By Maddame Cleo Xulaye Quentaro
In a candle lit auditorium, people I now call family, flocked in, and in masses. I arrived at the venue at 7:30 to a room full of people-people I now call family, and friends.
In a candle-lit auditorium, people I now call family, flocked in and in masses, recounting tales of the day that was. If You could take a snap shot of this Kodak moment, you would think these people did not have a worry in the world, and wow, how wrong you would be, coz on the contrary these people have stared in the face of evil its self, utter hatred so much it would darken the sun at noon. But even then, they still laughed, they still giggled, golden candle light dancing on their faces.
Earlier on as I had raced through Kampala, on a boda boda, I had said to myself, I would understand if I had found an empty auditorium, for at least we had matched. I thought it would just be the organizers, and I thought that, that would still be okay, I would still feel accomplished.
But to my utter amazement, as I opened the door to an auditorium packed with these beautiful people, my Jaw dropped. I had completely underestimated the deep courage, love and coherence that my family had. As my eyes widened and scanned through this auditorium, flocked with people giggling and laughing and recounting tales of the day that was, with golden candle light dancing on their faces, my heart couldn’t help but sink to a place, a place so deep it made my eyes water, with emotions that mere words fall short of expressing.
These are the people that I have come to-over the times- call family, and not just coz we all are social pariahs, in our own country, but because since the time I joined this movement we have come to together gain a deeper understanding of who we are, we have discovered ourselves in each other’s lives, we have held that hand for that brother who was dying and still carried on with our lives, we have cried burning tears together, we have ran in high heels (for us transwomen) with our brothers running away from police raidings, we have fought and made up, life has tried us in all sorts of ways, and found us not wanting, like a black smith forges iron in fire, we have been forged in the reddest of fires into these people that even then retain their humanity. And when we jubilate, and dance and sing, we do so, because we fully appreciate it, having been to the bottom of the abyss and back, we do so like there is no tomorrow, because there actually may not be a tomorrow for us-the parliament and police forever devising new means of sending us to the gallows-yesterday’s antihomosexuality bill is now today’s 145th penal code amendment. Different people trying out ways on how they can kill us in different ways- yesterday it was Hon. Bahati, and today its Hon. Fr Lokodo.I ask myself, who next?, what next?.
So as people chanted at the parade: We are here! We are here!, it was not just any three later phrase, for us, it was a story of what was, what we have made it, and what we will make it?. It was a deep proclamation to the people out there e that we actually are here!- not past tense, not future tense, but present tense, we are here! And not in singulars but plurals, we are here! we were telling our selves that despite the big guns that they have pointed square in our chests we still are here, standing, fighting , not moved by the storm.
I admire the sheer resilience of the Ugandan LGBTI movement. To say that am proud to be apart of this formidable force is an understatement. These are ordinary people doing extraordinary things in the darkest of times. In times when people only dared to whisper things in the confidentiality of their pitch black locked rooms, they dared against all odds to take a stand and shout it for the whole world to hear under the warm golden rays of the Ugandan sun by the bank of lake Victoria: We are here!, we are here! They have done things for the future in the present.
A new Jewish acquaintance that I met at the pride, asked me, what motivates you to do all this? I delved deep into my heart and asked myself, what really motivates us? Life has dealtus bad, and told us it is not yet our time, , most of us do not have the luxury of saying East of West home is best” because even that safe haven has been swept from under our feet, constantly traumatized and physically abused by people we call family. But what motivates us?…Kasha answered that question for me, when the police attempted to raid us again, one sentence that summed all our life-long stories- Tukoye! The Luganda equivalent of We are tired! And she said this, simple 6-letter word, with so much emotion, that it suddenly sprung all my senses to life, and I finally came to the realization of why I and all my brothers and sisters were doing what we were doing: we are tired! That is what makes us risk our lives every day for this movement. We are tired! That is what keeps us awake when we ought to be sleeping! I then remembered a lesson I learnt from my mentoress: she said in life you have to be tired enough to move out of your pseudo comfort zone, you have to rid yourself of that complacency, that mediocrity, that thinking that you do not deserve as much as the rest, that you do not deserve it now. She said in life when you reach a point when you are finally tired, then and only then can you finally get off that pity potty, flush it, and fight like your life depended on it, and for us it actually does. She said, only then will that will find a way.
So am sited here thinking to myself, this was not just any pride, we made a statement. If most of you had not realized, Uganda is making 50 years of independence as a sovereign state. So the fact that this pride rhymed with this jubilee is a major statement that will forever go down in history, that Uganda, at 50 years of independence on August the 4th ordinary people, like you and I , dared to do extraordinary things, and marched on the first ever LGBTI pride in Uganda, and pretty much in East Africa.
And like Frank said, next time we march from police, next time we are matching PFLAG(PARENTS & FRIEDNDS OF LESBIANS & GAY PEOPLE)!!!! ALLUTA CONTINUA!!(and please say it like you mean it, say it swagger, coz you guyz jus’ made history!!!) Huray!!!!
From urs truly Cleo “Madamme, u look so beautiful” a luganda-english translation of what i was told by some kid i met at thebeach pride. For a transwoman who was physically abused, called a mistake and chased away from my home because of my weirdness and immorality this expression of utter admiration, communicated essays. For one, unbeknown to this kid he had answered a question i had been asking myself for ages…what is the origin of this vehement homophobia in Uganda, in a person? Am a scientist and to solve a problem one needs to get to the core of things.. i had found my eureka! moment… i stood there in awe!, and during the pride i shared how i had discovered this thing that had always been before my eyes…they say homosexuality is a learned behavior, and though being a genetist, i know it for the fact that it is not , I had no idea what the origin of homophobia was… I finally came to the realization that it is homophobia that is a learned behavior, but to love, in all its entirety is what lies at the core of our humanity. We are molded by our societies with their value systems, set of beliefs norms and taboos, to define the boundaries of normalcy, to define who and what we should to hate? But we are born, pure, loving creatures that are true to our selves.
This year we celebrated our very own first beach pride in Uganda. We weren’t in paper bags, we weren’t in any protected sanctuary, we stood on government grounds (the PGRC), we didn’t have a fleet of guards to protect us, and we came in masses, people I had not seen IN ages. My brothers and sisters standing next to me, it was a very monumental moment.
Always thought pride would be one of those things that would, you know, be the icing, for this movement. I though it would come like years later- this being a social movement- and that I might not even be a part of it, but I was just working to see it come, some time. So walking around, by the beach, on pride, in Uganda, and I repeat in Uganda…well, to say I am exuberant beyond words still would be an understatement, it hardly grazes the tip of the ice berg of what I feel deep within. I feel finally accomplished, like a mile stone has been finally laid. I talked to a few people, and asked them aren’t you afraid?, u’re at pride, in Uganda, aren’t you freaked out? Afraid of what had happen, and I always got the same response, part of me is, but what the heck? To paraphrase and I guess what they met was, we are tired, we are fed up, come what may. We are afraid, but it is not living after all, if you are not allowed to be who you really are, its simply condemning yourself to a virtual prison- a place far more lonely, far more bleak and grey, and sadder than the reality of a physical prison.
I matched on a van, dragged up with shades, shades that perfectly concealed the watery red eyes behind them. They were tears of joy, tears of freedom in its truest form. Unbeknown to, I think everyone at the pride, I was at my work place-the botanical gardens, or what I call the plant genetic resource centre. And the old big man we saw in the distance as we matched, he works with the ministerial department where I work, but I did not care, I was making a statement. When I first joined the movement, I being the very meticulous perfectionist, who loves cross checking things over and over again to see that they are perfect, I asked myself, is it safe for you? And over the months I ve come to answer this question: if not me, who then, it might not be safe now, but someone ought to start somewhere, some time. I hardly know, what my future hold as far as my career is concerned after yesterday, but am thinking our first career is to live, to live life in its fullest, the Bible says that as well, not veiled, not hypocritically, not sub dued by inhibitions or crumpled down by societies and peoples negativities, and am finally doing that right so I guess my primary career is on the right path. This homophobia is personal, peddled by a few, hypocritical, self righteous, conservative bigots, and crammed down into the mentalities of other people who other wise would not even have looked twice, given our current social economical situation, so we need to sort these out of the way, and we need to deal with them now..they have personalized their homophobic vendetta, like the whole world ought to share their sentiments. We need to go proactive on them, instead of reactive of them.
Lastly, if you were at pride yesterday, and watched the people around, and heard what they had to say- and I made it a personal business to even talk to some of them, I came to the realization that the people are ignorant about us, and all they know about us is communicated by the all negative media, and homophobic religious leaders and political heads. So we need to invest into the mainstream, like I said before, and like am saying now, we need to bust this bubble and get back their, into our communities, reclaim for our space within our communities, we should not have to always be re settled and to move. But to do this, like I said, we have to do it right, so we do not get any casualities.
Once again, pride finally happened, and am glad to have been apart of it…ALLUTA CONTINUA!!!!