Last edited: February 14, 2005

Death Hangs Over Somali Queers

Behind the Mask, May 3, 2004

By BTM Correspondent, Faro, in Somalia

The problems for queers in Somalia relate to the lack of a central government, loosely applied Islamic law and pressure from families, reports one of the leaders of Queer Somalia.

Faro, is one of the leaders of Queer Somalia, a community based organisation based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He makes frequent visits to Somalia to make contact with small groups of queers there and on a recent visit he sent back startling information that shows that for gay and lesbian people in Somalia the issue of death looms large. Whether through suicide following pressure from families or via loosely applied Islamic law that is uncontrolled due to the lack of a central government, their greatest fear is death—a sentence that can be brought upon them just for being homosexual, or for being perceived to be homosexual.

“My people don’t understand what a homosexual is. They only know that through their religious law the solution is to kill. There is no law to protect or help queers in Somalia and Queer Somalia (a community based organisation) cannot be public or make demands on the government because there is no government with whom we can talk. The situation for queer people in Somalia is very dangerous.”

Without official recognition and without a government to lobby, Queer Somalia can do little more than report on the plights of individuals and to host meetings with small groups, acting as a link to the outside world.

“There are a lot of people who are queer [in Somalia] but they are afraid they will miss their basic rights if they express themselves. We can say still there is no opportunity to find great numbers of queers.”

On a recent visit to Somalia Faro met with a group in Hargaisa. At the meeting he was able to report back to them on the All Africa Conference, which was held in Johannesburg in February 2004 and which he attended. “They were very glad to meet between us and I passed information about the conference held in South Africa. They welcomed it heartily. They feel they will need help in every aspect of organisation later on. The Somali Queers need great help in order to get their rights but our biggest problem is because we haven’t got a central government and effective national laws. However the idea of an East Africa Alliance as part of AARI (All Africa Rights Initiative—founded at the conference) is a surprise, and a welcome one, to them.”

Young queers in Somalia look to neighbouring countries for help and sanctuary but have difficulty finding it, as both Ethiopia and Kenya do not look favourably on gay issues either. “Two boys, who were placed in an orphanage in Addis Ababa, ran away after pressure from their families. One is now living on the streets in Kenya. All I can do is look for more information on them and try to stay in contact.”

From Mogadishu, Faro learned that, “If a person comes to know that another person is queer the children and women will kill them. There are secret houses that queers meet at and rooms that then have rented. I contacted one of the Somali queers who is living in Mogadishu but he was afraid while I talking to him. When they want to meet each other they have great difficulty, sometimes they do wear women’s clothes, which is a veil (hijab)—muslim clothes.”

“I communicated with another person that is living in Dhagahbur and he told me that he is in bad situation if he doesn’t leave there—he is afraid of death. His family are against him. For many queers in Somalia their greatest worry is their appearance, they have problems coming from their family and that problem is that their family compels them to marry a women and so some commit suicide. This happened to one boy recently in Bosaso in Somali—he killed himself because of the problems he had from his family and normal friends.”

Osmin, another member of Queer Somalia, reported to Faro that in the city of Burao he witnessed gangs of men with guns searching the streets for people they suspected of being gay. “I asked one of the people there, ‘who are these men with guns’ and afterwards I was told that these men were looking for men who have been accused of having sexual relations with other men. These men will go to gaol and be tried by Islamic law.” According to Osmin one of the men was being rounded up simply because he was not married and was considered old enough to have married. “He will get at least 100 lashes for that, another man, who was married, will certainly be killed.”

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