There are an estimated 30-40 gay and bisexual asylum seekers in detention camps on Manus right now. Matthew Wade spoke with an LGBTI advocate in Melbourne about why our community needs to step up and help.
The situation on Manus Island is dire.
Roughly 600 men, all fleeing their home countries to find refuge, are currently being held in detention camps with no food, water, or power supply.
For the men on Manus, every day is a fight for survival, but for a small handful, they have something else to worry about: facing jail time for their same-sex attraction.
In a mark of solidarity with the estimated 30 – 40 gay and bisexual asylum seekers on Manus, a group of advocates in Melbourne have formed the group No Pride in Detention.
Group member Geraldine Fela says it’s important that the LGBTI community recognise the situation on Manus as an issue that affects them as well.
“There are quite a significant number of men on Manus that are part of the LGBTI community,” she says.
“And because of the Papua New Guinea criminal code, they face up to 14 years in jail because of their sexuality.
“So there’s a very direct link with our community and obvious need for us to show solidarity with these men.”
She adds that as members of a marginalised community, LGBTI people around Australia should be able to empathise and stand up for asylum seekers and their maltreatment.
“We know what it is like to face discrimination and oppression, and we have a long history of violence against us,” she says.
“So when we see people facing that, we have a responsibility to stand up.”
Throughout the postal survey process members of Australia’s LGBTI community and their allies took to the streets in their thousands, demanding marriage equality.
Rainbow flags, Vote Yes posters, and pro-marriage equality proclamations were visible in cities and regional towns around the country. In particularly progressive or left-leaning neighbourhoods, you’d have been hard pressed to find a street that wasn’t home to at least one pro-equality sign.
Fela says that members of No Pride in Detention hope the same energy and advocacy can be channeled into fighting for asylum seekers on Manus.
“It was really good to see people out in force for the postal survey, talking to people at their local cafe, or workplace, or school,” she says.
“But every place that had a Yes poster needs to have a refugee poster.
“The situation is really dire, and it’s important that we organise within our community to be visible at refugee rallies, and to take photos showing solidarity with the gay and bisexual men on Manus.
“We also have collective action meetings each week.”
Next year, at Melbourne’s Pride March, an asylum seeker advocacy contingent will be organised for the first time.
While Sydney’s Mardi Gras has seen a No Pride in Detention float for a number of years, it will be the first of its kind in Melbourne.
Fela says it’s open to anyone who wants to get involved, with an organising meeting planned for December 11.
“I think it’s important that the LGBTI community realises that refugee rights are our rights as well,” she says.
“The government that put us through the horrible postal survey is the same government hurting refugees on Manus and Nauru.”
For more information visit No Pride in Detention on Facebook.