Celebrating medals of honor: why LGBT communities demand more

Every single achievement that I have encountered in my life has been uncomfortable that now I am addicted to being uncomfortable. If it is not scary, I don’t want to do it. If it is not edgy and half-crazy I am not interested in it. But if it is something that makes me stay up in the night and makes me less popular, then I am going to do it.

This year, three colleagues have been recognized, applauded, and rewarded for their indelible contribution to human rights. That’s three awards for three members of our coalition in less than a year! For me, these three individuals have given me an opportunity to look back on the story of Self, story of Us, and story of Now.

Many people ask what drew me to activism. My answer is that we are all called to something. The difference is that some of us don’t venture out of our comfortable places. But isn’t it obvious that if you belong to a certain minority group you will want to serve your community in some way? Not so obvious.

A couple of years ago when we first began organizing, the community was more of a solitary place than a social movement. Now it is impossible to look back on any of those experiences and fail to recognize that so much has changed. I remember meetings we held every Tuesday night at a local gay-friendly bar in Ntinda, a Kampala suburb. Most of us felt that we were called to this cause but none of us imagined what it would take to sustain ourselves in the vision. Even the “recklessly courageous” person that I have been described as often revealed a big coward. Now I know that it was hope that motivated me to lead.

It is because of this that I think of  the Human Rights First Award, the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award as medals of hope. This hope, the hope that things do get better, requires that we forsake our comfort in order to obtain our freedom. The reason most people have not found their purpose is because they will not pay the price for their destiny. It’s either you go back to where you came from and live comfortable or want change bad enough to get out of your comfort zone.

As I think of activists Julius Kaggwa, Kasha Jacqueline, and Frank Mugisha who, through their leadership, have given our community hope, I am reminded that our stories are not written in stone. We are constantly evolving.

I think of the daily struggles they endure and the courage that often outruns their resources. In recognition of the fact that funding for LGBT organizations in Uganda has increased over the last two years partly because of the anti-homosexuality bill which has elevated the plight of sexual minorities, there is still a lot of work to done in as far as funding LGBT human rights work in Africa is concerned. A lot of what happens in human rights cannot happen without funding. African LGBT movements are not an exception to this fact.

With most LGBT organizations in Uganda operating on annual operating budgets of less than $10,000, I can only wish that these medals of hope will lift LGBT communities from the periphery of under-funded social justice struggles. If these medals are going to create ripples of change within the movement, then we have to address the funding challenge. That human rights defenders should continue to put their lives on the line for a just cause is enough to grant them the privilege of working with ample resources that will help them touch lives. To acknowledge this challenge is to recognize its urgency.

For it is not about the outcome of the struggle. It is the process of the struggle that is fulfilling. For instance, whether the kill the gays bill becomes law or not, we have already won. Stories of Julius, Kasha, and Frank help us see this victory ever better. Change can come from the most unlikely, uncomfortable places. The three awards are so much about significance than they are about prophets being without honor in their homeland.

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One Comment on “Celebrating medals of honor: why LGBT communities demand more”

  1. Kye says:

    “If it is not scary, I don’t want to do it. If it is not edgy and half-crazy I am not interested in it. But if it is something that makes me stay up in the night and makes me less popular, then I am going to do it.” Beautiful! Thank you. I appreciate this so much. I have been thinking a lot about comfort (and being uncomfortable) and the ways in which we can do work that is challenging but also nourishing. How can we be engaged and also rest sometimes? How can we be where the wind is blowing without being driven half-crazy? I think we are all cowards and all brave…we are, as you say, constantly evolving. I like this quote: “Courage is the price Life extracts for granting peace.” (Amelia Earhart) But I’m not sure that peace is as sedentary or as permanent a spot as it sounds like here. Amelia says: “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.” Congratulations on the medals of honor. Yes, let’s get to work on figuring out the funding.


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