For Women’s History Month, GO is celebrating LGBTQ women we wish we could have learned about in high school history class.
Uganda has a long storied history of homophobic violence, but Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera has been tirelessly working to make it a safer place for LGBTQ people. At just 19, Nabagesera was a proud lesbian living in a country that still punished queer people with prison time and even death. She was kicked out of college for being gay, which led to her becoming an activist. Although she feared for her safety, Nabagesera refused to go back into the closet and instead founded Freedom & Roam Uganda (FARUG), the first a human rights organization focusing on the fight against discrimination of lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Uganda. The organization is based in feminism and puts queer women’s issues at the forefront of their advocacy work in Africa and beyond.
In 2010, she was outed alongside 99 other gay and lesbians in the Ugandan newspaper Rolling Stone, which asked that they be “hanged” for their homosexual acts. Nabagesera took the publication to court, eventually winning their case which led to her receiving The Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, an award decided on by 10 organizations and named after British lawyer who served as the first head of Amnesty International. Jurors praised Nabagesera for her courage in appearing on television and in print defending LGBTQ Ugandans, and for her fearlessness and selflessness.
“[She is] an exceptional woman of a rare courage,” said jury chairman Hans Thoolen, “fighting under death threat for human dignity and the rights of homosexuals and marginalized people in Africa.”
Because of her help, Uganda’s Supreme Court annulled the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Act in 2015, and now FARUG concentrates on gender and sexual-based violence, abuse, rights violations and poverty with a mission to “empower LBTI persons in Uganda to challenge all forms of discrimination, and work together to advocate for the realization of human rights.”
“It was thus our duty to fight against the injustices and prejudices suffered by this minority group,” Nabagesera said in her Ennals acceptance speech. “It was not an easy road to walk, and it is still not. With passion and great sacrifice, the LGBT movement was born. The struggle for human rights is one struggle and no human rights defender should be left to do this work alone. Courage is our virtue, and freedom is our goal.”
In 2015, Nabagesera was named a laureate of The Right Livelihood Award which is given to “courageous people and organizations offering visionary and exemplary solutions to the root cause of global problems.” The same year, she was featured on the cover of European TIME for their “Out in Africa” feature and in 2016, was named a Stanford summer fellow. Just last week, CNN hailed her as “the face of Uganda’s LGBT movement,” and talked about her work as the publisher of Uganda’s only LGBT magazine, “Bombastic,” as well as her continued advocacy from within her home country.
“It’s a big sacrifice but there’s no place I really want to live and call home like Uganda,” she told CNN. “I founded this movement … (so) if I leave I will be abandoning the community. But when they know you are here and they know you are around it gives them some kind of safety … Some kind of solidarity. … I know my children and my grandchildren will not have to go through what I’ve gone through. There’s a shift in mindset and that’s really something to celebrate.”