In the third installment of a new Out Leadership series highlighting the struggles and progress of LGBTQ equality worldwide, Director of Equality Initiatives Fabrice Houdart spoke with Najeeb Fokeerbux founder of the Young Queer Alliance in Mauritius to hear about his efforts in challenging discriminatory laws in the African country.
You are challenging Section 250; can you share with us the background of this law?
Mauritius is an island country of roughly 1.3 million inhabitants of diverse ethnicities and religions. While there is a change in mindsets and growing tolerance and respect, there exists a void of legislative change recognizing the human rights of LGBTQ people who have the right to love and life in dignity. Love is a human right.
Therefore, on the 6th of September 2019, four young LGBT Mauritians (two members of the Young Queer Alliance, myself and my partner), applied to the Supreme Court of Mauritius for leave to commence an action for constitutional redress seeking a declaration that Section 250 of the Mauritian Criminal Code Act of 1838 violates the fundamental rights and freedom of LGBT people and is unconstitutional. After a number of hearings, on the 12th of June 2020, the Supreme Court granted us the application for leave to lodge our case for constitutional redress.
Beyond Mauritius, what is the situation in Africa? What are the most progressive countries in the region? Were you encouraged to see the development in Gabon?
It is not sufficient to measure progress only in terms of legislative changes. There is the attitude and behavioural change which should be built upon with legislative changes. The scars of colonialism, of which homophobia and transphobia are a part of, run deep in Africa despite our diversity. In Morroco this year, an Instagram influencer incited its followers to download dating apps that were used to locate and publicly out gay men, state-sponsored homophobia and transphobia is rife in many African countries, and the underlying unpublicised societal rejection suppresses the voices of LGBTQ people.
Yet, courageous LGBTQ champions and organizations are paving the way for positive changes in Africa. Over the past years, we have witnessed wins at the courts in the Botswana decriminalization case, Kenya’s Rafiki movie case, Mauritius and the blood donation ban lift, and the legislative changes in Angola, Seychelles and a few days back, Gabon.
Across Africa and African island countries, we have witnessed a surge of LGBTQ organising, including the game changing efforts and initiatives of youth-led organisations, which reinforce our African and human value that love is a human right. These developments would definitely influence change globally, including in Mauritius.
Do you see a backlash on LGBT+ rights like we observe in parts of Europe such as Poland, Hungary, the US, or Brazil?
Europe has become a champion of human rights, including for women and LGBTQ people. LGBTQ people can love freely, regroup, be in partnerships/marriages, trans people can undergo transition. Well, a breadth of legislation is there.
Yet, the horrendous, even if not widespread, homophobia and transphobia persist in parts of Europe, the US, and Brazil. More broadly, as portrayed on international media, racism, islamophobia and anti-migrant attitudes, are systemic. Hate spawns hate. I hope as resilient Queer people, living through the discrimination and hate, we can change the narrative of hate to love.
Do you believe the private sector can play a role in global progress on LGBT+ issues?
The role of the private sector is paramount to the global progress on LGBTQ issues. My queer friends working in private companies with LGBTQ inclusive policies have a sense of belonging to the enterprise and work better. The workplace becomes a safe haven for them. The private sector has to step-up its game by being an equal partner in this change benefiting every stakeholder. The Pink Dollar represents a huge market potential untapped in African countries, including Mauritius.
Do you believe the COVID-19 pandemic will impact diversity efforts by local companies?
The analysis is broader than the question. To be simple and optimistic, as the country envisages lifting of travel bans would be lifted starting September 2020 after having successfully managed to contain the spread of COVID-19 and being COVID free; Mauritius is well placed to attract tourists for leisure and businesses with the recent legislative changes in the financial sector to align to businesses standards. Opportunities for international hotel and resorts chains based in Mauritius and financial services are present through product development, market development and diversification strategies. The potential for niche markets for LGBTQ people is here.
What are you going to focus on for the next 6 to 12 months?
At the Young Queer Alliance, we would focus on the Section 250 case. We trust the judiciary, the constitution and the legal team led by Dentons (Mauritius) LLP, part of the world’s largest law firm, Dentons LLP, and by the Barristers of the Franco-Mauritian Law Chambers LCMB et Associés, based in Paris and Mauritius. The support of our friends from the Love Honor Cherish Foundation and our lawyer friends from the Indian decriminalization case provides additional technical guidance and a morale boost to the team. We are also relaunching our post-lockdown activities for LGBTQ people at the YQA.
Also, having worked without rest through the COVID-19 pandemic, I am looking forward to a well-deserved weekend off with my partner in one of the coziest hotels off the north-western coast of the Island early this September.
Najeeb is a passionate queer and human rights activist, and is the founder of Young Queer Alliance (YQA) in Mauritius. He is the first openly gay person working in public administration in Mauritius. Najeeb served as Chairperson of the African Queer Youth Initiative; an organisation regrouping young LGBTQI leaders across Africa. Additionally, Najeeb serves as member on the Steering Committee member of MPact – Global Action for Gay Men’s Health and Rights – formerly MSMGF; and is also a board member there.