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In This Issue
u The Future of the Peace Corps u Pride's Meaning in Belize u After 4 Years in Ghana u 2001 Financial Report u Membership Dues u Looking for Articles
e discuss the unexpected news of Peace Corps expansion in our first article. q An adult education volunteer writes about her feelings of gay pride in Belize. q Joel Parthemore reflects on his experiences during 4 years as a volunteer in Ghana. q Dan Rael brings us up to date on our financial status. q It’s time for membership dues again. q We’re looking for some new writers.
The Future of the Peace Corps
- Mike Learned, Editor
Since the life-altering events of last fall, many of us have wondered about the future of the Peace Corps. How will it evolve in this transformed world of terrorism and uncertainty? Within a short time after the events of September 11, Peace Corps evacuated volunteers from the Central Asian republics and Bangladesh. All of a sudden it was no longer safe for Peace Corps volunteers to be in countries that might harbor Islamic militants and terrorists. But, at the same time volunteers remain in countries with majority or large Muslim populations. Volunteers we have heard from say that things move along much as before. In his State of the Union message of January 29, the president answered some of our questions about the Peace Corps’ future, while posing some new ones. He called for a new era of volunteerism. To facilitate this he has created, by executive order, a new organization called the USA Freedom Corps. It’s an umbrella organization that will incorporate the Peace Corps, Americorps, the Senior Corps and a new agency, the Citizen Corps, that will engage Americans in protecting the United States from terrorist attacks and help out in future catastrophes. In his speech the president addressed the Peace Corps, “we will renew the promise of the Peace Corps, double its volunteers over the next five years, and ask it to join a new effort to encourage development and education and opportunity in the Islamic world.” John Bridgeland, the director of the Domestic Policy Council, will be the executive director of the USA Freedom Corps, which will be part of the executive office of the president. Two days after his speech, Bush said, “by taking him off the policy. In the early years of the Clinton administration, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky proposed that the Peace Corps lose its independence as an agency and come under the arm of the State Department. This proposal was widely rejected at the time. The creation of the new organization, USA Freedom, does not suggest the same thing, but then it appears that little has been worked out on how USA Freedom will operate. On the surface it appears that Bridgeland will have responsibilities similar to those of Tom Ridge, the Director of Homeland Security, to oversee and coordinate. He will report to the president and act as policy director, activity coordinator and catalyst amongst the volunteer agencies. But what sort of budgetary and policy control will he and USA Freedom have over the volunteer agencies they oversee? What level of agency independence will the Peace Corps retain? The Peace Corps’ stated goals include promoting a better understanding of Americans on people (countries) served, and a better understanding of other people on the part of Americans. It seems to me that successful volunteers have always walked the fine line between being quiet ambassadors, providers of skills, students of other cultures and what seems implied in the president’s statements and the creation of USA Freedom. In fairness it’s
Continued on page 4
“...we will renew the promise of the Peace Corps, double its volunteers over the next five years,...” - President Bush
Domestic Policy Council and putting him in charge of USA Freedom, I am obviously making a strong commitment to the future of this organization.” Bridgeland said that the administration was seeking to increase the number of Peace Corps volunteers from the current 7000 to about 15,000, the all time high reached by Peace Corps in 1966. He also said that Peace Corps would return to Afghanistan (absent since 1979) as soon as it was safe to help in reconstruction efforts. First to go there will be Crisis Corps, experienced former Peace Corps volunteers, to respond to immediate needs, such as health care and sanitation. Over the years there have been implied and explicit attempts to use the Peace Corps as an arm of American foreign 1
LGB RPCV NewsLetter - February 2002
Pride in Belize
- an Adult Education Volunteer
In the States and in some parts of the world, June is recognized as Gay Pride Month. It is a month that is set aside as a celebration of the lives, history, and experience of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people in the U.S. and throughout the world. For me Gay Pride Month is an affirmation of who I am and celebrates my experience when so much in the world negates it. Now well into my second year of Peace Corps service in Belize, I’ve gained a new perspective on what it means to be a lesbian, especially living in a primarily homophobic environment. Last year at this time I had probably come out to most other volunteers and the rest, thank god were told by the PCV pipeline. It’s funny because when I came to Belize I was already aware of the homophobia and the laws against homosexuality (I had spoken to a lesbian RPCV who had served in Belize in the early 90’s), yet what I was most anxious about was coming-out to the other volunteers. Being a lesbian in a country that has laws against homosexuality and where the majority of the population practice Christianity means that one cannot be open about her sexuality. Being a lesbian in Belize means discretion. It means being cautious. It means being sensitive to others. It means being afraid. And sometimes it means being ashamed. It means not telling the whole truth. It means avoiding certain topics. It means having to hear homophobic remarks and say nothing. It means that you go back into the closet. To be honest I’ve been spoiled. I’ve been out since 1993. Which means that I actively participated in the gay and lesbian community, I spoke on panels, I was in parades, I became an activist for gay rights, I had stable and committed relationship with a woman and I was out in every facet of my life including work, school and family. In addition I was able to live in a liberal college town where the gay population was higher per capita than San Francisco and where there were laws against discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation. You could say I was living in a lesbigay paradise! So that was my experience before Peace Corps Belize. Now it may seem that being a lesbian was my whole life, but not really, just being honest was. I haven’t had many people reject me due to my sexuality. In fact it seems odd that it could possibly happen. Joining the Peace Corps being openly gay was a concern for many of my friends and family. Ironically I wasn’t too concerned. I knew that most Peace Corps countries were either homophobic or not accepting in general. I did expect to be closeted among the host country national. Being closeted wouldn’t be such a struggle because I had hoped to find my support system among other volunteers. Within the last few years Peace Corps country if you’re homosexual. The few gay and lesbian Belizeans that I know are very closeted and very discreet about their sexuality. Amy who self identifies as a lesbian was one of the first people I met here in Belize. She was born and raised in Belize. She currently works in a government agency. Amy has only recently come out to a select few including close friends and a few family members. She is not out at work and most of the people in her life do not know that she is a lesbian. Her experience as a lesbian in Belize has been stressful and frustrating. Due to the laws of this country, the only place for people to meet with one another is at private parties. There are no openly gay bars or discos. There are no support groups or organizations for lesbiagay people. There is no such thing as Gay Pride Month in Belize. The only medium/ resources that lesbiagay people have access to in this country are the pirated cable stations from the U.S. that televise movies and television shows that portray lesbigay characters. The other resource is the Internet and obviously that depends on whether one has access to a personal computer, because checking out a queer website at the District Education office or at Belize Telecommunications Ltd. doesn’t seem like the most discreet way to find lesbigay resources and information! It seems that most lesbigay people in Belize somehow find others like them through word of mouth, which isn’t always the most reliable. Many move to the States to enjoy more freedom and more opportunities to be open and honest about who they are. As everyone knows, Belize has a small population, once you are discovered as either a lesbian or gay man, (bisexuals are usually considered homosexual) life can become rather difficult. In some cases, people are guilty by association. According to Amy, she has had to go out with boys because that is what society expected of her, society mainly being her family and friends. As an adult Amy has had to live her life in the closet, as an employee of the government she can’t disclose too much about her sexuality, because if one is too obvious then one’s job and social status/reputation is threatened. There have been many cases of people losing their employment due to their sexual orientation even though it is
Continued on page 4
Being a lesbian in Belize means discretion. It means being cautious. It means being sensitive to others. It means being afraid. And sometimes it means being ashamed.
has been actively recruiting people of diverse backgrounds including sexual orientation. Peace Corps has specific policies that state volunteers can not be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation. My Peace Corps recruiter didn’t directly ask me if I was a lesbian, but based on my past work and volunteer experience working with queer folk, she did warn me about being discreet and to be careful in Belize if I was planning to be out. I also received sound advice from my RPCV mentor who had served here. In the states, I wasn’t surrounded by gay people all the time, but I was used to people accepting me for who I am, and treating me with respect. Understandably, I sought out that same type of acceptance and support here within our volunteer group. As a result I’ve gained supportive friends who listen to me no matter what course the conversation takes. I’ve found empathy and understanding, some curiosity and a chance to educate and share my experiences with others. I am lucky because the other volunteers have treated me with respect in regards to this issue. I am grateful and thankful because as I have learned from the few Belizean friends I’ve made here, respect is the last thing you receive from others in this 2
LGB RPCV NewsLetter - February 2002
Come for Two Years, Stay for Four
- Joel Parthemore, RPCV Ghana
It’s been nearly six months since I closed my Peace Corps service. The final severing of the knot was delayed by an intestinal infection gone wild that sent me to the hospital in Techiman for a few days. Enoch, a student of mine from Model School four years earlier, had gotten back in touch and come to visit. He came along to the hospital and helped nurse me back to health. Peace Corps wasn’t too happy about the additional delay. I had had my difficulties with them already over missing extension paperwork and exactly when I was supposed to close service. I had after all extended for four months on top of my six months’ extension, on top of my thirteen months’ extension to my original two years of service. Some confusion was probably inevitable. But I made it to Accra, a few days late. I finished my paperwork on a Friday afternoon; the newly revised close-of-service date was set for the following Monday. I went back to my site to finish a few more things with the computer lab I had set up and install a network at a friend’s school in Techiman. I also went to say good-bye to a friend in the village with whom I’d had a few, brief romantic encounters. But he wasn’t so keen on seeing me again. Then I returned for the last time to Accra. My friend Moses came to my hotel room to say good-bye. I scratched his palm; he scratched mine (palm scratching is a common way of expressing physical attraction). That was all that happened, but it was nice. James, a friend very much struggling with his sexual identity, was supposed to come by as well that evening and spend the night, but didn’t. He had previously become the benefactor of my magazine collection, sent by friends over the four years to keep me company on the long, lonely nights. Evans, a friend (but not a friend-friend) from when I first arrived in country, came by the next morning to say good-bye. Later he wrote that he held himself together until after I had gone, then went away and cried. I went around to visit a friend, another James, and told him, as I’d always wanted to, that I found him quite attractive. He said that yes, he had been told that any number of times both by women and by men, and though he did not see it himself, he thanked me for the compliment. I left Accra by road for Cape Coast and Abidjan. In Salt Pond, where I had done my pre-service training, I stopped to say good-bye to my friend Kwame and his mother Ethyl and enjoy some of their freshly pounded fufu. I stayed overnight with my homestay brother Maxwell, recently engaged to be married. Then I was across the Cote d’Ivoire border and off on my whirlwind rail tour of French West Africa. I’ve had plenty of E-mail and snail-mail letters from Evans and Moses, and several E-mails and a photograph from James. I’ve gotten into E-mail correspondence with a number of gay Ghanaians, in Berekum, Swedru and Accra, and started to get an understanding of the network gay and Ghanaian. It’s not that it was easy being a gay volunteer in Ghana. It was bloody difficult most of the time. I didn’t try to hide my sexual identity (much to my trainers’ chagrin during pre-service training), but there weren’t a lot of opportunities to be open about it either. There were people in my school and my community who knew. Whether they spread the word to everybody else I never knew and didn’t really care. When I fielded the inevitable stream of questions about whether I would marry a Ghanaian, I answered quite truthfully that I would be happy to, but I didn’t think it was going to happen. The marriage offers I turned down as politely as I knew how. After a while people got the idea and stopped asking. My main support network was with friends in the States via E-mail. I tried to set up a volunteer support group but got nowhere for lack of interest. I didn’t get along so well with the other gay volunteers I knew, whose needs were different and who were temperamentally quite different from me. One of them told me in effect that my “need” to be open was a sign that I was still closeted. “I used to be like that,” he said. I told one of the volunteers (gay or straight I don’t know) that I had a crush on him. It freaked him out at the time, though as time went on he seemed to be all right with it. I found the occasional surprise book at the used bookstore in Accra: Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City” and Michael Cunningham’s “A Home at the End of the World,” both personal favorites. I had the letters I got from RPCVs in response to my first LGB RPCV newsletter article. Later on I discovered it widely circulated on the web. I had my all too occasional romantic encounters. (I was voted by my training group as most likely to remain celibate until the end of his service, after we were informed that 90% of volunteers become sexually active during their tour.) I had my local friend who discovered my magazines and took great delight in them, though he never did get my permission to take any of them away. I think one or two other visitors must have discovered them as well, because they ended up looking very well read.
Continued on page 5
I’ve missed Ghana, more than I would have realized before I left,...If someone made me a job offer, I would think seriously about going back.
that I suspected but never really knew existed while I was a volunteer. If only I had known about them while I was in Ghana, my nights might not have been all so lonely. I’ve also found myself the subject of discussion in the returned Peace Corps volunteer rumor mill for my alleged dalliances. Ah, if only my life there had been so exciting! I’ve missed Ghana, more than I would have realized before I left, when all I could think about was cold weather (not as my Ghanaian friends defined it, where 20 C meant bundling on all the clothes that you owned) and snow. If someone made me a job offer, I would think seriously about going back. Indeed I have a lead at the moment on running a distance education program in Accra. I miss all the beautiful shirtless men. I miss those times I shared a bed with someone, even if nothing happened. I have a sense of unfinished conversations and relationships. And I would like to write a book, I think, about what it is like to be 3
LGB RPCV NewsLetter - February 2002
Future of Peace Corps
By in large, these positions have also been vacant for a year. Peace Corps’ five-year limitation on employment has also too soon to know what this all means, but decimated Peace Corps professional ranks I think we need to stay on top of the during this time, and there have been job changes in direction that will come. Will freezes. Peace Corps staff has had to Peace Corps become a tool to combat this concentrate on keeping programs going, particular crisis, such as being used to replacing the destroyed New York regional spread American values to the Muslim office and dealing with the effects of the world? It is of course perceived “AmeriSeptember 11 attacks on volunteers can values” that appear to motivate many overseas. But much has remained in limbo. of those anxious to cause us harm. Any The resurgence of the Peace Corps, success in this area will require the regardless of sensitive distinction motivation, seems to between democratic Peace Corps has me a perfect time to values, individual growth and developsurvived and flourished work towards its rejuvenation and ment, and the culture over the past 41 years refocus. To grow in clash of fast food, size and budget will cheap t-shirts, raucous and enjoyed bipartisan require vision, music and violent support because it has competence, video entertainment. experience and skill. Peace Corps has resisted politicization Surely its time to survived and flourand manipulation. look at the way the ished over the past 41 Peace Corps is years and enjoyed organized and bipartisan support managed. Is the five-year employment because it has resisted politicization and limit still relevant, or is it a way to rob the manipulation. organization of much of its competence Doubling the size of the Peace Corps, during times of political stalemate? Why significantly increasing budget, enlarging so many political appointments? Why the scope of volunteer projects, all couldn’t professionals from other agencies prompt other, more serious questions. like AID, the World Health Organization, Where is the managerial skill and and other respected NGOs, be hired on leadership to accomplish this? Gaddi (not politically appointed) for their Vasquez was finally approved as new expertise? Isn’t it time to reexamine the Peace Corps Director by voice vote in the legislation that created the Peace Corps in Senate just 4 days before the State of the the first place? Let’s not let this opportuUnion address with its dramatic Peace nity pass by. Corps announcements. Along with many Information about the USA Freedom others we opposed his nomination Corps is on a new Web site because of the candidate’s lack of qualifications and relevant experience. The www.usafreedomcorps.gov It includes a direct link to the Peace Corps and other Peace Corps has been without a Director volunteer agency web sites. for over a year. Peace Corps’ top two dozen managers are political appointees.
Continued from page 1
Pride in Belize
Continued from page 2 never openly stated as the reason. After talking with other Belizean lesbians and gay men most would agree that it is easier for men to be open about their sexuality than it is for women. Although ironically the laws against homosexuality are targeted at gay men and not lesbians. It seems that more men are out than women and that’s because they are willing to take the risk. Due to these realities, moving to the States to be free or open is so true for many gay men and lesbians. Most people in Belize and throughout the world still consider homosexuality a sin, an aberration, unnatural, disgusting, in other words wrong and not acceptable. Due to these harsh judgments, most people prefer to be closeted. As I write this article, I wonder how many Belizeans will read this and how many will judge me or lose respect for me and the work that I do. I would like to say that I don’t care, but I still have several months of service to complete and I don’t want to compromise my assignment, my office, or Peace Corps. I believe my reason for being here is more important than letting everyone know about my sexuality. And yet, I wanted the other volunteers to know how much I’ve appreciated their support and to be aware of not only myself who is a lesbian but also others who have lived in Belize all their lives and cannot be out because of fear and rejection. This is the same fear, that will not allow me to publish my name at the end of this piece. I am not ashamed of who I am. If anything I’ve become more proud, living in Belize, not only of myself but, of lesbigay Belizeans who have struggled alone with their sexuality and until recently haven’t even been able to see themselves represented in the media or anywhere for that matter. I am proud of their strength and their honesty. I admire them for being truthful if not with anyone but themselves. Shame and/or fear prevent most people from being open about their sexuality. Coming out is a lifelong process. A good friend of mine once said, lesbians, gay men and bisexual people come-out, so that one day we won’t have to any more. I hope that day comes sooner than later especially for those who live in Belize. You can contact the author by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking for a Few Good Stories
We are always looking for articles from both volunteers and those now back home. We’re looking for stories of your experiences. Many lesbian and gay Peace Corps applicants are eager for information about what it’s like for gay and lesbian volunteers working in the developing world. The articles in our newsletter (also up on our web site) are invaluable sources for this kind of information. We often publish anonymously to protect the privacy of volunteers in the field. We exercise a light editorial touch and we’re anxious to hear from those who have a story to tell. You can write us or email us using the contact information on the last page of the newsletter or email the editor, Mike Learned, direct email@example.com. 4
LGB RPCV NewsLetter - February 2002
2001 Financial Report / Membership Drive
- Dan Rael, Financial Coordinator & John Finn, Membership Coordinator
2001 was a good year financially for our group. We finished the year with a balance of $1226 higher than in 2000, resulting primarily from our aggressive campaigns to solicit renewal memberships and from a significant increase in membership dues forwarded from NPCA. Our overall paid membership increased more than 12% this last year, ending a trend of decreasing membership. Expenses in 2001 were higher than in 2000 resulting from slightly higher newsletter production costs and increased dues rebated to NPCA for joint memberships. Additionally, our NPCA Affiliation fee of $218 was paid in 2002, therefore is not reflected in the 2001 statement. Dan Rael: firstname.lastname@example.org
Income: Membership Dues NPCA Individual Dues Other Total
1795 2095 130 $4,020
Expenses: Newsletter, Recruiting & Membership Materials 2294 NPCA Dues Rebates 500 Other (website, PO Box) 149 Total $2,943 Balance (12/31/01) $5,525
We solicit membership dues each February. LGB RPCV Members whose membership fees are due this month will receive a solicitation coupon and return envelop with this newsletter. LGB RPCV members who are also members of the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) receive renewal notices from the NPCA. This can occur any month of the year . We urge NPCA members to renew and continue to identify LGB RPCVs as your affiliate NPCA group. Our goal is to increase our membership by 25% this year. Please help us meet that goal by renewing your membership now, or whenever you hear from the NPCA. John Finn: email@example.com
Four Years in Ghana
Continued from page 3
Besides of course my primary project the computer lab that fell apart after I left counterpart called homosexuality “a gift and is just now pulling itself back together from God,” and several admitted - I wonder about the legacy I left behind as unprompted to having had homosexual a gay volunteer. On behalf of the medical experiences. Going through all the office I helped write and distribute a questionnaires was an enlightening questionnaire on experience. attitudes toward What if anything homosexuality that Peace Corps will do The only clear legacy with the survey proved quite controversial and apparently I can point to as a gay results, I don’t generated letters to know; I knew only volunteer, besides the Washington. Volunteers that I needed to complained that the addition of a few books finish them before I questionnaire, which have found and a video to the medi- left. I passing went out to volunteers some and Ghanaian countercal office library, is that reference to them on parts, was attempting one of the official on my initiative the to pigeonhole them. I websites. The only can’t speak to the clear legacy I can medical office started medical office’s point to as a gay getting reinforced intentions, but I know volunteer, besides I was just interested in the addition of a condoms. getting a portrait of few books and a people’s attitudes, not video to the medical in saying what office library, is that attitudes were “right” on my initiative the or “wrong.” To me providing a supportive medical office started getting reinforced environment is less about changing condoms. people’s attitudes (we all have our On balance, I suppose it is not the prejudices) and more about helping people worst of legacies to leave. feel safe to share what those attitudes are. The results suggested that neither were Joel can be reached by email: volunteers uniformly so supportive nor firstname.lastname@example.org counterparts so uniformly antagonistic as popular belief seemed to hold. One 5
PO Box 14332 San Francisco CA 94114-4332 email@example.com http://www.lgbrpcv.org
Mike Learned Kevin H. Souza
The LGB RPCV Newsletter is published quarterly by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual RPCV Organization, an affiliate of the National Peace Corps Association. We exist to promote Peace Corps ideals and acceptance of gays and lesbians throughout the world. Submission of articles or graphics to be published in the newsletter is encouraged. The right to use or edit materials remains with the editor. Copyright remains with the author. Send submissions or inquires to the above postal or E-mail address.
LGB RPCV NewsLetter - February 2002
Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual Returned Peace Corps Volunteers
Who are we?
We’re an organization of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and others who are former Peace Corps volunteers, current volunteers, former and current staff members, and friends. Founded in Washington D.C. in 1991, we have several hundred members throughout the country and around the world who have served in the Peace Corps since its beginning in 1961. We are composed of a national steering committee, together with regional chapters. We currently have local chapters in San Francisco, Southern California and Washington D.C. We are an affiliate member of the National Peace Corps Association.
What’s our purpose?
We promote Peace Corps ideals and acceptance of lesbians, gays and bisexuals throughout the world.
What do we do?
u u u u u u u u Provide support to our national members and current volunteers. Facilitate the creation of regional chapters. Actively involve ourselves as an affiliate of the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA). Promote policies and projects that support Peace Corps ideals and the acceptance and active involvement of lesbians, gays and bisexuals within the Peace Corps. Take an active part in Gay Pride events around the country encouraging gays, lesbians and bisexuals to consider the Peace Corps experience. Offer our members as informational resources and mentors for lesbians, gays and bisexuals who have been offered a Peace Corps assignment. Host social events for our members. Communicate regularly with our members and others through a quarterly newsletter and our web site.
New Membership * Address Change Form
Name: Street: City: Phone/Fax/E-mail: Country of Service: PC Project: Current Work: Membership: $15 for LGB RPCV Affiliate Only or FREE to Current Volunteers $40 for LGB RPCV Plus the National Peace Corps Association Years: State: New Member Change of Address/Renewal I would talk with applicants about my experience. Zip:
LGB RPCVs; PO Box 14332; San Francisco, CA 94114-4332 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org * http://www.geocities.com/lgbrpcv
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