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In This Issue
u Peace Corps to Expand u Our Objection to NPCA Policy u Impressions from Ghana u Return to Malawi u Affiliate News
e begin this issue by supporting the proposed expansion of the Peace Corps q Joel Parthemore, recently arrived in Ghana, describes his initial impressions qCarl Halverson goes back to his school in Malawi for a joyous visit q Kevin Souza reports on recent actions taken by the NPCA q It’s time for membership dues again q And news from our Regional Affiliates
Peace Corps Set for Expansion
In his weekly radio address on January 3, President Clinton announced he would ask Congress to approve a substantial increase in funding for the Peace Corps. He proposed that the number of Peace Corps volunteers be increased to 10,000 by the year 2000. Currently there are about 6500 volunteers in more than 90 countries worldwide, and about 150,000 Returned Volunteers. The President said, “Strengthening the Peace Corps, giving more Americans opportunities to serve in humanity’s cause, is both an opportunity and an obligation we should seize in 1998.” Sargent Shriver, who was given the job of first organizing the Peace Corps by President Kennedy, recently commented on this proposal. He would like to see five times this proposed number moving into projects around the world. He argues that if the United States can justify having a Marine Corps of 146,000, we should have a Peace Corps of 50,000. Shriver said that the Peace Corps continues to draw men and women with variety and edge to their personalities. He says. “People don’t get into the Peace Corps because they’re satisfied with the world as it is.” Peace Corps has long had bipartisan support in the Congress. There are now six former volunteers who sit in the House of Representatives, three opportunities. We want to be involved in as many Pride Festivals as we can handle, and we will urge each of the Regional Peace Corps offices to sponsor Recruiting/Information Tables at Gay Pride Parades/Festivals in their communities. We agree with Sargent Shriver that the Peace Corps continues to draw men and women with variety and edge to their personalities, and we know where to find them. This issue of the newsletter gives two perspectives of Peace Corps experience. Joel Parthemore, a new volunteer in Ghana, tells us about his first few months on assignment. RPCV Carl Halverson returns to the school in Malawi where he taught between 1988 and 1990 with a load of scientific goodies for the students. Kevin Souza describes some recent lobbying we aimed at the National Peace Corps Association in which we did not prevail. We solicit annual dues with our February newsletter. You’ll receive a solicitation if your membership is due now. Please support us financially in 1998. We can’t do what we do without you and your help.•
“Strengthening the Peace Corps, giving more Americans opportunities to serve in humanity’s cause, is both an opportunity and an obligation we should seize in 1998.”
Democrats and three Republicans. One Republican senator is a former Peace Corps Director. With this year’s ambitious Balanced Budget proposals, there are both opportunities and pitfalls related to increasing funds for the Peace Corps. We urge all of you to support the proposed increases, and include this support in all of your political interactions in 1998. We plan to play an active part in recruiting lesbians, bisexuals and gay men into the Peace Corps in 1998, taking advantage of these increased
LGB RPCV NewsLetter - February 1998
NPCA Freezes Out New “Interest Group” Affiliates
- by Kevin H. Souza, National Coordinator
For the past two years, the membership committee of the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA), has debated the future of Interest Group affiliates like the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual RPCVs and RPCVs for Environment and Development. The debate was not whether the existing four Interest Groups could remain affiliates, but whether additional “interest groups” would be allowed to affiliate in the future. The NPCA had traditionally been organized around groupings that were geographic or related to country-of-service. Several years ago a couple of groups of Peace Corps alumni began to organize themselves around interests other than where they lived or where they served. Former volunteers trained in environment and development issues were geographically scattered and wanted to come together and be identified by their interest and expertise, thus the origin of RPCVs for Environment and Development. A few years later, another group of former volunteers who shared a very personal and common thread began to recognize their need to reach out to a Peace Corps that welcomed them as volunteers, but usually not for their uniqueness as human beings, and the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual RPCVs was organized. The era of NPCA affiliate groups created on the basis of interest/ experience is over. On Saturday, January 24, the NPCA Board of Directors voted to stop future interest groups from affiliating with the NPCA. Board members gave a number of reasons for this action. The NPCA is low on human and monetary resources. The time and energy involved in bringing a new affiliate group into the NPCA family is significant and the NPCA feels they should concentrate their efforts on geographic and country-of-service groups. Some NPCA board members are concerned about the formation of interest groups that might have devisive or inappropriate agendas. Other NPCA board members feel that a committee working within the NPCA could meet the needs of interest groups like the LGB RPCVs. We strongly disagree with this decision. We understand that the NPCA has limited resources to support new affiliate groups and maintain existing groups. We also have limited resources for tracking our own regional chapters and supporting them. We feel that the mailing list. Affiliation with the National Peace Corps Association is not a trivial matter. Our affiliation brings us new members and likewise brings new members to the NPCA. Increased membership brings increased revenue - revenue that allows us to print our newsletter, maintain our web site and support information and recruitment efforts at national gay pride events each year. Our affiliation with the NPCA also brings something unique and very important to our organization - validation that lesbian, gay and bisexual RPCVs, PCVs, and applicants are welcome into the Peace Corps family. On January 24, the NPCA sent a message to future interest groups (whoever they might be) that they are not welcome as members of the Peace Corps alumni family. We feel that such a message of exclusion is a dangerous precedent and as a flourishing affiliate of the National Peace Corps Association we will continue to oppose this decision.•
...we will continue to oppose this decision.
NPCA is shutting out the very groups who could develop to be among the strongest within the NPCA. In seven years we have grown to become one of the most productive and innovative affiliates within the NPCA. If the Board is concerned that future interest groups might petition to join with a mission in conflict with the NPCA or Peace Corps itself, we would encourage the NPCA to more carefully review its own mission and criteria for affiliation. For those on the Board who believe that the mission of a group like the LGB RPCVs or RPCVs for Environment and Development could be met by a committee working within the NPCA, we feel the need to remind them that in numbers lies strength. Our organization has reached out to more than 200 gay and lesbian applicants over the past two years, linking them with gay and lesbian RPCVs to discuss the issues they will face as volunteers. We have a greater than 95% success rate at matching PC Invitees with someone of their own gender who served in their future country-of- service. An accomplishment that comes from having over 600 RPCVs, PCVs and PC staff on our
PO Box 14332 San Francisco CA 94114-4332 email@example.com http://www.geocities.com/~lgbrpcv
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 address or e-mail.
LGB RPCV NewsLetter - February 1998
Friends of Dorothy: A Letter from Ghana
- by Joel Parthemore, PCV
I was halfway through pre-service training, passing through Accra on my way back from a site visit. I had dropped by the Internet Cafe (more a hole in the wall than a cafe, but the connection is usually good) to check my e-mail and try (unsuccessfully) the LGB RPCV listserve. Leaving the cafe I asked a man at random for directions to Karneshie Station, the lorry (bus) park serving the Central Region where the training site is located. He gave the directions readily enough, but asked if I wouldn’t consider staying in town for a day or two. He had a large house where he lived by himself, and the two of us could have it all to ourselves. His implications were clear, and he was not unattractive; but I explained that I really did need to be back in Salt Pond that day and excused myself to continue somewhat regretfully on my way. I do not know if he recognized my Freedom Rings (Accra is a remarkably cosmopolitan city) or made assumptions about my long hair, which is a novelty to the Ghanaians. People will often reach out from nowhere just to stroke it. But I was thrilled to meet my first gay Ghanaian. The Ghanaian trainers in Salt Pond said at first that homosexuality does not exist in Ghana. When pressed, they conceded that it does exist in the larger cities, but insisted it was unheard of in the villages. In fact I had been in my very small, very rural village less than 24 hours after training was over when I had unambiguous advances made: middle finger scratching my palm during a hand shake, combined with eye contact and body language, and repeated requests that I visit the man’s house. He made similar advances again recently. I offered no response on either occasion, both because I do not find him so attractive and because I am frightened at the potential dangers of having a relationship in the village. At the same time I would like to ask him what it’s like to be gay here. It seems as if each time I get together with members of my training group I meet yet another male (apparently straight) volunteer who tells me he’s had similar advances made to him, usually in the villages. I can only guess that for frustrated gay men in rural Ghana, all they hear about homosexuality has to do with Europeans or Americans, who would then be the only people safe to approach. bedroom door. My house is increasingly filled with such artistic projects, which must seem strange to Ghanaian sensibilities. I knew when I agreed to come to Africa that I was looking at two years of celibacy and sexual isolation. The reality of the experience however exceeds any ability I might have had to imagine it. It is as if each time I return to the village from Accra, a fundamental part of me ceases to exist. My fellow PCVs and PC Ghana have generally been quite supportive if not always well informed. But among the 150 other volunteers currently in country I know of only one bisexual male and one lesbian. The PC Med Unit tells me there’s a gay male volunteer in Togo (the Togo border is perhaps a kilometer from my house), but they have not yet facilitated our getting it touch and have been noncommittal about my suggestions for a regional support network. PC Ghana seems anxious for something to happen - evidently some communication has arrived from Washington. The Med Unit issued an appeal in August for LGB volunteers interested in forming a support group. So far as I know, I’m the only volunteer who responded. I’ve offered to serve as a contact and resource person whose name may be freely publicized. I’ve asked the Med Unit about getting reinforced condoms and drawn up a provisional list of books and videos they might want to obtain. I’m also working with my PCMO in revising a questionnaire that was done here several years ago on attitudes toward homosexuality (see Heidi Lehmann’s article in our August 1995 Newsletter - on the LGV RPCV web site). I would like to see it completed on an annual basis by PCTs, PCVs, administrators and trainers, just to know what attitudes are out there. At the moment the only
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I’ve offered to serve as a contact and resource person whose name may be freely publicized.
It is certainly not the case that homosexuality is not discussed. The recent trial in Zimbabwe of Canaan Banana (a former vice president accused of forcing several subordinates to commit sodomy) was the subject of several heated discussions in the staff common room at my school: “...imagine, a minister of the church and a pillar of the community committing these acts” -“...they say that in America the homosexuals even want the right to marry” etc. One of my colleagues (who studied in France) offered that consenting adults should be left to do what they wish in private. I held back from the discussion and chose my responses carefully when pressed for an opinion. I may be very “out” to Peace Corps Ghana and my fellow PCVs, but my only concession in my village to my identity is my “Why I Am Part of the Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights Movement” poster on the wall of my bedroom. It is there for visitors to read, but they can also choose to ignore it. I am also painting a Freedom Flag on the inside of my
LGB RPCV NewsLetter - February 1998
Back to the Warm Heart of Africa - by Carl Halverson, RPCV, Malawi
Most RPCVs wonder how life at their site has changed since they left. I’ve often dreamed of returning to Malawi where I was a volunteer. The dream came true last October 11 when I once again set foot on Malawi soil. Although Malawi has a new multiparty government, I was pleased to see that the citizens are still the same friendly, outgoing and warm-hearted people I knew seven years ago. By the time our plane landed, I was very excited. Prior to my departure, I decided I would bring some scientific calculators for my old school. After mentioning this to some friends, they encouraged me to send a letter to my family and friends asking if they wanted to donate money or items for the school. By the time I left I collected over $2700, which translated to 134 solar scientific calculators, 9 graphic calculators, 13 soccer/ volleyballs, a microscope, text books, protractors, compasses and a variety of office supplies. The Blantyre airport had no other planes on the ground. So we pulled right in front of the terminal where I could see about 200 spectators on the “observation” roof of the building. As I walked down the stairs from the plane, I looked for familiar faces but in all the excitement, I couldn’t see anyone. The first Malawian I greeted with a “Mulibwanji” (How are you?) was the passport control officer. He looked up with a big smile when I greeted him in Chichewa and responded “Ndilibwino, kayainu?” (I am fine and you?). Next I picked my bags off the luggage carts and quickly chose the customs agent who looked the youngest and the friendliest. Once again I started with “Mulibwanji ?” He replied in English with a formal “I am fine. How much do you wish to declare?” I had written the value of my luggage as $200. I explained that everything was donated for Thyolo Secondary School where I used to teach. He said that I owed him 5000 kwatcha ($280) in customs fees. So I started in on my story, hoping that he would wear down first. And he did. I got everything into the country without paying any excess charges! That meant that 100% of the money donated would go toward school supplies. As I left customs, the first face I saw was my good friend, Francis, a fellow teacher from Thyolo. The first thing he said was “Ah, you are so fat!” This is Malawian for “you look good.” Chikonde and Chrissie, for the first time. We spent a good part of the afternoon talking about our lives for the past seven years. Soon the other teachers began to come by to say hello. About a third of the teachers I had worked with were still there. It was great to see everyone again and meet the new teachers. That evening after a wonderful meal of nsima, chicken and vegetables, we went to the staff room to meet the other teachers and the headmaster. I was pleased to see that the staff room still had signs and posters that I had made seven years ago. I spent a week at the school talking to classes, visiting old friends and enjoying the school life. Leah, the current Peace Corps teacher at the school, is also a good friend of Francis and Grace and their family, and we had lots of fun comparing stories. The school’s population had grown considerably from 500 to 800 students without any extra facilities or teachers. Class size of most classes had grown from 45 to 75. The new government has said more students need to be educated so they have filled the classrooms to the brim. When I was a volunteer, most of my PCV friends knew I was gay. I had been warned by the Malawian trainers against coming out to the Malawian teachers at my school. Culturally, homosexuality is not accepted and is invisible. As a result I never came out to any Malawians. I’ve grown up a lot since those years. I now have a lover of seven years. I sing in the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. My closet door is WIDE open. But what would happen now when I went back to Malawi. Although I talked with Francis about my lover, Terry, I never felt comfortable explaining that we were more than just friends. Even all these years later, there is no gay community in Malawi. It’s still hard to be gay
One of the greatest rewards for me was visiting my former students who have now become teachers.
I weighed only 130 lbs. when I left Malawi, so indeed I had gained some weight. Francis, like many Malawians, had not aged in the least. He was the same skinny friend with a big smile I had missed for over seven years. We picked up the Avis rental car and I turned the wrong direction out of the airport. I had forgotten the way to town. I was very glad to have Francis with me. I had thought so often about returning to Malawi one day and here I was actually living it. I cannot describe how wonderful it felt to be home again. Thyolo Secondary School, my old school, had been painted recently, so it looked better than I remember. The familiar sight of students hanging out on their day off brought back many memories. We first went to Francis’ house where I greeted his wife Grace and son Yamakani, who was only two years old when I had last seen him. I also met their two daughters,
LGB RPCV NewsLetter - February 1998
1998 Membership Dues
there. The decency laws have recently been changed and women can now wear pants. So I guess gay rights will take some time. As I traveled around the country and met other volunteers, I found it easy to come out and speak openly about my life. I was surprised that no one knew of any “out” volunteers. Education is still the key to Malawians’ future. More educated people mean a more productive society. One of the greatest rewards for me was visiting my former students who have now become teachers. Walking into their classrooms and seeing them sharing their knowledge with others showed me how life moves on and grows. I still value my time in Malawi as some of the best years of my life. Part of me will always be in Malawi. Who knows if I’ll ever come out to any of my Malawian friends? Even if I don’t, I will still treasure their friendship and look forward to seeing them again.• Carl Halverson, was a math teacher in Malawi from 1988 - 90. He can be reached by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. A bright yellow dues solicitation sheet is enclosed with your newsletter if your membership fee is due now. Use the table below to determine what action to take regarding 1998 LGB RPCV membership dues.
If you are ...
a member of the LGB RPCVs and not the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA), and you have not yet paid your 1998 dues
please pay your dues now, using the membership solicitation sent with this issue or the coupon on the last page of the newsletter.
a member of the National Peace Corps pay your dues when the NPCA Association notifies you and be sure to designate LGB RPCVs as your affiliate group. We encourage everyone to join the NPCA with the LGB RPCVs as you designated affiliate. currently a volunteer you receive the newsletter free of charge and you need not send us any dues, but please let us know when you COS. pay what you can afford or send nothing, but let us know that you want to remain on our mailing list.
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unsure of your status or have other write our Membership Coordinator, questions John Finn, at the address on the back page, or e-mail him at email@example.com.
We are always looking for articles of interest to RPCVs, PCVs in the field, and lesbians, gay men and bisexuals who are interested in joining the Peace Corps. Our editorial pen is light. We want articles in your voice about your experiences. You can mail or e-mail us your articles firstname.lastname@example.org.
Letter from Ghana...
Continued from page 3
profile of attitudes we have is anecdotal. And, from my experience, what people say in public is often different from what they believe or what they do in private. I’m slowly rebuilding a gay identity here in Ghana - one based on activism rather than relationship. Again from my experience, adults rarely if ever change their minds. Change comes with the (often disempowered) youth. If I can open the minds of the children I teach to new ideas - not necessarily in the hypersensitive area of sexuality, but wherever - I’ll feel I’ve done my part for development. After all development for me is not about money or infrastructure or grand designs, but solidly about ideas. But sometimes I still wish my fellow lesbian, gay and bisexual volunteers were not quite so far away.• Joel Parthemore can be reached through Peace Corps Ghana, P.O.Box 5796, Accra - North, Ghana, West Africa.
LGB RPCV NewsLetter - February 1998
New England: The New England group will dig itself out of the snow early this spring (winter has been hell, particularly in Northern New England). We’ll get together and discuss spring/summer activities as well as gauge interest for participation in June’s pride celebration in Boston. For information call Brian Guse at 802-864-3789 or email: email@example.com . San Francisco Bay Area: After a very well-attended and enjoyable holiday party in early December and another pleasant event in Oakland’s Rockridge district in January, the SF Bay Area LGB RPCVs have a busy agenda of potluck dinners, parties and hikes for 1998. Thanks to all the people who have agreed to host this full schedule of events through the end of the year. The next event is a potluck dinner on Sunday, February 22. The topic of discussion will be our participation in June 1998’s LGBT Pride Festival. To march or not to march is the question! Details will be in our local newsletter. Contact Wayne Hill for more information on 415-695-RPCV or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Seattle: Nothing new to report. Looking for someone to volunteer to host the next get-together. To offer to host an event or for other information e-mail Peter Voeller at email@example.com or call (206) 632-6963. Southern California: Members of the Southern California group have been holding monthly meetings and we had a nice holiday party. Some of the local gay papers are listing our meeting notices and have offered to do a profile of the group. We’re working on a profile to submit. We’re contacting the different Southern California pride associations so we can determine which festivals (and possibly parades) we will participate in. Since we have many festivals in the area (Long Beach, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Claremont, Palm Springs), we need to determine which ones we can staff and afford. After we’ve determined this, we’ll contact the Peace Corps office in Los Angeles to coordinate our efforts. For information about plans and events call Tom Duffy on 714-8327383 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Washington D.C.: Terry Anderson (Liberia 1979-81), one of the founding members of Friends of Liberia, has volunteered to be the Washington D.C. liaison and member of the LGB RPCV Steering Committee. He’ll schedule a gettogether at his place in Silver Spring soon (date and information will be sent to the D.C. members). Also mark your calendars for the Cherry Blossom parade, April 11th, and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Walk, May 3rd. Terry can be reached on 301-5875828 or email: email@example.com.•
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