News Article

Civil rights movement intensifies as hate crimes increase in LGBTQ communities in Africa

September 10, 2019

SLF, Toronto, GlobeNewswire

Toronto – Sept. 10, 2019 – Recently, in Uganda, police with machine guns raided the offices of a human rights group. Pepe Julian Onziema, a director with Sexual Minorities Uganda, one of the organizations in the room, remained calm as police locked the doors and threatened people inside. He’d already been arrested for talking about the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities, so he knew what to expect.

Looking forward and into the light: LGBTQ refugees share stories in photo exhibit

May 08, 2019

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press, National Post

Dennis WamalaTORONTO — Fearing for his life, Dennis Wamala fled Uganda with little more than the clothes on his back.
Now in Toronto awaiting a refugee hearing, he recounts being stalked, beaten, and tormented for his attraction to men as well as women.
He pauses when asked about the work he left behind as an activist supporting others in the LGBTQ community, a decision he considers “the most depressing thing in my life.”
“The only way I can manage it is to not think about it. I try to block it out of my mind,” says the 34-year-old, whose home country considers homosexuality a crime.
It’s easy for Wamala to wallow in dark thoughts and despair, but an upcoming photo exhibit will portray him bathed in light, smiling and looking upwards. That’s really who he is, Wamala says, even though he admits he expected the photographer to produce a more sombre, brooding image.
“I’m a forward-looking person,” Wamala says.
“When you’re an activist like me, the only reason you continue doing what you’re doing is because you believe that it can get better. You look ahead and know there’s something above there that you can change. I think it portrays exactly who I am.”
Wamala’s hopeful image is among 20 portraits of LGBTQ refugees that will be featured in the exhibit, titled “Am I Wrong to Love?,” that’s meant to shed light on human rights abuses facing gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and gender non-conforming people around the world.
The images were shot by 17 underserved youth who graduated from a photography program run by the social justice charity Jayu in Toronto and Mississauga, Ont. The program hosts workshops under the guidance of professional photographers, held during eight-week sessions that run throughout the year.
Jayu founder and executive director Gilad Cohen says the program mentored 140 budding photographers between its launch in April 2018 and the end of last year. This year it’s on track to mentor 250 youth.
Graduates who return to serve as mentors are eligible to join a social justice exhibition, which this year focuses on LGBTQ refugees from 10 countries including Nigeria, Pakistan, Egypt and the Ivory Coast. Photographers are again paired with seasoned pros to help them capture the portraits, with Graeme Roy, director of news photography for The Canadian Press, among those involved.
Sixteen-year-old photographer Olivia Barrett says she was inspired by meeting with the LGBTQ refugees and found a way to connect their stories of perseverance to her own life.
“I’ve definitely faced a lot of prejudice when it comes being a girl, being black, it’s definitely very hard sometimes,” says Barrett. “If I can do something to make sure no one else has to go through that, I definitely want to do that.”
Barrett says she was intent on capturing Wamala in a candid moment, in black-and-white. She was not interested in focusing on his pain.
“They did go through a lot, obviously that’s an important part, but they are more than just their story, they are more than just what they’ve been through.”
Wamala considers himself lucky, knowing that many refugees don’t have the support he does, which include friends in the Stephen Lewis Foundation, Pride Toronto, and other groups he’s met through advocacy work in Uganda.
Since he arrived in January, he’s been volunteering with groups including Africans In Partnership Against AIDS and Dignity Network, while continuing to work remotely as vice chair of Sexual Minorities Uganda. He also does what he can to help fellow refugees in Canada.
“They feel depressed, they feel alone,” he says. “But when you share stories and tell them that you have been through worse situations, they get to understand that … they can make it.”
Formerly the director of programs for Icebreakers Uganda, Wamala says he’s been attacked several times over the years. Six months before he left, he started to notice strange cars following him, making him believe “the clock was ticking for me.”
“I don’t know what their motive was but I’m 100 per cent sure they were trailing me for a long time, I have no doubt about that. I was getting anonymous calls threatening me, telling me how my life was about to come to an end, stuff like that.”
He stopped working the month before he left, finding the ordeal “extremely terrifying.”
“I couldn’t get out of the house, I was hiding with a friend outside of the city,” says Wamala, who is from Kampala. “I was not eating anymore, I’d lost so much weight, I was so depressed, I was so stressed.”
Thankfully, Wamala had a Canadian visa because of advocacy work that had brought him to Canada four times over the past five years.
He wrote to the Canadian charity Rainbow Railroad, which bought him a plane ticket to Toronto and paid for two weeks at a hostel. Since then, he’s been staying with a friend.
Wamala says he’s no longer looking over his back, and he hopes to continue pushing for change internationally.
“I won’t stop. I’m an activist born-and-bred and that’s not something I can run away from.”
And that means always looking forward, he adds.
“It’s the only way to look.”

Vuyiseka Dubula-Majola: Stellies Africa Centre director a recipient of Franco-German prize

November 23, 2018

Staff Writer / South Africa, Cape Times

Vuyiseka Dubula-Majola, SLF Board Member
Stellenbosch University director of the Africa Centre for HIV/AIDS Management Vuyiseka Dubula-Majola has been announced a recipient of the 2018 Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law
Cape Town – Stellenbosch University director of the Africa Centre for HIV/AIDS Management Vuyiseka Dubula-Majola has been announced a recipient of the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law.
She is one of 15 recipients from around the world presented with the prize by the foreign ministers of Germany and France.
Since 2016 this prize has been awarded every year to figures who have made an exceptional contribution to the protection and promotion of human rights and the rule of law in their country and at the international level.
Dubula-Majola completed two of her postgraduate qualifications at Stellenbosch University and became a lecturer at the Africa Centre for HIV/AIDS Management, and later its director. She herself was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 2001.
“It is always humbling as an activist to get recognition. This award is a collective gratitude to those who speak truth to power.”
Dubula-Majola has also been included in the book A to Z of Amazing South African Women, a publication that honours the contribution of women to South Africa’s past, present and future.Others in the book include Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Thuli Madonsela and Caster Semenya.
In the book, Dubula-Majola is referred to as a heroine for our times - someone who has beaten all the odds and is still working actively to improve the situation.
“I welcome challenges. That is how we grow,” she said.
The dean of the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, Professor Ingrid Woolard, said she was delighted to see Dubula-Majola’s work recognised in this way.
“Vuyiseka is an exceptional role model to all of us - she is brave, passionate, dedicated, focused and yet humble. We congratulate her on this international recognition of her unwavering commitment to improving the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS and working towards interventions that will reduce transmission.”
In their announcement, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas of Germany and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian of France stated: “In this 70th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Germany and France have chosen to honour 15 individuals who have campaigned courageously to protect human rights.
“They also stand proxy for the many other human rights defenders whose efforts remain unrecognised and who are often subjected to great iniquities in their fight for justice.”
SOURCE: Cape Times, South Africa
Read the original article here.

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Civil rights movement intensifies as hate crimes increase in LGBTQ communities in Africa September 10, 2019

SLF, Toronto, GlobeNewswire

Looking forward and into the light: LGBTQ refugees share stories in photo exhibit May 8, 2019

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press, National Post

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