Kasha Nabagesera, Executive Director of Freedom & Roam Uganda

by Kasha Nabagesera | Freedom & Roam Uganda
Thursday, 27 September 2018 12:01 GMT

Kasha Nabagesera, Executive Director of Freedom & Roam Uganda. Credit: Reuters/TT news agency

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“We cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand and feel sorry for ourselves"

By Hugo Greenhalgh

Kasha Nabagesera has a long and storied history of activism, often at great personal expense. Over the course of the past 20 years she has faced both verbal and physical attacks for simply being open about her sexuality.

But the knockbacks have made her more determined to fight for LGBT+ equality. Talking with the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Uganda, she spoke of the “resilience of LGBT people”.

“No one is going to stand up for us,” she added.

It is illegal to be lesbian, gay bisexual or transgender in Uganda. Under the 2014 Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act, the crime of “aggravated homosexuality” carries a punishment of life imprisonment. At one point, LGBT people faced the death penalty before an international outcry forced the government to water down the proposals.

During the earlier stages of the bill, the White House said in a statement that US President Barack Obama "strongly opposes efforts, such as the draft law pending in Uganda, that would criminalise homosexuality and move against the tide of history".

For Nabagesera though, activism has also been a personal endeavour. In Uganda, she helped to establish Freedom and Roam Uganda in 2003 to advocate for women’s rights, both within the LGBT+ community and in society in general. She served as executive director of the organisation for 10 years.

“It’s very important that we are who we are, especially looking back in history at how our race has been undermined, it's important for us to stand up and be counted,” she has been reported as saying. 

“Our black pride should never be allowed to be discounted again because of our skin colour. It is important that we work and achieve greatness for ourselves instead of waiting for others to do that for us.

“We cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand and feel sorry for ourselves, we need to stand with our heads high and proud for trying our best to make this world a better place for justice and equality, freedom and liberation.”

Nabagesera has been the recipient of numerous international awards, including, in 2011, the Martin Ennals Award for human rights defenders and, in 2015, the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize Right Livelihood Award. 

Within Uganda, she is known as the “founding mother” of the country’s LGBT civil rights movement.

“I became interested (in gay rights) and wondered: 'Why is this such a big deal?'” she told CNN in 2017. “It's a strange and weird life I lead. Today things can be calm, I can go anywhere and nothing happens, then the (next) day it's all hell.

"The good side about (growing up gay) is that my openness brought so many people like me together which resulted in building a movement. The downside of it is the insults, ridicule, abuses, threats."

But despite the threats and the abuse, Nabagesera told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that she would remain in the country. “I’m not leaving Uganda,” she said. “Others have run away, but they won’t make me.”

Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.

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