Where Are the Sexual Rights?
Sexuality remains a field of conflict in many countries. LGBTI activists hoped for a promising new development agenda. So far, they remain disappointed.
As an LGBT person herself, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, Right Livelihood Award laureate, has been fighting for the rights of LGBT people in Uganda. In her struggle for a more just society, she has been confronted with blank hate, discriminatory legislation and cold-blooded murder of beloved ones. We spoke to her about her strategy, her appeal to the international community and her hopes for the future.
DDD: This June, the tragic attack at a night club in Orlando reminded the world once again: Homophobia is not exclusively an issue in the global South or the periphery. It is a global issue that occurs everywhere. What was the reaction in Uganda?
Kasha Jaqueline Nabagesera: For the LGBT communities, our allies, and human rights defenders, it was shocking and heartbreaking. Public opinion though has been very homophobic. TV stations and newspapers tried to use the attack to promote their agenda against Obama and the US. Many Ugandans were actually happy the attack happened. It seems absurd that people are able to celebrate the death of innocent people, but this is the wretched situation back home.
If you live openly lesbian like me, you constantly have to worry and watch your back. I have been attacked many times. Other people see themselves forced to live in the closet. They see what people like me are going through and it makes them afraid to come out. Those who do come out face hard times. Their parents disown them and they lose their jobs. Especially amongst youth we see many cases of suicide. When they are disowned, they end up on the streets without anything to eat and nowhere to sleep. Sometimes they have no other options than to drift into sex work, which exposes them to violence and diseases even more. There are clinics that offer free medication for these cases, yes, but this medication is too strong if you do not have sufficient food. For many people, the only solution is to abandon the medication altogether, as they cannot take it while not taking good care of themselves.
DDD: Last year, DDD interviewed Laura Fletcher, a filmmaker from South Africa who highlighted the African Pride. Even though the laws have become more supportive of homosexuals, there still are a lot of hate crimes. What has to be done – besides passing new laws – to improve the situation for LGBT people?
Changing the laws cannot entirely take away violence, discrimination, and hate. We have to work hand in hand to change the judicial system as it helps to regulate and hold perpetrators accountable. But we also need a change in society's attitudes – and that is what South Africa has neglected.
It is the people who live in our neighbourhoods who beat us, who blackmail us, who burn down our houses and who sexually abuse us.
Ironically, a majority of the hate crimes in countries where homosexuality is prohibited by law is committed by non-state actors. It is the people who live in our neighbourhoods who beat us, who blackmail us, who burn down our houses and who sexually abuse us. It is our community that has evicted us so many times and it is the reason we cannot stay in one place. The community is what we are actually more afraid of than the state. If the state wants to arrest me, they can easily find and get me.
DDD: You aim to change people’s attitudes with “Bombastic” magazine, which offers a platform to LGBT people. Do you reach out to people outside of the community too?
We do not try to preach to the converted. Our main target group, actually, is policy makers and broader society. We want to reach out to as many people as possible because there are people trying to reach us but do not know how. Our primary targets are the homophobic legislators out there, because they influence the public’s opinion.
DDD: You are an experienced activist in this field who works both locally and internationally. Where do you see the danger in working with external actors?
Please do not act on our behalf without consulting us. We understand the situation better and we know what is best for us.
There are good, supportive networks around the world, but we have to be discerning. Some people take actions and decisions with good intentions, but end up doing the opposite. The international media tends to exaggerate cases that have caused backlash in our politics and for our people. Past experiences are a constant reminder. Please do not act on our behalf without consulting us. We understand the situation better and we know what is best for us. Always, always contact us and we will tell you what is best for us.
DDD: Dorothy Aken’ Ova, an LGBT activist from Nigeria, wrote an article for DDD and criticised the fact that the rights of the LGBT community are not explicitly stated rights in the Sustainable Development Goals. How can the UN implement the right agenda when it seems like it is too far removed from the reality of people on the ground at this point?
We expect nothing other than opposition from African governments and religious organisations (…)
When we get these UN documents where LGBT people are not explicitly included, we get even more motivated. We expect nothing other than opposition from African governments and religious organisations regarding our rights, but we just take this into account when planning our strategy and preparing how to get our issues on the table without fear.
DDD: Our issue is about hope and we are especially interested in hopes that remain in seemingly hopeless situations. Your biography is full of tragic moments and personal struggles: Where do you get your hope from?
We are taking small steps, but we are moving.
I get hope from other social movements’ achievements: We have seen apartheid, we have seen slavery, and we are now seeing the women’s rights movements and the struggle to freely choose your sexuality. Along the way to a just future we are going to have tragedies. Knowing we are not alone, that we have friends, allies, partners and families – that gives me hope. We are taking small steps, but we are moving. If nobody tried, we would not have a global gay movement today. No one is going to make the world better for you if you do not stand up for yourself.
When fighting for LGBT rights, you will feel alone at some point. Mostly that is because the people against you and screaming in your face are sometimes so much louder than the people behind you just quietly standing with you. Even though my allies cannot be with me, I know there are many. Seeing what activists in other countries are doing, what they have already achieved, keeps us motivated too.
When the world heard about the gay pride festival in Uganda, they were surprised (…)
When the world heard about the gay pride festival in Uganda, they were surprised because they assumed the laws against homosexuality would not allow this. Our pride may not be the luxurious pride of marching in the street. It is more about building a movement and solidarity. We go to a public park, we march and we take a swim at the beach. If we just sit and wait for the day on which we can go out onto the streets, we will never have pride.
At first, people said, “you are nuts!” Today, I am no longer the only one speaking for our rights, as people have started to come out and voice their opinions. In the past, it was really tiring for me. Now, despite the hostile environment around us, we have succeeded in building a movement in Uganda.
More LGBT Ugandans are having their “coming out”. Despite our warnings for severe backlash, the majority says they feel the need to participate in the fight for our freedoms. People are talking about it at the markets, in the taxis, everywhere. We have built visibility and that is a big improvement.
We will not be where we started, that is where I see us. I may not even live to enjoy what I am fighting for, but I am proud and happy that I have made my contribution for future generations.
Interview by Frederik Caselitz and Marlies Klugmann
Photo: by “Iain Statham”
This Interview was a joint collaboration with Center for Development Research (ZEF) and Right Livelihood College – Campus Bonn.