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LIPRIDE and ActionAid: advancing LGBTQI rights in a closed Liberia
”We have made it possible for LGBTQI people to go to health facilities and find nurses and doctors that will be willing to treat them without any form of discrimination. In other words, now LGBTQI persons can access health care without being discriminated in some parts of Liberia”. The voice of Maxwell Monboe from LIPRIDE (Liberia's Initiative for the Promotion of Rights, Identity, Diversity and Equality) takes on a different tone, one of happiness and pride, when he talks about the small but very important steps that the national coalition, formed by 18 organizations working in a grass-root level, recently has been making. Since ActionAid's support for the network´s capacity building in different areas such as program, advocacy and finances started last year, a lot has happened in one of the most discriminatory countries against LGBTQI persons and other sexual minorities.
In Liberia the fight is not about combating the shrinking democratic space, but rather a struggle for the opportunity to experience democracy and freedom for the first time. Homosexuality, for example, is not illegal in itself, but practicing homosexual intercourse is. This has serious implications for LGBTQI people and other marginalized groups, such as people living with HIV and AIDS (both LGBTQI and heterosexual) and sex workers exposed to stigmatization, discrimination, gender-based violence and not having access to well-needed sexual and reproductive health services.
In this repressive context, LIPRIDE has courageously been working with different strategic groups with a particular focus on acceptance and tolerance of sexual minorities. Together with the Liberian National Police HIV/AIDS division, the coalition is advancing the human rights-based approach as the primary lens for cases of violence against sexually marginalized groups. With the support of ActionAid Liberia, LIPRIDE has offered training to 200 Liberian National Police officials on sexual and reproductive health and rights with focus on the LGBTQI population. ”Those police officers are now trained in handling cases of sexually marginalized people and making sure that they have a basic understanding of the issues of human rights. So when a LGBTQI person goes to the police station after being attacked, officers in charge of that station will deal with the actual crime and not the person’s sexuality”, explains Monboe.
The effort for social transformation as it relates to diversities involves yet another key group: Policymakers and professionals in health care. There LIPRIDE has been able to; on the one hand, engage the government through advocacy efforts stressing that the LGBTQI community have the same right to health care like any other community, as they are first and foremost, human beings. On the other hand, with the support of ActionAid the coalition has been training health care practitioners to offer LGBTQI people who reach health centers, a service that is free of discrimination and with an understanding about the needs and rights of this community.
”If you understand something, it will change your perception”
Homophobia is a deeply rooted and widespread phenomenon in Liberia and permeates society at different levels, not least in cultural and religious contexts. Most families tend to outcast relatives that are identifying as LGBTQI, based on that societal norm. LIPRIDE therefore works massively on campaigns, workshops, dialogues and meetings targeting the population in those societies to raise awareness of the LGBTQI people’s rights. ”We meet with community members, community heads, school authorities and family members. Our strategy is to meet from the lowest to the highest to advocate for LGBTQI rights”. So many efforts point to significant advances. ”Few years ago we could not sit in a meeting with government officials as well as other civil society organizations and mention the words gay or lesbian or transgender. Now we can all sit together and mention those words without being looked at like someone coming out of the clear blue sky. This proves that with more awareness and more engagement with strategic partners and other stakeholders we can move to another level, where those people are understood and perceived as human beings and treated as so”, concludes Monboe.