LGB RPCV NewsLetter - February 1999
In This Issue
u Gay Scene in Burkina Faso u Lesbian/Gay Rights Worldwide u Membership Time Again u Financial Statement u Mentor Needs u Organization & Peace Corps News
ebruary’s issue begins with an article by Don Bapst about his experiences in West Africa’s Burkina Faso. q Mike Learned reviews a valuable resource of information about lesbian and gay rights in 12 different countries. q Bill Erdmann paints our financial picture and tells us where the money goes. q Kevin Souza asks for help with the Mentor Project. q News of our organization and a recent high level appointment at Peace Corps.
Eight Years and Stronger Than Ever
Shortly, LGB RPCVs will celebrate our eighth anniversary. We first came together as a group in Washington D.C. during Peace Corps’ thirtieth anniversary celebration in 1991. Shortly after the group became an affiliate member of the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA), the Peace Corps’ official alumni group. After about three years of being run by members from the Washington D.C. area, a group of gay and lesbian returned volunteers in the San Francisco Bay Area continued steering the organization. A lot has been accomplished in that time, including just holding together as a group. Almost four years ago, Peace Corps added “sexual orientation” to its non-discriminatory clause, a major goal of ours. Peace Corps has become increasingly open and inviting to lesbian and gay volunteers and staff over these years. Lesbian and gay issues are included in new volunteer diversity training programs. Support groups for lesbian and gay volunteers exist in many countries. During the 1998 Pride Season, Peace Corps was present with recruiting and information tables at seven Gay Pride parades and events around the country, most recently at Palm Springs’ fall Pride event. Under current Peace Corps leadership we expect this progress to continue. But we are living in politically shaky times. The Presidential Election in the year 2000 could confirm us as your affiliate RPCV organization. If you have sent your membership to us directly, you will receive a 1999 membership solicitation with this issue of the newsletter. Please renew promptly. Your financial support is crucial to our survival. Bill Erdmann, our financial coordinator, explains where your membership dues go in an article in this issue. He also includes a financial statement for 1998. Kevin Souza discusses resource needs for our Mentor Program. The number of people contacting us through our web site needing information about Peace Corps is rapidly increasing. We need more recent volunteers as mentors who can help lesbians and gay men who want to know about their experiences and the lesbian/gay situation in the countries where they served. Two articles in this issue help disseminate such information. RPCV Don Bapst describes discrete gay life in remote Burkina Faso and his reactions to his experiences there. Mike Learned reviews the current issue of the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review which includes 12 articles on gay/ lesbian human rights issues around the world.•
“Peace Corps has becoming increasingly open and inviting to lesbian and gay volunteers and staff over these years. ”
change the leadership and the social/ political direction of the entire organization, altering the agency’s response to gay and lesbian participation in Peace Corps. It’s important that we stick around and keep watch. Every February we solicit membership funds from our members. We get membership funds in two ways. If someone joins the NPCA and designates LGB RPCVs as their affiliate group, $15 of that fee comes to us. If you are a member of the NPCA, please renew your membership when the NPCA notifies you that your fees are due (this could be any month of the year), and name or
LGB RPCV NewsLetter - February 1999
Coming Out in West Africa: a PCV Finds Gays in Burkina Faso
Editor’s note: This is a much condensed version of Don’s article which has appeared in the Gay and Lesbian Times, Seattle Gay News, Windy City Times, and on the Gay Financial Network. I knew little about Burkina Faso when I received my invitation from Peace Corps to teach English there at University level. As a film buff, I knew the Burkinabé produced fine films and hosted an African film festival. I also knew it was one of the least developed countries in the world, landlocked just north of Ghana and the Ivory Coast. It was about as far away culturally that you could get from America. Peace Corps would give me the opportunity to experience an interesting culture far different from my own. There were a couple of aspects of Peace Corps’ offer that made me nervous. First was my health. I’d be taking the latest treatment against malaria, mefloquine. It had been banned in England because intense psychological side effects reported by some users. It was likely that I’d get intestinal parasites at least once during my stay. Well, if I really got sick, they could always “medevac” me home on an airplane. I’d just cross my fingers and hope for the best. My second issue was harder to resolve and ultimately riskier. How would my homosexuality affect my Peace Corps experience? I’d been out of the closet since I was fifteen years old. Everything I read about Burkina Faso seemed to suggest that homosexuality was “nonexistent.” At best it was viewed as just another European perversion not present on the African continent. Though I’d experienced many examples of anti-gay discrimination, I’d never been in a purely homophobic environment or far from gay friends for longer than a few hours. Despite possible dangers, I was curious to have the unique opportunity to live in a culture where people hadn’t already found heavily politicized labels for their sexuality. Maybe it was time to see what life was like in a pre-Stonewall environment. What better way than to go to a country that hadn’t yet heard of the gay rights movement. This experiment might involve some risks. Would people be hostile to gays? Did West Africa have anything at all resembling a gay scene? What would happen?
- by Don Bapst, RPCV
Paris and spoke fluent French, we had an immediate channel of communication that he didn’t have with the other volunteers. After a month, we moved from small talk about general cultural differences to more intimate areas, such as our goals and desires. Naturally this led to conversations about sex. I tried on numerous occasions to come out to him. After all, he shared his deepest secrets about the women he’d loved and lost and about those he currently desired. But, I just couldn’t tell him. Later I bravely asked my friend if he thought homosexuality existed in Africa. “I’ve heard of fags before,” he said, “but you don’t really see that here.” He wasn’t forthcoming with his opinion of “fags,” but his choice of language was already a disturbing indication. He didn’t seem to have a clue that I might be one. He mentioned that he’d “seen one around” at the University. I asked how the guy had been treated. “I don’t know, I just avoided him.” He seemed perplexed by my questions and we dropped the topic. I let it go and left the relationship as it was. I wanted a better and safer way to come out in the future. Later during training, I asked one of our Burkinabé trainers how homosexuality was perceived. Some of the straight volunteers pushed the question further, bringing up their own positive opinions about gay rights. This discussion led to the trainers claiming that homosexuality was fine for “whites” but that it didn’t exist in Africa. When asked about lesbians, the response was hysterical laughter. In this environment, I had to ask myself if coming out to people in Burkina Faso would do much good. By the time I began my work at the University in the capital city, I decided that it would be best if I waited until I understood more of the nuances of the local culture before coming out to anyone. It would take me seven months before I found an appropriate and safe moment to do it. It was about this time that I met a man who became a lover. I’ll call him Jean. A contact of a contact gave me his name, suggesting I call him regarding a project I was working on at the University. From the moment I met him, I was sure he was gay. I wasn’t initially attracted to him, but I wanted to talk to a
Soon there was no more time for questions. I found myself getting off a plane in the middle of the arid West African savanna. The U.S. ambassador was there to shake our hands and personally welcome us. We were each handed our first bottle of Laafi brand mineral water to combat the instant dehydration our bodies were experiencing in the 110 degree-plus heat. During the first three months we went through a vigorous training program while living in dorm-style accommoda-
Most of the volunteers, however straight, were familiar enough with gay culture to slip an affectionate “Hey girlfriend!” into the conversation from time to time.
tions outside the city of Bobo-Dioulasso. I shared my room with a straight Burkinabé trainer, a straight volunteer, and to my surprise another gay volunteer. I was able to come out almost immediately to all the other Peace Corps volunteers, creating a support mechanism. Speaking to them was like being back home. Most of the volunteers, however straight, were familiar enough with gay culture to slip an affectionate “Hey girlfriend!” into the conversation from time to time. This came as an unexpected source of comfort so far from my gay stomping grounds in America. On the other hand, coming out to a Burkinabé was no simple task. Everyone I met, including the trainers, assumed I was heterosexual. The men were constantly trying to set me up with local women, including on occasion their wives. Though our trainers spoke French and some English, I was able to chat with my American colleagues about issues of sexual frustration and cultural confusion without our African trainers understanding. In my spare time, I began to work on developing a platonic dialogue with my Burkinabé roommate. Since I had lived in 2
LGB RPCV NewsLetter - February 1999
LGB RPCVs Launch New Electronic Mailing List
gay Burkinabé and compare life experieveryone saying that their American ences. I made numerous efforts to see him neighbor was a fag? again, and after two months of hinting After a run-in with another volunteer around, we finally came out to one over the issue of race, homosexuality, and another. It turned out that he had lived in AIDS, I began to wonder how secure my Europe for some time, where he had safety net was with the other volunteers. discovered his sexuality. Home now, he Was my cover going to be blown? I was was back in the closet, and even engaged also becoming concerned that my to be married. Nevertheless, he organized relationship with Jean might endanger little parties at different friends’ homes him. We’d become more affectionate with from time to time. Eventually he one another in public. African men held introduced me to his community of “out” one another’s hands. Americans, gay men, about 12 guys. everyone knew, didn’t. He was hiding me At my first gay party in Africa, we sat from his fiancée, and I had someone back around a coffee table and snacked on in the States. chips till someone Resolving these put on some music issues was further At my first gay party and everyone began complicated by my pairing off to dance. in Africa, we sat around weekly mefloquine Here in the privacy treatments against of an exclusive gay malaria. The drug a coffee table and event, guys were free was giving me snacked on chips till to be themselves and Technicolor nightas campy or romantic someone put on some mares, daily mood as they wanted to be. swings, and panic music and everyone A fireman caressed attacks. I couldn’t his date in time to separate what was began pairing off to the music. Two coming from my dance. young army men reaction to the practiced modeling environment and techniques. Some of what was coming the other guys sat on the sofa and kept a from the drug. I had just finished teaching running commentary on the dancers. my first semester at the University and After seven months of life in the African had turned in my grades. I gave it some closet, this was an unbelievable sight. hard thought, and decided to return to the After a couple of dances, I asked Jean States early. to dance with me. That’s when I realized Since returning home, I’ve received that we’d actually gotten to know each letters from Burkinabé friends, fellow other pretty well over the last couple of volunteers, and finally from Jean. “I months. I realized I’d overlooked his know that a new life has started for you handsomeness. Our growing interest in Don, but here things are still only one another was apparent to the others, crawling along for me.” I pray that he is and the subject of conversation. Getting well and happy and still organizing those together was difficult. Jean still lived monthly gay events. I have this dream with his family, and because of armed that we’ll meet again someday in a world burglaries in the neighborhood, I had a that has forgotten all these boundaries of nighttime guard who looked after my race, class, sex, sexuality, nationality, house. He saw everyone who came and health, privilege, language, culture, and went. After Jean stayed over, I felt the religion. And then I wake up to my very guard looking at me differently. Was I real memories of my brief stay in West being paranoid? Africa and realize that it’s only a dream Then the gay group came to my house that could bridge two worlds that are so and we hung out on the patio. We camped very far apart.• it up with a lot of gay slang imported to Burkinabé French from Paris. Were my neighbors familiar with this vocabulary? Don Bapst served in Burkina Faso in Every time I was around my new gay 1997. He is currently a free lance writer friends, I just had to cut loose, but I living in San Francisco. worried I was creating a scandal. Was 3 The LGB RPCV association has a new and improved e-mail listserve service. Our old electronic mailing list has closed and we have opened a new list with OneList, a free web based electronic mailing list service at www.onelist.com. The electronic mailing list is designed to give our members a greater voice in our organization; to share stories and ideas; to connect with each other; and to advertise their local LGB RPCV events. The list also allows the national steering committee to get important news out to our members faster and more efficiently. We strongly encourage you to join the list. It will not burden your e-mail box with lots of messages and you can easily control your subscription. Also, this list is moderated in order to prevent message loops and other annoying electronic mailing list hazards. To subscribe simply visit this URL with your web browser: www.onelist.com/subscribe.cgi/lgbrpcv or send an e-mail to email@example.com and let us know you want to join the mailing list. You may chose between a regular subscription or a digest version. Our list also maintains an archive at www.onelist.com/archives.cgi/lgbrpcv •
PO Box 14332 San Francisco CA 94114-4332 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 1999
Human Rights Around the World - a Review of the Harvard Gay
and Lesbian Review, Winter 1999 Issue - by Mike Learned
The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review, begun five years ago as a lesbian and gay oriented quasi-literary quarterly, has matured into a major vehicle for information about gay and lesbian issues around the world. The Winter 1999 issue features twelve articles about the gay components of human rights from four continents, written by local writers or frequent visitors to these countries. Many of these reports are from developing countries where Peace Corps has programs or near by. They all offer current updates of what’s going on (or not going on) relating to the gay and lesbian international human rights agenda. Of great interest is Akilah Monifa’s piece on Africa. In Sub-Saharan Africa and South Africa: World’s Apart, the author reports on the wide range of attitudes toward homosexuality to match the vast ethnic and historical diversity of the region. South Africa has the only constitution in the world that specifically bans discrimination based on sexual orientation, yet most of its near neighbors have become bastions of homophobic rhetoric. The leaders of Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Swaziland have all attacked gays and gay rights organizations. Monifa describes the travails of fledgling gay rights groups in these countries and their battles against both church and state, and then goes to contrast these to the extraordinary strides made by gays and lesbians in South Africa since the collapse of Apartheid in the early 90s. Another article by Andrew Matzner, Thailand: Paradise Not, opens our eyes to the reality rather than the popular myths about gay life in Thailand. Of particular interest is the author’s reporting on the work of Anjaree, a lesbian group that is the only organization in Thailand challenging human rights violations against gays and lesbians. He explains that part of the reason that lesbians rather than gay men have organized to defend their human rights lies in the social realities of men and women, and the ways in which Thai culture privileges the masculine over the feminine. 500 member Anjaree, founded in 1986, was formed to address these gender issues, stressing that lesbian rights are women’s rights. Bolivia: Landlocked State, by Pedro Albornoz describes the cultural as well as geographic land-locked status of his country. The author tells of his life in Cochabamba (also the site of Peace Corps’ Bolivian training center). Although homosexual behavior is not against the law in Bolivia, it is still considered a form of unnatural and antisocial behavior by most Bolivians. He quotes Bolivian gay rights activists about the extreme pressures exerted on lesbians. As in Thailand, half a world and many cultures away, the plight of Bolivian lesbians is tied to their society’s views of women’s place in the community and the limitations placed on their social and cultural freedoms. Albornoz finishes by Sonya Franeta, Russia: A Moscow Salon, writes about the Moscow Lesbian and Gay Archives (ALG). A literary salon of sorts, the ALG, introduces its members to unpublished material by gay, and especially lesbian, writers who are often just beginning to emerge. Russia has a large and active gay and lesbian community. Franeta’s article describes some of activities that a gay community can partake of when there is freedom for gay people of similar interest to come together. In an article from nearby eastern Europe, Jean Jacques Soukup describes gay life in Hungary, Out(side) in Budapest. Although many gays in Hungary have difficulty acknowledging their gay identity because of societal pressures, that doesn’t seem to get in the way of their enjoying a gay lifestyle. Though not as extensive as the commercial gay and lesbian infrastructure in western Europe, there are lots of gay and lesbian venues, organizations and publications in Hungary. Other articles discuss gay social, legal and political progress in Denmark, France and Ireland. The most surprising story (at least for me) is the extraordinary progress made by gays and lesbians in Ireland. While gay Irish contingents have been rejected as parade participants in the Saint Patrick Day Parades in New York and Boston, this seems to reflect Irish American attitudes stuck in a generation or two back, and not those of present day Ireland. Lesbians and gays joining the Peace Corps have lots of questions about the “gay/lesbian situation” in the countries where they’ll serve. This information is often difficult to find. Sometimes it may not even exist, other than anecdotally. Thanks to the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review and other publications, and an increased interest in worldwide lesbian and gay issues, it’s starting to be talked about, written up, and published. • Mike Learned was a volunteer in Central Africa in the 60s. He’s been an active member of LGB RPCVs for seven years.
Many of these reports are from developing countries where Peace Corps has programs or near by. They all offer current updates of what’s going on...
telling us of his society’s strongest weapon against homosexuality. It is not the law, it is shame. “We are taught to be ashamed of ourselves and our friends, ashamed of who we are as gay people.” There are other articles on Latin America, about gay life in Brazil, Chile, and Cuba. All three countries have more sophisticated urban societies than Bolivia. Brazil and Chile have large middleclasses and more open relationships with their gay citizens. Cuba, while desperately poor and with a recent history of serious gay oppression, now allows much more freedom to gay and lesbian citizens. All three countries share the burden of societies that proscribe rigid gender roles, and have difficulty handling women and men who do not fit into these roles. Tim Frasca’s article on Chile, describes the problems of combating AIDS in an environment where many men who have sex with other men do not identify themselves as gay. 4
LGB RPCV NewsLetter - February 1999
1999 Financial Report
-by Bill Erdmann
Our Washington D.C. affiliate is in the process of revitalizing itself. A core group of people are committed to rebuilding the group over the next year. They’re calling all the D.C. area RPCVs on our mailing list and planning social and other events. Dennis Gilligan is the new Washington D.C. Representative on LGB RPCV’s Steering Committee. He can be reached at by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone (202) 332-1114. Brian Guse, our New England Representative, is moving from Northern Vermont to Washington D.C. and has resigned from the Steering Committee. We’re looking for someone else from the northeastern part of the country to join the Committee. If you or someone you know is interested contact Wayne Hill. (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, phone: (415) 695-7728).•
It’s that time of year again when we let you know where we get the money to keep this group going and how your money is spent to support our activities. We are almost totally dependent on you for money. More than 90% of our income last year came from membership dues, either when you joined NPCA and designated us as your affiliate group, or when you sent us membership dues directly. If you’re a member of NPCA, please remember to designate this group as your affiliate when you renew your membership. If you aren’t a member of NPCA, please respond now to our enclosed request for dues. Our biggest expense supports the printing and mailing of the quarterly newsletter. The publication goes not only to our RPCV members, but also to volunteers in the field, Peace Corps recruiting offices and Washington Peace Corps staff. A number of Country Directors subscribe to the newsletter, and we continue to look for ways to widen distribution throughout the world. Thanks to an incredible number of hours volunteered by Kevin Souza, our Web site and e-mail address don’t cost much money, but they remain among our most important communication tools. Supporting regional affiliate groups is our next most significant expense. If you live in an area with a local affiliate, half of your dues automatically go to the chapter. Local affiliates are currently active in San Francisco, Seattle, Southern California and Washington, DC. As planned, income exceeded expenses last year to make up for conference and project expenses in 1997 and to allow us to support new projects in 1999. As always, we welcome any ideas you have about how your money should be spent. 1998 Finances Income Membership dues from NPCA Individual membership dues T-shirts Other TOTAL INCOME Expenses Newsletters Group affiliates NPCA dues rebates Other TOTAL EXPENSES OPERATING DIFFERENCE Checking Account Balance 12/31/98
2,704 2,351 60 435 5,549
Mentors Needed Especially Women!
Many of you are now familiar with our very successful Mentor Project, which pairs our members with gay and lesbian Peace Corps applicants to discuss issues around sexual orientation and Peace Corps service. We have recently stepped up our efforts to provide service to Peace Corps applicants through a number of new initiatives. Our refurbished web site now includes much more information for applicants, as well as a special section for Peace Corps recruiters that provides them with the tools they need to assist lesbian, gay and bisexual applicants. Also, the Regional Recruiting Office in San Francisco has started their own mentor-like program called “PreConnect.” Through this program applicants complete a questionnaire where they are able to indicate that they are interested in speaking with gay or lesbian Peace Corps alumni. These applicants are referred to us and we pair them with a mentor from our group. During the past 60 days we have assisted 21 applicants through our Mentor Program. Eleven contacted us through our web page, six through Peace Corps recruiters and the remainder through friends. The success of our program means we need your help. Please consider volunteering to serve as a mentor to gay, lesbian and bisexual Peace Corps applicants. We are in particular need of women mentors since nearly half of the applicants contacting us are women, while only 19 of our designated mentors are women. If you are interested in speaking with applicants about your experience please write to us, drop us an e-mail at email@example.com, or call Kevin Souza at (415) 242-1931.• 5
2,295 765 185 157 3,402 2,147 4,818
Gay Activist Appointed to PC Job
Victor J. Basile, the first executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, (HRC - the gay political action committee), has been appointed director of Peace Corps’ Office of Private Sector Cooperation and International Volunteerism. In his Peace Corps job, Basile will raise private funds to support volunteer projects around the world. Basile is a long-time gay activist. In addition to his experience with HRC, he has worked as a consultant to gay political organizations helping them raise money and strengthen their fund-raising capability. Basile’s position does not require Senate confirmation. We offer Basile our support and good wishes.•
LGB RPCV NewsLetter - February 1999
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, Seattle 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.
Ne w M e mbe rs hip * Addre s s Change Form
Name: Street: City: Phone/Fax/E- mail: Country of Service: PC Project: Current Work: M e mbe rs hip $15 for LGB RPCVs Only $40 for LGB RPCV Plus the National Pe ace Corps As s ociation Years: State: Zip:
New Member Change of Adress/Renewal I would talk with applicants about my experience.
LGB RPCVs ; PO Box 14332; San Francis co, CA 94114-4332 E-mail: lgbrpcv@ge ocitie s .com * http://www.ge ocitie s .com/~lgbrpcv