When Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera took the stage on Sunday, she challenged us at Amnesty International. Kasha asked, “What is Amnesty practically going to do for a lesbian like me in Uganda?” There is no easy answer, so Kasha has challenged us to work with her not just by continuing to campaign against intolerance in Uganda, but by using tools that reach the hard to find; her extended community and colleagues who cannot always get to Amnesty International’s actions elsewhere.
My first thought was that she and her fellow sexual rights activists in Uganda are so under fire that they need to concentrate on their own survival. But really, Kasha had just caught me out – I failed to see that Kasha is first and foremost an amazing activist – not a victim. Effective support for this incredible activism is paramount.
It is not that life for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Uganda is secure. It is precarious. She detailed the physical attacks, the unrelenting harassment, the rejection by families, the evictions and the vilification. She spoke of her friend David Cato – another sexual rights activist – who was murdered not long after a local magazine published information, including names and photos, about David, Kasha and others with the headline “Hang Them.”
But what Kasha is saying is that we can only “stop the hate” – as her organization is currently campaigning to do now in Uganda – if we join together. We need to act at the local level but also work across borders, across ethnicity, across faiths, across class and across the digital divide to reinforce our messages at the national, regional and global level.
Kasha understands this. She sees the struggle of her and her colleagues in Uganda as something much bigger than an individual case or an individual country. She sees that the right to live in freedom and dignity is undercut not just by the persecution that she faces, but also by poverty, by indifference, by cruelty, by exploitation and by failing to see our interconnectedness as human beings.
Kasha refuses to be reduced to be a victim on whose behalf Amnesty International works. She demands that we work together with her and her colleagues – because it is together that we can create a world in which people everywhere enjoy freedom, dignity and justice. Now we must respond to her challenge and work hard to ensure that next time she asks such a question the answer is already known.
Find out more about the issues and activism of Kasha and her colleagues on the FARUG (Freedom and Roam in Uganda) website.