My name is Mia Kirshner and I am the director of I Live Here Projects. The aim of our organization is to provide urgent care to communities that have slipped through the cracks. Our first project is in Kachere Juvenile Prison in Malawi, where we are forming a full-time school, permaculture garden project and legal rights. These children had slipped through the cracks when we first arrived in Kachere.
That is not what this piece is about.
I am writing about an issue that I can no longer keep quiet about.
While I was in Malawi in December, Malawi's first gay couple got married in a public commitment ceremony. Their names are Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza. I read the headlines detailing their wedding and sardonic commentary of the journalists writing the pieces. Two days after they married, they were met with both public cheers and humiliation. They now face over a decade of hard labor in a Malawian prison for their actions.
I was amazed that one relationship had become news when issues such as poverty, HIV and the slow wheels of the juvenile justice system cripple the country.
At first, I chose to refrain from writing about this, in fear that my position would risk our whole program being shut down in Malawi -- my views are in conflict with the law.
I can and will no longer be silent.
That is why I formed I Live Here projects.
I am angry. I am angry because the right to marry is the choice of an individual rather than a state. I am angry that a dusty law book decides who we have a right to love. I am angry because I know it's hard to find love in the world and no one should ever stand in love's way. I am angry because no one should be asked to have relationships in secret. I am angry that so many are forced into the closets, furthering shame and stigma.
What I know is true is that there is no shame in being gay. Love does not understand gender.
These two men did something brave. They spoke up and they spoke out.
No one in Malawi has done this publicly before.
They are fierce and brave.
The Guardian News spoke with the couple to which Tiwonge said the following.
"I love Steven so much. If people or the world cannot give me the chance and freedom to continue living with him as my lover, then I am better off to die here in prison. Freedom without him is useless and meaningless."
Next week they are to stand trial. They face up to fourteen years in prison and hard labor. This is an outrage. I am concerned that they will be killed in the prison either by disease or the inherent violence that is part of prison culture.
Something must be done to stop this.
Malawi is a beautiful country and is rich in culture and diversity. This ruling will be a stain on its beauty and richness.
Please. I ask that the international community of activists, the United Nations, politicians in Malawi and international human rights lawyers speak up and help these men.
By doing this, protection of individual rights will be served and precedent set to in order to open the doors for other couples to be able to stop living in fear.
As for me, I will continue to work in Malawi and continue to speak up and out. No one can stop me.
I won't give up on this beautiful country because I know that these draconian laws betray the great beauty of this country I love so much.
You can take action right now. Sign this petition to encourage the United Nations Human Rights Council and the United Nations Development Program to pressure Malawi to end this trial and release these innocent men. The text of this petition is below:
In December, Malawi's first gay couple got married, Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza. Next week they are to stand trial. They face up to fourteen years in prison and hard labor for their actions of proclaiming their love for each other and getting married.
Malawi is a beautiful country and is rich in culture and diversity. This ruling will be a stain on its beauty and richness. We ask that the International Community of activists, UNICEF, politicians in Malawi and International Human Rights lawyers speak up and help these men. By doing this, protection of individual rights will be served and precedent set to in order to open the doors for other couples to be able to stop living in fear.
Please sign this petition in support of these two men and stop this trial and its violation of human rights. Let's uphold the right to love, regardless of gender, protected from court punishment and discrimination.
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