Global Roundup: Queering Lunar New Year, Women Shaming in Kyrgyzstan, Anti-Rape Protest in Liberia, NZ’s First Play About Afro-queer Immigrants, South Africa Trans Pageant Queen
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Photo Credit Ella Frost via Pink News
June Lam is the founder of queer club night GGI (pronounced ‘kee’), London’s first club night celebrating queer East and Southeast Asian (ESEA) communities.
There is no sort of existing space in London for us to come together and dance…I wanted a space that I haven’t been able to have access to, as a trans East Asian person who’s bisexual, femme, queer, all of my identities, kinda feels like they’re a bit fragmented. - June Lam
Queer people celebrating Lunar New Year can face unique social pressures during festivities, including the social expectation of being in a heterosexual relationship and having to endure being misgendered by relatives. For Lam, his queer club night is about chosen family and taking up space.
Hosting a community space is important given that the past year has been particularly difficult for LGBT+ and Asian communities. According to reports, 2021 has been the most deadly year on record for trans people and there has been a spike in attacks against ESEA communities in the West. Given the struggles in the community, Lam wanted to create spaces centred around joy and celebration where queer Asians could “come together and dance,” alongside activist spaces.
Another important aspect of GGI is rejecting cultural appropriation and the fetishization and discrimination that still persists in some queer nightlife spaces. Lam believes that these conversations must also happen elsewhere “in mainstream white spaces.”
We’re taking up space by asserting that we don’t want that kind of fetishization and that we won’t tolerate it. - June Lam
GGI’s Lunar New Year party will include showcasing queer Asian talent, a discussion on the importance of nightlife spaces for queer Asians and a pan-Asian snackbar. Lam hopes his project will have longevity and expand.
Photo Credit Frontpage Africa
CW: sexual violence
Advocates in Liberia were at the Capitol Building last week in protest over a thirteen-year-old girl’s death a few days after she was raped. Forty-seven-year-old Prince Massaquoi assaulted Blessing Molton, who died the day she was to undergo surgery.
Protesters were dressed predominantly in black and held anti-rape placards that read “Stop rape now,” “Any man who rapes should be sentenced to death,” “Little Blessing needs justice and we won’t rest,” and “It wasn’t her dress, it was just your evil mind.” They also chanted “We want justice, rapists must die.”
…We came to the Capitol because our representatives we voted for promised us that if anything happens, we should call upon them, so this is why we are here. A girl whose parents voted for you to become a lawmaker is dead, so we want you to do something as our lawmakers. - Ne-Suah Beyan Livingston, runs Rescued, Abandoned and Children in Hardship (REACH)
Many of the women and youth at the protest said that the perpetrator should be sentenced to death for killing a child. They also raised questions about the sincerity of the commitment of President George Weah’s administration to tackling rape and other sexual and gender-based violence.
In 2020, Weah declared rape a national emergency and ordered new measures to tackle the problem after a recent spike of cases in the West African state.
The move came after thousands of Liberians protested against rising incidents of rape in the capital Monrovia in a bid to draw attention to the country’s alarming rate of sexual assault
A convoy of House Speaker, Bhofal Chambers and a few lawmakers made its way out of the Capitol and did not stop to listen to the protesters' concerns. Frustrated, the protesters then blocked the entrance to the Capitol Building to prevent more lawmakers from going to work or coming out of the fence. Some Representatives were forced to stop and address the enraged crowd, who presented their petition to them. However, many protesters were unsatisfied with the statement.
How long would we continue to do petition before the lawmakers act? This is a mockery. But until a lawmaker’s child or their families are affected, it will all be just politics. Writing a petition is a complete mockery. Do you know how many petitions we have brought here which they have put under their table? So, how many other petitions should we write to prove that this is a national crisis? We want an amendment in the rape law that any man who rapes a child under 18, should be sentenced to death and their graves should be chained. - Ne-Suah Beyan Livingston
People attend a rally to support women's rights in Bishkek [File: Igor Kovalenko/EPA] via Al Jazeera
Prostitution accusations against women working in saunas in Kyrgyzstan have pushed four young women to attempt suicide in the small village of Kara-Balta, some 50km from the capital Bishkek.
An ambulance came on time to save them. In a suicide note, one of the young women wrote that her suicide attempt was due to the threats she had been receiving from men that accused her of prostitution.
A self-proclaimed “Committee of the Youth” – a group of young men, gathered in Kara-Balta earlier that day demanding the closure of the local saunas, where the women worked as waitresses. In their view, saunas are a place of sin, where young women sell their bodies.
Women-shaming is commonplace in the conservative majority-Muslim Kyrgyzstan. Many believe that women are to stay at home and bear children as part of the national tradition. The practice of bride kidnapping (“ala kachuu“) is also still carried out. The custom of Ala Kachuu, which dates back to the 17th century, has often been used as a way to abduct women and force them into marriage against their will.
However, over the past several years women have become more vocal and begun to fight for their rights. For instance, women have been organizing marches and rejecting patriarchal norms by getting a job and refusing to get married. Many have resorted to shaming these women as an attempt to suppress their liberation.
Nazira Aitbekova, a well-known Kyrgyz actress, TV presenter and a mother, was subjected to an online hate campaign after she posted a revealing picture of herself on Instagram in December. She then decided to publish another, even more revealing photo. Many followers reposted her picture to highlight the problem of online shaming and harassment.
For us, Kyrgyz, shame ends with clothes. You can do anything if you have your clothes on. Killing a person is not a shame. Neither is beating your wives. It is not a shame to rape your sons, your daughters, children of relatives. It is not a shame to rape a person, get up and just leave. It is not a shame to conceive a child, and then refuse to pay child support. It is not a shame to gossip, hate and envy. (…) In general, it’s not a shame to trample humanity, but for some reason it’s a shame to show what nature has given us! - Nazira Aitbekova
While Kyrgyzstan has adopted various international laws to tackle violence against women, law enforcement agencies are unable to prevent the violence women face both online and offline. Furthermore, victims of violence continue to be blamed for what happens to them.
Stereotypes and discriminatory social, cultural and religious norms, as well as traditions, affect the position of women in the family and society and control the freedom of women, including their sexuality…Of course, you can collect evidence, record all the threats even if they were received on social networks and contact the police. But there are very few successful cases and it is hard to prove that such threats can lead to a crime. - Elvira Tilek, human rights lawyer
Photo Credit David White via Stuff
Playwright Estelle Chout, an Afro-Caribbean queer actress, has written a comedy loosely based on her life called Po' Boys and Oysters. The play explores what it means to be black and gay and an immigrant living in Tāmaki Makaurau. The comedy follows Flo and her wife Jo, who are in the final stages of adopting a child, and are ready to share the big news with Flo’s highly conservative big sister. Chout also plays the starring role in the show, which was nominated for an Adam NZ Play Award last year, and will have its world premiere at Auckland’s Basement Theatre next month.
I rarely see someone like myself – a proud Black queer mother – represented on the stage…I’m a French-speaking Caribbean, so there have never been many roles available for my accent. I wrote Po’ Boys and Oysters to give these characters a voice and provide a platform to a group that have rarely been seen or represented in our theatre. - Estelle Chout
Chout was inspired to write this play based on a family Zoom call she had in 2020 that led to some tension in her family. She also wanted to write about Black queer mothers as she in one herself.
Chout shares the stage with two other Black actresses; renowned author, poet and African-American activist Sonya Renee Taylor, and Zimbabwean-born actress Sandra Zvenyika. The play is directed by Dione Joseph, founder of Black Creatives Aotearoa (BCA), a collective of more than 500 members of Black New Zealand artists of African and Afro-Caribbean heritage who now call Aotearoa home.
The voices of women of colour have been muffled more than any other demographic. We have to make the point that we are here as well, and we need to be heard just the same. The problem when the world tries to discriminate against so many groups – the Blacks, the gays – the world deprives itself of so much beauty and so much talent. - Estelle Chout
Photo by Lehlogonolo Machaba Instagram
Lehlogonolo Machaba made history as the first trans woman to make it to the top 30 finalists for South Africa's premier pageant, Miss South Africa in 2021, and now she continues advocating for trans representation in media and fashion.
As trans women of color, we have been silenced and marginalized. So I believe that with my platform as an activist, I can fight the hate and confusion society still has against the queer community. And it will slowly be eradicated for a better new generation where we can all pursue our dreams in peace, and not have to educate people about our existence anymore. - Lehlogonolo Machaba
In 2006, South Africa became the first African country and the fifth globally to legalize same-sex marriage. The Alteration of Sex Description and Sex Status Act, passed in 2003, allows trans citizens to change their gender legally in the population registry and receive new identity documents. Discrimination and barriers continue to exist, but Machaba recognizes the “the beauty of queer existence” and “diversity” in Johannesburg.
Machaba became interested in fashion early in her life, which led her to studying fashion design technology. Then she began working as a model. She wanted to avoid discrimination and being typecast as a trans model, so she would avoid disclosing her identity as a trans woman. This began to take a toll on her mental health. She thought trying out for the Miss South Africa pageant would be a good way to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community.
I had a mental breakdown regarding the fake life I was living and the fact that I couldn't even raise matters that were close to my heart. - Lehlogonolo Machaba
Machaba is aware that many Gen-Z activists today might consider beauty pageants outdated, but she believes LGBTQ+ pageant queens can reshape global beauty standards. She is inspired by other LGBTQ+ pageant queens.
We’ve seen [pageants] inspire young women to be exceptional and change the world for the better. Beauty pageants are more relevant than ever; they are highly inclusive and updated. We’ve seen them transition over the years to include women with different body shapes, skin tones, different backgrounds, and now allow transgender women like myself [to compete]. - Lehlogonolo Machaba
Machaba has had a very successful year which included working with many brands. She hopes to continue breaking stereotypes, creating opportunities and competing on even bigger stages.
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.