Kasha Nabagesera - “My Motivation is Knowing You’re Not Struggling Alone”




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Jan 29, 2018
by Klaus Mueller and Nicole Bogart
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Kasha Nabagesera - “My Motivation is Knowing You’re Not Struggling Alone”

Activist Kasha Nabagesera on the importance of the networks created at the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum

Kasha Nabagesera is known the world over for her LGBT activism. She has been described as the face of Uganda’s LGBT movement by CNN, appeared on the cover of TIME magazine’s European edition and accepted several humanitarian awards for her fight for LGBT rights in her home country of Uganda – where homosexuality remains illegal

Nabagesera, a five-time Fellow of the Forum, credits much of this success to strong international – and deeply personal – connections she has built over the years of her activism. The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum has a special place and meaning for her.

As an activist, executive director of Kuchu Times Media Group, which runs Bombastic magazine, TV and radio output, and founder of the gay rights organization Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG), Kasha Nabagesera has been a powerful voice in advocating for the rights of the LGBT community in Uganda globally at various international fora. As a plenary speaker at the founding session of the Forum in 2013, she talked about the need for international politicians and campaigners to coordinate with local activists to fight against the hate crimes plaguing her country.

“Uganda is loud,” said Nabagesera, “but criminalization laws are all over Africa.” Several people from the US took advantage of Uganda’s poverty and weak society, she explained, promoting fear of an invasive and dangerous “gay agenda.” US evangelicals had been promoting homophobia in Uganda prior to 2014 and were involved in the creation of the country’s notorious Anti-Homosexuality Act. The global community was helpful in preventing the proposed legislation from becoming law but, at the same time, well-intentioned politicians and campaigners – threatening to withhold aid – did not listen to local activists, generating a backlash from the Ugandan people towards LGBT people in Uganda and violence toward Ugandan representatives around the globe.

Nabagesera has strong ties with European embassies in the region, which have aided in her participation of the Forum, and she encourages other Fellows to create relationships with foreign governments to aid in their advocacy. “During the Berlin session in 2014 it was only Uganda that had a great working relationship with [the German] foreign ministry, but since then I’ve heard that some people have starting opening doors and dialogue back home. So for me I feel it’s important that we keep the dialogues open,” she said.

In 2015, Nabagesera boldly posed on the cover of TIME, as part of a photo essay showcasing 65 LGBT people from 15 different countries who had faced discrimination. Posed with her fist held high, Nabagesera told the magazine she wanted to embody the image of power.

“For me, it’s more than just me being on the cover,” she said of the article. “It’s more putting the visibility on the LGBT struggle around the world, because as much as they say its ‘Out in Africa’, it carries stories from very many people around the world. But also it gives me personal security and protection from not only home, but even from the government.”

This visibility does not mean that she is completely invincible, however. Shortly before she was due to arrive in Salzburg to participate in the 2017 session, Nabagesera was arrested in Rwanda. Within hours, Salzburg Global LGBT Forum members were using their diplomatic connections and multiple communication channels, especially Facebook and Twitter, to raise awareness of her arrest and call for her release.“I was surprised to see people in the Philippines, people in China, were writing,” Nabagesera recalls. “I must say I’m lucky.” She was thankfully released in time to travel to the Forum, and felt re-energized.

“I feel so good and alive, very fresh and more motivated. Every year I get more amazed at how the Forum has grown and getting more informative, interesting, but also more focused on the issues that many of us neglect or forget about during our everyday work. The issue of well-being and safety plus family is the core of our existence – and the petrol that fuels us to continue to do what we do. I wonder why for so many years the movements around the world have neglected these topics. We work under very dire circumstances, and if we don’t look after ourselves it will be difficult for us to sustain the global movements and struggle. So for me, to have this opportunity every year to come and re-energize, learn from so many diverse people, share experiences with different kinds of cultures is something that I truly need.”

It is that amplification effect that Nabagesera sees as being one of the key values of the network. “I believe in the power of sharing. That is the strongest weapon the Ugandan LGBT movement has,” she says. “For me, having this network of about 150 people, I know that one of them will share whatever happens. So I use that network to share information out of the continent. But I’ve also used the network, the videos and content that comes from the members of the Forum, because I have 2.8 million viewers on my TV show and website. So people are starting to see that it’s not something new that’s happening to us; it’s also happening elsewhere in the world...

“I really wish many donors, corporations and organizations would really understand the importance of this Forum. We cannot always just fight, fight, fight … without loved ones at our sides, without family. If we are not healthy there is no way we can have healthy movements. The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum has given us a platform to learn and also take back home and share with our communities, I will forever be grateful. And I will always be a bit selfish and say for as long as I am invited to the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum I will attend. This Forum brings out a lot of me that sometimes I didn’t know I had. Some kind of burden gets off, being in a place where for us the focus is directly about us and not just our work and politics. It’s a place where I get to interact one-on-one with government officials, diplomats, UN experts and where I don’t have to fight for space to get their attention like in the so many forums I attend where we are over 1000 people, talking about the same thing for decades.”

Kasha Nabagesera on making the world pay attention to LGBT issues