This month, the National Democratic Institute is celebrating Pride! In support of NDI’s commitment to increasing the inclusion of marginalized populations in political processes, we’re highlighting the essential work of partners who are at the forefront fighting for greater levels of equality, shifting norms and perceptions, and reducing barriers to political participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI+) communities.
NDI interviewed members of Young Queer Alliance, a partner in Mauritius working to challenge discrimination against LGBTQI+ Mauritians. The Young Queer Alliance seeks to empower individuals and organizations, promote equality, and lead change for LGBTQI+ people. The Young Queer Alliance talked with us about Pride and recent developments for LGBTQI+ rights in Mauritius.
What are some of the ways that LGBTQI+ people in your country are participating politically? What challenges or barriers to political participation remain?
Young Queer Alliance: The YQA has been engaging with UN mechanisms and treaty bodies over the past few years with the support of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. The YQA submitted a number of advocacy papers at the UN, such as the shadow report for a “list of issues” for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the alternative report for the 121st session of the Human Rights Committee, and a joint shadow report to the 71st Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women committee.
Another example of political participation is how four young LGBT Mauritians, with the support of YQA, approached the Supreme Court of Mauritius for constitutional redress on the basis that Section 250 (1) of the Criminal Code Act, a law that specifically criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity violates their fundamental rights and freedom and is unconstitutional. They, therefore, requested from the Supreme Court of Mauritius: A declaration that sexual orientation forms part of and is implied in the definition of sex and declare Section 250 unconstitutional. In addition to the four plaintiffs supported by the YQA, two other cases deal with the same matter.
Other barriers to political participation include lack of political will and voter concern; legal and institutional barriers; lack of evidence (historical/evidence); and traditional thoughts such as religious perceptions, homophobic reactions & public opinion backlash.
How is your organization working to address these barriers/challenges and to eliminate discrimination against LGBTQI+ people in your country?
Young Queer Alliance: Since 2014, the YQA has initiated various complaints with local authorities to contest the lack of equal rights for LGBTQI people. The YQA also advocated in various United Nations (UN) forums such as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Mauritius, the UN Human Rights Committee, and other UN mechanisms and treaty bodies in relation to Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Expression and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC).
The YQA has been the sole LGBTQI organization conducting LGBTQI-related research papers and studies pertaining to subjects such as socio-economic conditions, asylum seeking, challenges in family settings, and legal analysis of the criminalization of sexual relationships between same-sex consenting adults.
We also organize communication and visibility actions and other activities such as street advocacy/awareness raising, social outings, and events for LGBTQI people.
In terms of service provision, the YQA provides case management, HIV and STIs testing and referral, and also counseling. These activities are in addition to the political participation and litigation work carried out by the YQA.
In recent years there have been restrictions on public gatherings and civic space in response to COVID-19. How is your organization reclaiming space this year, and how have you adapted to new challenges or opportunities?
Young Queer Alliance: Due to the COVID 19 pandemic, the organization faced challenges in conducting its normal activities such as the distribution of condoms and gels, HIV testing, street advocacy, space safe activities (hiking, film viewing, and workshops), and counseling. COVID 19 has also significantly impacted our core funding and affected our funding application with international donors.
The restrictions imposed by the Government limited our mobility to reach out to beneficiaries. The organization has come up with a new strategy of e-outreaching its recipients. This strategy includes contacting beneficiaries through social media platforms (Facebook and WhatsApp), telephone and email by providing online Counseling, sharing of information on HIV/AIDS, and on indoor/online activities that can be done to ensure a continuity of our services.
To respond to these unique challenges of the time, YQA developed a COVID-19 guide for LGBT people in Mauritius, which includes HIV related precautions to take during COVID-19. This toolkit was the first of its kind in Mauritius and was turned into an animated video.
YQA conducted an online survey during the pandemic, which showed the challenges faced by LGBTQ Mauritians due to COVID-19. The challenges are mainly violence and stigma in family settings leading to heightened levels of anxiety and mental health issues. Using the Strategic Plan as a baseline, the YQA intends to develop a comprehensive social support package for LGBTQ people.
What does Pride mean to you and/or your organization?
Young Queer Alliance: Pride is about celebrating the diversity of the LGBTQI+ community and commemorating the stonewall riots, emblematic figures of the movements such as Harvey Milk, Rustin Bayard, and Marsha Johnson, who fought for the rights of LGBTQI+ people and who brought a significant contribution to the movement and cause.
In addition, for the YQA, Pride is also about commemorating the LGBTQ Mauritians who were lost to the local struggles and challenges we face, the victories won, and visibility and advocacy for equality.
In the past year, can you briefly share a success story from your organization’s contribution to strengthening the LGBTQI+ movement in your country?
Young Queer Alliance: One of the main success stories for the YQA was the training with Media Houses on proper LGBTQ reporting. The objective of this media training was to enable news reporters to correctly represent LGBTQ people in their reporting and to have a more diverse and adequate reporting on LGBTQ issues. The training, which was conducted in collaboration with the Media Trust, a Statutory Body, saw the participation of some ten media houses. The training has been carried out again this year, with a new group of reporters, amid requests to ensure that this collaboration happens yearly.
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.