Rwanda update — UK Government engagement by the Network on behalf of the Rwandan LGBT+ & LGBTQ+ community

Almost a month on from providing an email directly addressed to the Foreign Commonwealth & Development (FCDO) / British High Commissioner in Kigali, concerning Network requests for UK Government support via the FCDO/BHC to the Rwandan LGBT+ & LGBTQ+ community, as an outcome of aspects of the LGBT+ Network for Change – Human Rights First Rwanda Association (HRFRA) MoU, we (nor those copied in to the communication, including our friends at HRFRA and the CEO of Stonewall) have not received a response.

This is very concerning given FCDO and Home Office statements on support for global LGBT human rights — especially in the context of Rwanda being a deportation of asylum seekers destination, many of whom have LGBT contexts, despite the country having a very poor LGBT+ & LGBTQ+ human rights and equality record.

Lead officers of our partnering organisation, the HRFRA, have last week had a meeting with BHC Kigali, in which they were provided with posts, names, and corresponding email addresses to provide to us for follow up on our questions and requests.

We are presently following up on this — giving a few further days for the courtesy of a reply to our original email, that as mentioned Stonewall are aware of — but are aware that contact, even a basic acknowledgment of receiving our email, should have been received (we doubt in the circumstances that except for the BHC – HRFRA meeting, we would have any communication back). And that this reflects not well to date on the FCDO (and by extension the UK Home Office) in regard to the disparity between departmental statements and actual action where LGBT human rights are concerned. We look forward to update soon once we have made the further contact referred to above.

Updates concerning our UK prisons LGBTQ+ initiative, and our LGBTQ+ homeless & sofa surfing initiative

LGBQ+ homeless & sofa surfing initiative:

We are very pleased to announce that not only now our friends at the the BCP and Pan-Dorset, Dorset Healthcare NHS mental health Trust’s ‘Steps 2 Wellbeing’ Programme LGBTQ+ homeless & sofa surfing mental healthcare services, based on dedicated information resources and training for the latter to Trust healthcare professionals and admin staff are live, and similarly preventative and signposting information and training we have provided to key staff groups at Bournemouth & Poole College, as a further part of our national level important initiative have been implemented, but also concerning another part of the latter.

The Network has initiated provision for direct advocacy & signposting support through the Network with a BCP Council area homeless support app. This means that when the app fully launches in early 2023, we will be able to provide direct support in the two areas mentioned to members of our LGBTQ+ homeless & sofa surfing community.

We are also progressing the counteraction and prevention of crime and criminality (abuses and exploitation of various kinds that our LGBTQ+ sofa surfing community is uniquely and gravely subject to) with Dorset Police, further to provision of related dedicated information resources and a related policing operational level use, to the Office of the Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner that is very supportive of the value of the latter in addressing a major unmet need where serious crime and exploitative ASB is concerned.

LGBTQ+ Prisons (HMPPS/Portland Prison) initiative:

The Network is very pleased to update concerning our 1+ years initiative, that one component has included dedicated collaboration with Portland Prison, specifically in support to the courageous and effective work of an Out Trans community member (prisoner) at the prison in advising in conjunction with our strategic and direct operational level delivery support building practical and processes level support for Trans communities (‘Out’ and not self-identifying/disclosing) members.

This with planning for replicating this work to other HMPPS prisons & young offender institutes in the South West, and later more broadly. A great deal of our work in this area has been based on months of support at an advocacy case level, providing the necessary on the ground , on the ‘wings’ detail necessary for the first ever initiative of this kind in the UK prison service, to become successful. We are looking forward to progress this crucial work in January/February 2023 with the Trans community in question and the Portland Prison & YOI team.

The recent International Transgender Day of Remembrance at Portland Prison was not only very successful in raising awareness of hundreds of instances of torture and brutal murder of transgender community members, but a great breakthrough for the Network in the effectiveness of its guidance, strategy, and information provision regarding Trans community support. This effected through the prison’s authorities and the Out Trans community member that we have been working with at the prison for 6+ months. In particular, in addition to the latter we wish to record our praise for the Buddhist and Pagan members of the prison’s multi-faith chaplaincy being so proactively involved in delivery of the event, that included members from other world faiths, including two Muslim community members participating.

Related news articles:

Network Team announcement — The Network is delighted to welcome Seb Cousins to our Team, as Network Social Media Lead

Seb Cousins (pronouns: they/them) brings a wealth of experience in the social media field and beyond to the LGBT+ Network for Change.  This matched by vision and major passion for  making a difference to the world and society in which we live, especially around LGBT+ & LGBTQ+ community voice and needs, and on Green issues too. 

We are so Proud and delighted to have Seb as a Network team member!

You can read more about Seb at: https://lgbtnetwork4change.com/seb-cousins/

The Network institutes official ‘Friend of the Network supporter role – further to contact from the agent of Ms Amelie Jat, London based emerging global ‘Out’ LGBT+ community supportive pop star

The Network is delighted to share that further to contact from the agent of Out LGBT+ pop star Ms Amelie Jat, we have instituted an official ‘Friend of’ role, with the brilliant very talented Ms Jat becoming our first official ‘Friend of the LGBT+ Network for Change’ supporter!   

We are thrilled to have Amelie’s support as our ‘Official Arts & Music Friend Of the LGBT+ Network for Change’! And to have learned of her care and passion about a number of the areas where the Network is especially active for sections of our LGBTQ+ community whose voices we have a well established Proud record of highlighting.

You can read more about Amelie at: https://lgbtnetwork4change.com/amelie-jat/

Ireland – Network lead officer becomes Green Party LGBTQI+ Policy Group Convenor + developments on policy and a bill to ban conversion therapies

The LGBT+ Network for Change is delighted to share that our organisation’s lead initiator and operational lead, Alan Mercel-Sanca (please see: https://lgbtnetwork4change.com/network-team/), has recently become the Green Party Ireland’s LGBTQI+ Policy Group Convenor.  In certain areas his LGBT+ Network for Change experience and insights will valuably contribute to this very important policy development role.

Alan has provided input in the late summer (https://lgbtnetwork4change.com/ireland-network-lead-alan-mercel-sanca-provides-support-for-bill-to-strongly-and-effectively-ban-conversion-therapy/) input to the Bill to Ban Conversion Therapies being finalised in the Oireachtas (Parliament) of the Republic of Ireland.  Further to the parliamentary committee that leads on equality related areas, communicating with Alan, his submission to the committee was cleared for providing to the minister, as helpful to the Bill.

The uniqueness of the Network, particularly at LGBT+ & LGBTQ+ policy development and policy implementation level, is in its ability to be a conduit for learning and experience sharing on an equal basis between the UK and Ireland across a range of areas that matter to and impact on our communities members. 

For instance regarding the Bill mentioned above, the Government of Ireland (and indeed across the full range of political parties in Ireland) is likely to lead to a much more robust law and in some ways be much more effective than the LGB and Trans communities elements of the UK’s Equality Act 2022. Alan has also been very pleased to at the request of the CEO of Dublin’s LGBT Centre, The Outhouse, to provide an introduction to the international officer of Albert Kennedy Trust.

Update on Network Portland Prison LGBT+ & LGBTQ+ initiative and related HMPPS engagement

The LGBT+ Network for change is providing three important updates in regard to our engagement up to HMPPS CEO, Avon & South Dorset HMPPS prisons group, and especially the LGBT+ & LGBTQ+ community proactively supportive vanguard for change & improvement governor and relevant operational lead officers at HMP & YOI Portland.  …

Firstly: the Prison’s LGBT+ Steering Group, where Network engagement with HMP & YOI Portland a year ago provided the catalyst for creation of the group, set against the 2021 action by the Network in communicating with the CEO of HMPPS, is now approaching one year of existence.  Across this year where the Network is the key, external LGBT community independent partner, has witnessed at detailed on the ground level multiple actions of the most transformational kind in changing the internal ‘culture’ of this HMPPS prison concerning safety, inclusion, safeguarding for LGBT+ & LGBTQ+ community members (both prisoners and staff.  

Secondly: relating at detailed operational delivery level of a number of key areas of the Steering Group, we have found our thematic, prison service audiences information resource implemented extensively with transformational breakthroughs and success.  This has been because many aspects of that resource linked to key activity areas on LGBTQ+ inclusion, welfare, and safety in different domains of the internal and external agencies and sections, active in this area.  The information resource had an accompanying strategic component whose purpose was to link all of the latter up to the fullest extent (the creation of the steering group being the ultimate implementation of this joined up, properly coordinated approach), and in some cases advise new initiatives that had not previously existed within HMPPS in this important EDI and safety and safeguarding field.

Thirdly: we have been Proud to be supporting an Out Trans community member at the prison for several months, in extensive ways, and similarly Portland Prison’s brilliant LGBT+ & LGBTQ+ supportive (through our collaboration) ‘vanguard’ relevant leaders at multiple prison service team, who have provided incredible support to this very courageous LGBT/Trans community member, who has been directly contributing to the prison’s experience and processes base in conjunction with support from the Network, to make Portland Prison a trailblazing HMPPS institute where coming Out as Trans is concerned.  The case illustrated however that even HMPPS has limits to its effectiveness and authority in supporting such courageous LGBT+ community members, and that it has dependence on external state agencies and public service organisations in their level of competence on LGBT+ & LGBTQ+ community members engagement at grassroots level. Intra-organisational effective collaboration and communication, with participation/witness function support and guidance by direct LGBT+ organisations such as the Network being indispensable for success. More details on this soon.

We will in the coming weeks provide further updates, including a communication to the Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice on the achievements made and learning from the Network – Portland Prison initiative for national level HMPPS and across UK Government departments, Prison Service related trades unions and the General Secretary of the TUC, and to national agencies and private sector and voluntary sector, guidance.

Rwanda update — Network and HRFRA progress MoU implementation + the Network provides a  representation to British High Commission Rwanda on formal request for support  from relevant UK Government departments in line with the MoU and FCDO policy statement on LGBT human rights

We are very pleased to update that further to the recent signing of an MoU between the Human Rights First Rwanda Association( HRFRA) Government of Rwanda registered (2005) human rights organisation (http://www.rightsrwanda.com/Mission.html), the Network and the lead officers of the HRFRA have agreed to establish by the Network, through the HRFRA – Network MoU and partnership, ground-breaking support to the LGBT+ and especially LGBTQ+ Rwandan community members first, and subsequently to mental healthcare providers in Rwanda. 

This ahead of support guidance assistance to the Government of Rwanda and British High Commission Rwanda in regard to basic to more applied grassroots level supportive engagement. This being at policy level in regard to not only LGBT+ & LGBTQ+ Rwandan community members, but also for global/international LGBT+ & LGBTQ+ community members – UK asylum and refugees applicants — that under the Governments’ of the UK (’Home Office’) and Rwanda are envisaged to be sent to Rwanda in 2023.

We are aware in the case of the UK Government that due to the deportations agreement with the Government of Rwanda, that the UK Government has in terms of ethics and under relevant UK laws and policies, and policy statements from the FCDO (Foreign and Commonwealth & Development Office) and especially the Home Office – which has a long established well-documented and evidenced record of controversial decisions on LGBT related immigration applications by incontestably genuine international LGBT+ community members in positions of extreme oppression, including risk to life because of their sexual orientation or gender identity – the UK Government has an obligation to honour their words, and to support the Government of Rwanda in regard to transformational support for all sections of the LGBT community of Rwanda. 

In addition, our intervention will provide a measure of support to ensure institution of protections for LGBT+ international members whom the UK Government is planning to deport to Rwanda that has a 90% ‘not a good place for LGBT people’ rating (https://www.equaldex.com/region/rwanda). 

We have therefore made a representation to the British High Commissioner for Rwanda in regard to obligations ethical and legal, and have the strong support ay CEO level of the Stonewall organisation that has long warned the UK Government of the complete unsuitability of Rwanda as a location for LGBT+ community members to be deported to.  Uniquely in our Network case, we have been kindly provided by HRFRA with direct evidence of the grim realities in Rwanda for LGBT+ & LGBTQ+ community members. 

Because of the Home Office agreement, and the obligations it imposes on the Home Office directly AND at a secondary level the FCDO (the FCDO plays at admin level a major function in regard to visa/asylum/refugee status applications for those outside of the UK) we will be pressing to TAKE RWANDA, THAT HAS AN ALMOST ZERO LEVEL ‘ON THE GROUND’ LGBT COMMUNITY LEVEL SUPPORT AND ENGAGEMENT STRUCTURE, TO TAKE RWANDA WITHIN NOT LESS THAN TWO YEARS TO A MEDIUM RANKING INTERNATIONAL COMPETENT LGBT COMMUNITY [evidenced] SUPPORTIVE STATE.

The Network will provide an update on this action later in November.

Bourne Free Pride 2022 — Network congratulations to the Bourne Free Team for a fantastic Pride:

The LGBT+ Network for Change congratulates the brilliant Bourne Free Team for their great work in enabling a fantastic Pride! Bourne Free 2022 received wonderful attendance and acclaim from community members and LGBT+ allies, and also in the local news media: https://www.bournemouthecho.co.uk/news/20268114.pictures-bournemouth-hosts-bourne-free-pride-event/

One of our volunteer/advisor team whose ‘drag artiste’ name is ‘Venezuela D’Viña’ provided fantastic ‘drag’ performances (we/the Network were very pleased to introduce to the Bourne Free Team earlier this year when performance line-ups were being considered), sharing not only glamour but great artistic talent. Venezuala D’Vina, was also enabled to represent the Dorset Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust in the Parade. This opportunity marking the major work and success of collaboration between the Trust and the Network, through Dorset Healthcare’s Steps 2 Wellbeing programme, that has been receiving information resources and training from Network lead Alan Mercel-Sanca, with major transformational impacts.

Outside of Pride itself, Bourne Free’s support to the Network — as with other organisations and LGBT+ and Allies work and causes — plays a greatly appreciated part in contributing to our work which is focused on meaningful effective support to some of the most vulnerable, persecuted, and overlooked sections of our LGBT+ & LGBTQ+ community, AND in regard to giving Network partners such as Dorset Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust healthcare professionals and other staff at programmes and services, such as Steps 2 Wellbeing, the support they need to make a difference to LGBT+ & LGBTQ+ lives! Well done again to the Bourne Free Team!

Ireland — Network lead Alan Mercel-Sanca provides support for Bill to strongly and effectively ban ‘conversion therapy’:

Network lead officer, Alan Mercel-Sanca, who is Dublin-based, has had a very productive meeting with the lead of Dublin’s LGBT Centre, The Outhouse, and will be having meetings with leads of LGBT Ireland in the next few weeks: these in regard to supporting relevant Ireland LGBT+ organisations and groups concerning work in a number of areas through Alan, of the LGBT+ Network for Change.  This in pursuit of both countries learning from each other’s experiences, needs, and issues on LGBT+ and LGBTQ+ community support, especially in regard to more vulnerable and often overlooked sections of our community.

Alan has provided support to the Bill currently progressing in the Dáil concerning comprehensive banning of ‘conversion therapy.’  This support has received acclaim from in particular the Green Party (Ireland) office of the Green Party Spokesperson for Justice, Deputy Patrick Costello TD, and also Ms Brid Smith TD (People Before Profit). 

Through the guidance of Deputy Costello, Alan has also written to the Chairperson and all members of the Committee responsible for considering the Bill, with greatly appreciated feedback on the support for the Bill considerations Alan provided.

Network LGBTQ+ homeless community support initiative sees further breakthroughs, and our initiative with the Prison Service advances strongly: 

The Network, with funding support from Bourne Free, Dorset Community Foundation for aspects of our BCP area initiative, and also including for the larger pan-Dorset and related national level outreach work for the initiative, helped us to provide and deliver next phase key elements of the latter, particularly through resources development for FE colleges, and for other programmes, such as CAMHS and CMHT for the NHS, developing a police resource for criminality and exploitation aspects

Albert Kennedy Trust (AKT): AKT is  the UK’s most respected LGBT homeless and at risk of homelessness community support organisation.  The Network has had meetings with AKT in the past few months in regard to the relevant areas of the Network’s LGBTQ+ multi agency, mental health/NHS support orientated homeless and at risk of homelessness and sofa surfing initiative. A number of very positive outcomes concerning this dialogue have emerged, with elements of the Network initiative being viewed by AKT as breaking new ground; we are providing support on these. 

The winding down of a very short-lived BCP Council Homeless Reduction Board diverse communities (particularly both LGBT, and ethnic minorities) and younger homeless community members support sub-group: this development whilst disappointing to the Network, that had for more than a year strongly argued for the BCP Council group to support the Network’s dedicated multiagency initiative due to the exceptional and extreme special factors causing the phenomenon and severity of LGBTQ+ homelessness and sofa surfing.  This was rigorously, albeit politely, refused until the sub-group mentioned was instituted – this has now withered away, with the Network not being informed, nor, we understand, Dorset Race Equality Council.  This experience has reinforced the Network premise that such approaches have not worked, nor will work, and only initiatives of the kind created by the Network take seriously LGBTQ+ lives at risk of or experiencing homelessness.

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Network initiative with the Prison Service, through pilot work at HMP & YOI Portland:

The initiative, which features monthly Steering Groups meetings, has continued to witness major advance and improvement for LGBT+ and LGBTQ+ community members at Portland Prison through the Network guided multiple stakeholders ‘joining up’ approach – one outcome was that the prison’s Pride 2022 has made national news within the Prison Service/HMPPS in terms of approach and impact. 

In addition, the Network has been providing multiple forms of support through the steering group monthly meetings and email correspondence on various development and support points, and Network information resources, aspects of which have been aiding group stakeholders at strategic and operational delivery level, are currently being reviewed at national HMPPS level, with a view to final state version being developed with the Network for national use.