Major Human Rights Award Goes to Ugandan Lesbian
It is a unique collaboration among ten of the world’s leading human rights organizations.
The 2011 prize was presented to Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera in Geneva October 13 by High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Deputy Kyung-wha Kang.
The ceremony included a very moving film about Nabagesera’s work made by True Hero films.
Nabagesera is a Ugandan LGBT activist and founder/Executive Director of Freedom and Roam Uganda.
She became engaged in LGBT rights in Uganda when she was just 21, and has since played a leading role.
She told Kathambi Kinoti of AWID in 2010:
Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG) is the only exclusively lesbian, bisexual and transgender organization in Uganda. It was started by three lesbian-identified women on July 4, 2003 in a bar which at the time the media frequently called a lesbian bar. Many lesbian women who heard the news started coming to the bar to hang out and make new friends.
Earlier, in April 2003 we had been approached by a group of men who claimed to have a lesbian organization by the name Makerere University Students Lesbians Association. When we asked them where the lesbians were and why it was led by men, they said that the women were “shy.” Later we did some research and learnt that these men were not university students nor did any such organization exist.
An accountant by profession, she has excelled in human rights advocacy and obtained a certificate in human rights law. For the past four years she has been speaking at international forums highlighting the plight of lesbian women in her country. But perhaps more importantly, Kasha has had the courage to appear on national television in Uganda, becoming one of the first lesbians to openly speak out.
She has consistently invoked international covenants that Uganda has ratified and the Government has failed to implement.
In 2007, she was brutally harassed at the World Social Forum in Nairobi after she spoke in front of 60,000 people about the respect and tolerance of homosexuals in the world. Later for appearing in the media she was again heckled, threatened and attacked. Since then she has been shifting from house to house, afraid to stay long in the same place. Police and security forces regularly stop and intimidate her.
In 2009, she and two other activists held a press conference with the message ‘we do not recruit!’ The organization the Family Life Network (FLN), which receives substantial American evangelical backing, had been claiming that LGBT groups were receiving vast sums to pay Ugandans to become gay.
On January 26, 2011, one of her colleagues, gay activist David Kato, was murdered following the publication of a “gay list” by the tabloid Rolling Stone calling for their hanging; in this black list, Kasha Jacqueline’s name also appears.
She challenged the homophobia frenzy in the media in the high court of Uganda where she and two others successfully sued Rolling Stone.
Speaking to swissinfo.ch about receiving the award, she said:
Harassment occurs almost on a daily basis, verbal attacks in public or more sinister repression. The simple suspicion of being a homosexual has serious consequences: being evicted from your home or losing your job is quite common; many homosexuals commit suicide.
Lesbians, in particular, are victims of sexual abuse and are often raped by men who think they are “curing” them from so-called deviant behaviour or want to exert their masculine domination over a woman who they believe may be too virile.
Hate speech can also be heard both in church and among politicians. Even in schools many teachers encourage the intimidation of children suspected of being gay by threatening them with expulsion.
To fight the hostility, particularly that engendered by the ‘kill the gays’ Anti-Homosexuality bill FARUG and other groups recently launched a national “Hate no more” campaign. The aim is to inform people and combat the social exclusion that homosexuals suffer.
She says of the prize:
It’s a great motivation. This prize means that the rights of homosexuals are an integral part of basic human rights. It’s a strong message to all Ugandans and other Africans who believe that gays are second-class citizens.
When I’m back home people will say it’s a disgrace for my country. But I take it as a sign of encouragement for all those fighting against the abuse of minorities; respect for human dignity must be everyone’s concern.
The award has thus far been noted (to my knowledge) only in one Ugandan newspaper.
- Speaking at the March 2011 Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, Africa and LGBT Rights session.
- Voice of America: Straight Talk Africa: Question of the week: Is Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill a violation of human rights for homosexuals? (with chief bill proponent David Bahati MP).
- Speaking to Amnesty International (AI)’s International Council meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. This speech drew widespread plaudits, including from AI Secretary General Salil Shetty.
Picture Screengrab from awards ceremony