, nurturance and collective liberation.