A Piece of the Peace: Leymah, Please Speak Out for Human & Civil Rights for All Liberians
Your courage is legendary. You are an icon in your own time for peace-building.
In answer to a question about what worries you, you said: “The safety of my children and their future. The conduct of the world.”
Your reply shows what fears tremble inside a mother’s heart.
It is said that you speak your mind without fear or favor. When appointed by President Sirleaf in late 2011 to head the Liberian Reconciliation Initiative, you said that the “LRI’s broad aim is to provide an independent and impartial platform for all Liberians irrespective of social, economic, political, and geographic orientation to collectively address past abuses, reconcile fractured relations and communities, and promote dialogue and consensus building as instruments of politics and public culture.”
I want to believe that you agree LGBT Liberians are included in this mandate. Your voice must be heard above the present uproar about LGBT rights, because there seems to be a collective dissociative fugue around the cruel ways the civil and human rights of gay, lesbian and gender-variant Liberians are violated.
You have said: “Reconciliation is like dressing a sore: You can’t bandage a sore without first cleaning it.”
LGBT Liberians live in fear, disempowered and daily imperiled. The war for them has not ended. Their lives are defined by danger and violence, persecution, hate speech and threats, discrimination and harassment. They are stigmatized, publicly rejected and almost completely abandoned by government. Their vulnerability affects all areas of their lives — church, school, employers, landlords, media, street mobs, rapists, predators, political actors, opinion leaders, family.
Their stories are paralyzing, but their terrors hardly ever make the papers. Those flinging acid words and shouting hatred at them do.
Ignorance is contagious, but bigotry cannot thrive when challenged. You have proven that violence can be vanquished. Your hero and fellow laureate Retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “I have spoken against the injustice of apartheid, racism, where people were penalized for something about which they could do nothing, their ethnicity . . . I therefore could not keep quiet, it was impossible, when people were hounded for something they did not choose, their sexual orientation.”
“Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people,” Archbishop Tutu stresses, “are part of so many families. They are part of the human family. They are part of God’s family. And of course they are part of the African family.”
Liberia’s own LGBT community deserves no less than to be considered legitimate sons and daughters. They cry out for a piece of the peace like all Liberians.
You have written lucidly about “what can happen if an individual is able to transform some of the negative images into something positive.” You have said that the principles you live by are “courage, kindness and the will to fight for others what you yearn for yourself.” I’m inspired by your words, which is why I feel compelled to write you. I believe that all Liberians, together, regardless of gender or sexual identity, should stand on equal footing to usher in a new era of progressive thinking in which our country will flourish.
In your reconciliation efforts, I urgently call on you to:
Open dialogue to bring the LGBT human rights issue to the surface.
Denounce institutional homophobia, hate speech and discrimination against LGBT Liberians.
Advocate for the abolition of laws that criminalize LGBT individuals.
Call for the prosecution of hate crimes targeting LGBT individuals and activists.
Model leadership for sensitizing education and awareness about LGBT issues.
Create a space for LGBT individuals to safely express their opinions and speak about their traumas, concerns and experiences as second-class citizens.
Support the rights for security, privacy and dignity for LGBT Liberians.
I appeal to you to resume Liberia’s humane tradition of progressive thought and action and re-cast Liberia as an international leader for human liberation, re-shaping Liberia from a country controlled by war criminals, violence and hatred to a country at the forefront of social inclusion and harmony.
Respectfully, in sisterhood,
Stephanie C. Horton
LGBTQ Rights in Liberia
February 6, 2012