Doing the Work: Safety and Solidarity
As Kasha Nabagesera spoke recently in Atlanta people leaned in to hear her. In part because she is soft-spoken and because of her remarkable story as a LGBTI activist in Uganda. She is the founder of Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG) and one of original leaders of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG). She was awarded the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2011.
I had the privilege of meeting Kasha in Atlanta at the newly-opened National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. This extraordinary center shares the story and lessons of the African- American civil rights movement in connection with human rights struggles and movements around the world.
The Center is starting a LGBT Institute and its first community event was “Spotlight on Human Rights: LGBT Rights in the USA and Across the Globe” on October 3. Deborah Richardson, Executive Vice-President at the Center, organized the program. Kasha and I spoke on the panel focused on this theme. Tanya Washington, Professor of Law at Georgia State University also participated in the panel with Cathy Woolard, the first openly gay elected official in Georgia when she was elected to the Atlanta City Council in 1996, moderated the panel.
While there were many important messages shared in Atlanta on this day at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, the question of safety and solidarity kept surfacing. After learning about Kasha’s daily life as an out LGBTI activist in Uganda, the threats to her life and well- being, and the risks she takes on behalf of justice, people were deeply concerned for her safety. Kasha explained how she and activist colleagues devise ways to stay safe which includes not traveling on public transportation.
Safety is a primary, urgent concern for LGBTI activists, allies and human rights defenders in Uganda, all across Africa and around the world. Let us hold these activists and human rights defenders in our prayers for their safety; and let us work to ensure their safety in all the ways that are possible through international bodies, regional agencies and state governments.
Solidarity. What does solidarity mean and look like to Kasha and LGBTI activists around the world? What does solidarity mean in the context of striving to do international LGBT faith and justice work in helpful not harmful ways? What does solidarity require of US-based activists who want to do the right thing?
Kasha has a clear and simple answer. Ask. Ask the local LGBTI activists on the ground what would be helpful to them in their work. Absolutely ask before you act. As US-based or other activists who do not live in the country or region of concern, it is imperative that we communicate with and build relationships with local activists and leaders of organizations working for the human dignity and equality for LGBTI persons in that country.
Together we are building a world that is free and equal. Let us do this work keeping safety and solidarity in mind.