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ILGA member GALZ wins 2005's Felipa de Sousa award

in ZIMBABWE, 01/02/2005

Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) Honored with the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission’s 2005 Felipa de Souza Award

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) proudly announced today that its 2005 Felipa de Souza Award will be presented to Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ). The Felipa Award recognizes the courage and impact of grassroots groups and leaders dedicated to improving the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and other individuals stigmatized and abused because of their sexuality. Now in its 10th year, the Felipa Award carries with it a $5,000 (USD) stipend to assist and strengthen the ability of grassroots human rights groups to do their work.

“GALZ has been a creative and fearless human rights leader not just in Zimbabwe but throughout Africa and for all of us who share the struggle for social justice and human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,” said Paula Ettelbrick, the executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). “At a time in which democracy and governmental respect for human rights are closing down even more forcefully in Zimbabwe, GALZ continues to provide life-saving services and programs.”

Formed in 1990, GALZ was the first organization in the country to provide services to and push for the human rights of LGBT people in Zimbabwean society. GALZ was also one of the first organizations in Zimbabwe to provide counseling services and HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns at a time when the Zimbabwean government was in denial of the disease’s existence.

Despite arrests and intimidation, GALZ made a submission to the government-led Constitutional Commission in 1999 for the inclusion of a sexual orientation clause in a new national constitution. Ultimately the words “sexual orientation” were not included, but through GALZ’s efforts, the phrase “natural difference or condition” was included and widely interpreted to include LGBT people.

With the closing of democratic space, the worsening political and economic situation, and the HIV/AIDS crisis in Zimbabwe, GALZ turned its attention away from direct legislative lobbying in 2000 and focused its efforts on upgrading social services, including providing training in activism as well as in HIV/AIDS care and prevention to both local and pan-Africa organizations and activists. Today, GALZ provides these kinds of services as well as offering its members professional and educational training and legal assistance.

“We are honored to receive the 2005 Felipa Award,” said Fadzai Muparutsa, programme manager for gender with Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe. “Our work to improve the lives of sexual minorities in Zimbabwe is extremely challenging but critically important,” Muparutsa continued. “This recognition from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission will boost our resolve in the face of adversity and is a wonderful gesture of solidarity from the international community.”

GALZ continues to work within a climate of impunity. Zimbabwean President Mugabe has consistently iterated that homosexuality is “un-African” and that LGBT persons are “worse than dogs and pigs.” GALZ has been banned from both radio and television since 1994. With the passage of the Public Order and Security Act in 2000, which strictly controls the holding of public meetings, GALZ members have been arrested on at least two occasions. Most recently, the Mugabe government is attempting to pass a new law that bans any foreign non-governmental organization from registering in Zimbabwe if the group’s principle objective is political advocacy, such as human rights work. Similarly, Zimbabwean organizations working on such issues would be barred from receiving “any foreign funding or donation.” While GALZ is not affected because it only provides services to its members and thus has classified itself as a “social club,” the new legislation will place serious restrictions on GALZ’s freedom to speak out on issues of good governance and human rights.

Nominations for the Felipa Award are solicited each year from activists around the world. Nominees go through a rigorous review by the staff, board and International Advisory Board of IGLHRC. The Award embodies the spirit and story of Felipa de Souza, who endured persecution and brutality after proudly declaring her intimacy with a woman during a 16th Century inquisition trial in Brazil. Previous Felipa Award winners include: Simon Tseko Nikoli, the famed LGBT/HIV activist from South Africa; Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays whose leader Brian Williamson was murdered in 2004; Lohana Berkins, a globally known transgender activist from Argentina; and Maher Sabry, the Egyptian activist who notified IGLHRC of the arrests of the Cairo 52.

Ms. Muparutsa will receive the Felipa Award for GALZ at an awards ceremony in the United States in May 2005.
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