Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice mourns the lives and celebrates the legacies of three activists and colleagues who have recently passed.
Sunila Abeysekera, a courageous human rights defender, pioneer feminist, lesbian, scholar, and artist, passed away after a long battle with cancer on September 9th at the age of 61.
Sunila was a visionary activist with a 40 year legacy fighting for justice in Sri Lanka and regionally in South Asia, and coalition-building globally. In her career, Sunila addressed violence against women, peace building and conflict transformation, sexual and reproductive rights, and the rights of marginalized communities such as sex workers, ethnic minorities, people living with HIV/AIDS, and lesbian, gay, and transgender people. Sunilas dedication to liberation and justice often put her at great risk. A fearless outspoken advocate, Sunila faced threats to her safety with boundless courage throughout her activist career. According to WHRD IC, she met particular danger with bravery during the period of terror in Sri Lanka where large-scale violence and enforced disappearances took place in the country.
Sunila was a founding member of the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD IC) and supported the development of Womens Support Group, the first queer womens organization in Sri Lanka. She also founded the Women and Media Collective, the INFORM Human Rights Documentation Center, and the Movement for Interracial Justice and Equality. She worked internationally with the Global Campaign for Womens Human Rights, lobbying at the 1993 United Nations World Conference and the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women. She received the UN Secretary Generals Award for Human Rights from Kofi Annan in 1998, was nominated as one of the One Thousand Women for the Nobel Peace in 2005, and was honored with the Human Rights Defender Award in 2007 by Human Rights Watch.
Astraea mourns the loss of international trans rights activist Melenie Mahinamalamalama Eleneke. Known to many as Auntie Mel,Melenie passed away at the age of 53 on September 9th after visiting the hospital with chest pain and being sent home without due care.
A core leader at TGI Justice Project, Melenie fought for the rights of trans, gender variant, and intersex people of color within and outside of the prison system. She was an editor of TGI Justices prison newsletter, Stiletto, and served as Director of Development and Administration at the organization. In 2008, Melenie brought the rights of trans women of color to the forefront with an historic address to the United Nation during its review of U.S. compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
An activist in the Polynesian community and a spiritual healer, Melenie gave vibrant force to the movement to preserve the culture, language, and spiritual practices of the Hawaiian people. She was member of many Hula groups including The Ladies of Keolalaulani Halau and the House of Valenciaga, and founded a hula group for trans woman of color. Family, friends, and colleagues celebrate Melenie with tributes of her loving and generous spirit at meleniepresente.
Pioneer lesbian, bisexual, and trans rights activist in India, Betu Singh passed away on October 4th. Betu established Sangini Trust in New Dehli in 1997, the first lesbian crisis hotline and one of the oldest community support programs for lesbian and bisexual women, and trans people in India. Betu ran Sangini Trust without funding for its first two years. Against great odds, Sangini Trust grew from a hotline to a multiservice organization offering weekly group meetings and workshops, working with educational institutions and prisons, and providing crucial educational resources and legal support to the LBT community. Betu spoke to the evolution of her activist work and her personal history in a video interview as part of PROJECT BOLO (Project Speak Up).
In the wake of Betu’s passing, outpourings of commemoration from friends and community pay respect to Betu’s unwavering support to LBT communities in Delhi.