LGBT Peace Corps Alumni Applaud Peace Corps on Placement of Same-Sex Couples

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Hale Sargent, of the LGBT RPCV Steering Committee: lgbtrpcv@gmail.com

LGBT Peace Corps Alumni Applaud Peace Corps on Placement of Same-Sex Couples

SAN FRANCISCO /May 21, 2013/ — LGBT Returned Peace Corps Volunteers applaud the Peace Corps for its announcement today that the agency will now accept applications from same-sex domestic partners who wish to serve together as volunteers overseas.

“Peace Corps service is an amazing experience, and the organization has long been friendly to LGBT volunteers” says Mike Learned, national coordinator of the LGBT RPCVs. “Accepting gay couples to serve is a major milestone for a great organization and for equality.”

LGBT RPCVs is an organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Peace Corps alumni (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) that promotes Peace Corps ideals and the legal, political, and social rights of LGBT people around the world.

Founded in 1991, the organization has members around the world. It produces an online newsletter and operates a mentorship program for LGBT Americans considering service with the Peace Corps.

Read the Peace Corps announcement here: http://www.peacecorps.gov/resources/media/press/2238/

For more information on LGBT RPCVs, visit http://www.lgbrpcv.org

LGBT RPCVs in Cooperation with ORAM

- Mike Learned, Group Leader and Kevin Lo, ORAM’s Advocacy Director

Recently I met with Kevin Lo, Director of Advocacy and Legal Services for ORAM – Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration. ORAM is the leading advocate for refugees fleeing persecution based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. ORAM works closely with governments, inter-governmental agencies, and NGOs, building their capacity to protect LGBTI people. ORAM conducts groundbreaking research, offers a robust training program for refugee experts worldwide, produces top-notch publications, and offers direct legal representation, ensuring that the concerns of LGBTI refugees are heard in key domestic and international arenas. Most recently ORAM released an extensive report on the challenges confronted by urban LGBTI refugees in Mexico, Uganda, and South Africa, along with a comprehensive set of recommendations for refugee officials. For more information, please go to http://oraminternational.org/en/publications.

A transgender refugee talks about her difficult life in South Africa.

Kevin reached out to me and our organization because our current and recent PCVs would be wonderful resources about current country conditions, laws, and restrictions facing LGBTI communities around the world. Our knowledge and insight would be invaluable in assisting LGBTI people seeking refugee status and asylum.

This is something I’ve done on an individual basis a number of times over the years, contacting current or recent volunteers and forwarding information to lawyers and other advocates working on such asylum cases. We decided that the quickest and easiest way to reach current and recent LGBTI PCVs would be through (1) our listserv with new posts by Kevin seeking information, (2) the extensive archives of international news and information that Alan Silverman has posted on the listserv, and (3) our website articles themselves.

Kevin has posted messages on our listserv and has already had some success. For example, in response to ORAM’s request for country condition information regarding LGBTI people in Burkina Faso, RPCV Mark Canavera was able to draw on his West Africa experience to recommend some key NGO contacts.

In summary, ORAM and the LGBT RPCV are excited to launch this joint initiative supporting safety for LGBTI people everywhere. Participating PCV members will provide their knowledge of LGBTI conditions in various countries for reports and analyses informing refugee status decisions and policy. ORAM also conducts trainings and outreach around the world, providing PCV members with opportunities to learn more about regional LGBTI refugee issues and to co-sponsor events.

Mike Learned can be contacted at lgbrpcv-news@lgbrpcv.org.

Kevin Lo can be contacted at kevin@oraminternational.org.You can learn more about him ORAM’s work at www.oraminternational.org and by liking ORAM on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ORAMrefugee.

My Experience in Morocco as a Lesbian PCV

- A Peace Corps Volunteer

For me, being gay in Morocco is difficult but not unmanageable. Though many people in my small town in the Little Sahara consider themselves more laid-back and open-minded than the Moroccan standard, I would never out myself to anyone here. I don’t find being in the closet here all that difficult, though, because it just doesn’t come up that much.

Yes, people ask me all the time whether I’m married and if I’d like to have a Moroccan husband. I come up with silly, inaccurate answers to these questions that often leave the impression that I have something against Moroccans. I hate that I give that impression, but straight volunteers probably have that problem as much as queer ones – a lot of the difficulty there can be chalked up to language barriers. I have just as hard a time with the idea of being asked whether I’d like to marry someone I’ve never met as I do with the idea of marrying a man, but it’s a lot easier to say, “No, I don’t want to marry a Moroccan,” than it is to say, “It creeps me out that you just asked me to marry your barber without any mention of our common interests or a suggestion that we go to dinner.”

To be a queer PCV in Morocco (or to be a queer person in most parts of the world), you almost have to come to terms with compartmentalizing, i.e., letting the people in your community get to know the parts of you that they will find acceptable. Having just come out in the U.S. a few years ago, I hate having to disintegrate the parts of myself when I was just beginning to enjoy this newfound whole. I don’t see a way around it, though—I’ve never heard a story of someone being out in their community and still managing to integrate. Homosexuality is illegal. Most (not all) Muslim Moroccans will tell you it’s against Islam, and even most (not all) non-Muslim Moroccans still hold that homosexuality is un-Moroccan.

I have a mix of mechanisms that help me handle having to compartmentalize in my community. First, I’m out among fellow PCVs. In fact, being a pretty private person, I’m way more out among PCVs than I am among groups in the States. I’ve outed myself here more than usual both to create a support network for myself and to let other people, who might feel isolated, know that they’re not alone.

Next, Peace Corps Morocco’s LGBT support group, Pride Morocco, offers more overt, official support and functions as my queer social group. We meet quarterly to discuss how we can serve as allies for one another. For example, after having identified that several uncomfortable or inappropriate interactions have taken place between LGBT volunteers and PC staff members, we’re working now on coordinating a Safe Zone training for Peace Corps staff. We also use our meetings to hang out, bond, and, when need be, commiserate.

Finally, it’s important to me to be involved in the LGBT rights and support groups that were important to me before I joined the Peace Corps. Although my involvement in these groups from Morocco is limited by distance and technology, I think it’s mentally healthy to offer myself opportunities to face the challenges of being gay positively and constructively. It also gives me perspective to remember that the challenges I face in Morocco aren’t Moroccan or Muslim problems. My involvement in a support group at my alma mater regularly reminds that being LGBT in the States can be just as hard as it can be in Morocco (at an inter-personal level, at least; it gets trickier at a legal level). Having this kind of perspective helps me direct my frustrations more appropriately.

So my advice to you if you’re queer and you’re thinking about whether you should come to Morocco for 27 months is to go ahead and reconcile yourself to the near-fact that you’ll have to be mostly closeted while you live here and to be proactive about how you’re going to manage your mental health. Focus on creating a strong support network for yourself of people at home and in Morocco, and find ways to face frustrations and challenges through constructive channels.

This Peace Corps Volunteer can be contacted through lgbrpcv-news@lgbrpcv.org

2012 Financial Report

2012 was a quiet year financially. Our web master did not ask for a reimbursement for web hosting expenses. We did not make any grants this year, but have enough on hand to make one in 2013.

Beginning Balance: $2638.45

Income:
Dues from NPCA:  $915.00

Expenses:
NPCA Reaffiliation: $90.00
PO Box: $120.00

Income Minus Expenses:  $705.00

End of Year Balance: $3343.45

 

Lesbians Non-Existent in Tonga?

- Peace Corps Volunteer

Tonga Flag

Tonga Flag

To start, I want to comment on how much I appreciated LGBT RPCVs and Brian Favorite’s three articles on Fakaletis (men who live and dress as women) in Tonga. The fact that the LGBT community is embraced by the Peace Corps and that a forum exists gave me much-needed support before accepting my invitation. I hope this contribution will also be helpful for somebody else considering serving in the Peace Corps.

Now, here is a little about me and my life here in Tonga.

I am in my mid-twenties, identify as queer/lesbian and have dreamed about being a Peace Corps Volunteer since I was a kid and pronounced the “s” at the end of Corps. I am currently living on the main island known as Tongatapu and serving as a TEFL teacher in my village’s government primary school. I have been living here for about five months now and am still learning so much about my new community.

For those of you who have read Brian Favorite’s articles, you will know that Tonga is very conservative and Christian. I jokingly compare Tonga to a conservative, southern town in America. There are churches on almost every corner (and then some), filial piety and respect of elders is paramount, and homosexuality is taboo. According to the laws here in Tonga, homosexual acts are illegal. However, Fakaletis generally are not seen as gay. Therefore, they tend to “slip through the (legal) cracks”. In Tonga, there are only male Fakaletis and no known female equivalent to the sub-culture.

When I read the details about Tonga from the infamous blue invitation packet, I was concerned by three things. One: Lesbians are a non-existent group here in Tonga. Two: Female PCVs in Tonga have felt uncomfortable by some Tongan men’s unwanted advances. Three: Tongans can be intrusively curious people. These three facts didn’t bode well for me, an openly gay and proudly feminist woman.

As with most scary things, a lot was built up in my mind before arriving to Tonga that was unwarranted. While all three concerning facts are true, it is completely manageable to be happy here. For starters, if you serve in the Peace Corps, inevitably some behaviors will have to be toned down out of respect to your community. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with these rules, but there is a sort of unwritten expectation of compromise. To me one compromise is “if you don’t go around talking about your girlfriend or have obvious same-sex relationships with women, we will stay out of your business”. Another helpful tactic is to use the Tongan gender-neutral term for girlfriend/boyfriend, kaumea. I have been asked by all sorts of Tongans if I was married or if I had a kaumea. When I was in a relationship, I would reply in Tongan in the affirmative. Easy peasy.

With this being said, I certainly do feel a sense of diminished freedom in Tonga. While my PCV group and some of the Peace Corps/Tonga staff know that I am gay, there is a feeling of isolation. Most of my friends from America are LGBT. Currently in Tonga, I am the only openly gay person that I know of. That fact is tough. When I go out with my friends here, I know that I can’t meet or date women. Since many are too shy to say it, I will: two years of celibacy sounds really daunting.

In closing, if you are a LGBT Peace Corps applicant, trainee, or nominee and are feeling weary, it is okay. The staff will be very accepting and will provide you with the support you need to adjust to your new life. There will be times where you feel completely out of place, but other volunteers will be just as supportive of you as you are with them. In all likelihood, other people in your community and Peace Corps groups are feeling the exact same way. Good luck!

This volunteer can be contacted at lgbrpcv-news@lgbrpcv.org

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