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Panelists share anti-LGBTQ+ experiences in 'Torture' virtual discussion
by Emily Reilly

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The Center for Victims of Torture ( CVT ) hosted a virtual event entitled "Reclaiming Identity: LGBTQ Experiences of Torture, Persecution, and Healing," on July 22. It showcased the experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals who have been tortured and services that have helped them.

CVT Executive Director Curt Goering began the event by telling the story of a man named Peter—a survivor from Nairobi, Kenya, who experienced brutal violence due to homophobia of his family and the police. He used coping mechanisms and group therapy through CVT.

The next speaker was Victor Madrigal-Borloz. Before he spoke, a brief video played showing the mandate for his job as the UN independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. He spoke about his job experience examining causes of discrimination and explained how discrimination often begins with society's expectations from the roles of men and women.

"As of today, a staggering 2 billion people live in the context of criminalization in which homosexuality, lesbianism, or certain gender identities are criminalized," said Madrigal-Borloz. "In nine of them, the penalty is death. In six of them, it is applied as part of the routine. In other contexts, the penalty can be as long as 25 years in jail."

Madrigal-Borloz explained that even in countries where homosexuality isn't criminalized, society's sanctions have damaging affects. He went on to discuss how beyond criminalization, pathologization and demonization of homosexality are two other factors that create the notion of otherness.

Madrigal-Borloz went on to site examples about how COVID-19 has worsened the situation for LGBTQ+ individuals in many countries. He said that some governments are using the virus as an excuse to pass measures of persecution against them.

The next speaker was Paul Orieny, the senior clinical advisor for mental health who helps oversee care for survivors at CVT in Nairobi. He spoke about how the different kinds of care provided to survivors of persecution and how it helps them. He then introduced his colleagues—social worker Karen Taiwa and physiotherapist Jepkemoi Kibet, who spoke about the program and the stigma around the LGBTQ+ community in Kenya and surrounding countries.

"One of the most important things about our aftercare program is confidentiality," said Kibet. "It is incredibly important for the safety of our client that they are not outed by our program. We also talk a lot about personal security and our clients want to and have the right to express themselves, but the community is not very welcoming."

Kibet explained how clients act discreetly by not dressing in ways that might suggest their gender identity or sexual orientation for their own safety. Taiwa explained the work of peer facilitators in CVT, and how they provide access to services that enhance coping skills for victims and create a sense of community.

"When you've experienced torture, and you're hated for your identity, you can be overwhelmed with shame and a loss of dignity," said Taiwa. "You can feel completely alone. But peer facilitators are a powerful example that survivors are not alone. They are worthy and they can have a rich and fulfilling life, even amidst prosecution."

CVT's Laura Kuhlmann regulated the questions from viewers. The first question sparked a discussion about the second mechanism of oppression against LGBTQ+ individuals that Madrigal-Borloz explained earlier—pathologization, or writing homosexuality off as a mental illness or disorder.

"The work of pathologization can be traced in different stages, but the great markers are 30 years ago, [when] homosexuality was withdrawn from the international classification of diseases," said Madrigal-Borloz. "Two, last year, where gender dysphoria was taken out."

Other discussions prompted from viewers' questions included the amount survivors coming to CVT that are LGBTQ+, increasing LGBTQ+ visibility in countries where homosexuality is viewed as an illness, how COVID-19 is affecting meetings and therapy services for the aftercare program, and social change.

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