The Cost of being or Supporting Gay Sisters in Uganda, East Africa

phionah_2
Posted March 7, 2018
Where Love Counts
Equality Matters

I am Phionah Serwanja a Ugandan, born in 1995 here in Central region. I joined this universal group of unsung activists for diversity and inclusion!  I would like to talk about myself, work and Country in a slightly detailed aspect so that I can answer some questions which many of you may wish to ask from the distance between us. I am the 3rd born in my family with 12 siblings though the 3 are now died. I belong to a tribe called Baganda and Luganda is my first language.

Since childhood, my life has never been straight forward and easy. I attended the most remote and sub-grade Schools near our village throughout my Primary Level. However, even if the Schools I went through were below grades, my passion for education exceeded the status of my School. I performed very well in my Primary Leaving Exams “PLE” that last exams in Primary as one joins a High School. Upon scoring the 2nd grade in my PLE, of course, the best candidate of that year, I was adopted by a local Scouts group that pledged to sponsor me during my High School. Of course, I had also joined Girl Guides/Scouts Association and active in my troop.

During my High School, I developed the passion for helping the needy and desperate girls in my same School much as I didn’t have the means to meet my dream. In most cases, in my village, girls could be married off at the age of 14, sold to men at the age of 16 and at a value of 80,000 Shillings approx $40.

To me, that was the omen/ odd that made me strong and committed to helping fellow girls in advocacy programs that were run by Plan International, Straight Talk Foundation and United Nations Girls Education Initiative-UNGEI. I believe the invaluable dignity, respect and super-legacy of all women and girls especially “gays” that will never bear a price tag

Also, I live in a Country where the majority believes in the power of angels, Holy Spirit and eagerly waiting for return of their master called Jesus Christ. In this same Country is where homophobia is treated as a sign of faithfulness “so-called” of any Christian or believer in all religious denominations. Homosexuality is treated a crime in Penal Code Act of 1950s and an abomination in their so-called African culture. Regardless of the 2014 Constitutional Court’s nullification of the Ant-Homosexuality Bill 2009 that came in law in latter year, the state/government of this Country has resorted to applying the British law of the 1950s that treats homosexuality as a crime against nature and punishable by life imprisonment or death; this Country is no other than the well known “Uganda” in East Africa.

I am a TreeSister! Yet, for the last 4 years, I have been volunteering with a local Charity that reaches out to the sexual minorities through advocacy, education, livelihoods, rescue activities for the youths who have been disowned by their own families and relatives due their sexual orientation. I have witnessed the value of acceptance, tolerance, inclusion and gender equality. Though this work breeds persecution, bullying and all kinds of inhumane treatment, day after day, I feel determined to do even more for those that can’t fight for their rights! And I am not ashamed to be called a Feminist and gay advocate, for sure, that is what I am!

I lost my job for being a supporter of gay freedom. I have witnessed the brutal treatment by parents towards their children especially girls whenever they learn of their sexual orientation. Many of them “gay women” commit suicide; the least to tell.

Although I was almost losing heart and hope last year for belonging and supporting the female gays, my diehard “Jenny Smith” based in UK learned about the plight of gay sisters and through her network raised over 2500 Pounds within only 3 weeks so as to create livelihood projects for them. Currently our Beauty Center is offering services to the women and training to over 45 gay sisters.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/rising-with-our-ugandan-sister-women#/

Jenny is a great TreeSister too; whose unmatched support to our groups here in Uganda has grown beyond expectations.

After I received the above donation, we managed to set-up a Beauty Center for women with an intention of establishing a sustainable life for the gay sisters. For example, there is an Organization called Equality Heals Africa that donated land for us where we shall be giving out free tree seedlings to all women, Girls' Schools and others to plant them ourselves. Our Salon or Beauty Center will be shifted to the venue which we named “GenderPark”. Together with you all Sisters indeed, Uganda will change its mindset towards the LGBT.

Below are the implicit objectives of our GenderPark, the first of its kind in Uganda/Africa:

 • Ensuring full realization of fair treatment and overall acceptance of all human beings regardless of their sexual orientation, age, sex, ethnicity, color or belief.

• Providing and cultivate support, resources and advocacy to the victims of discrimination, hate and isolation.

• Committed to every person’s right to live in violence free home and have a specific focus towards addressing the cultural hiccups in determining gender equality and equity.

• Restoring and recovering the lost hope of all victims of discrimination who are currently invisible in Uganda and Africa in general.

• Recognizing and averting the absence of accessible emergency services for the victims of rape, homophobia and defilement

• Educating, motivating, and mobilizing women to improve their own lives and communities so as to become subject-experts of their own problems, challenges and solutions to overcome them.

• Providing preventative and educational programs to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS and other STDs among the key populations……hence improving their health status.

• Challenging and combating all forms of discrimination, bullying and isolation.

• Ensuring that we create, maintain and sustain an equal society

The GenderPark, is a venue for all more especially the LGBT living at the margins of the society. Nonetheless, here is the following target group; LGBT community, single mothers, albinos, sex workers, youth in conflict with the law, victims of female genital mutilation, rape and persons living with HIV/AIDS.

GenderPark is  an implicitly gay women founded site/facility/center/venue in Uganda or Africa, the first of its kind.

 

With all the above withstanding, I also lead a music club of Ghetto children especially girls and I am a member of the invisible lgbtq movement in the above Country/Continent of Africa. Without forgetting to inform that I am the Administrator of an informal Activism forum called FAR “Feminists Are Real”.

Friendship to me means, sharing common interests, passion, challenges, risks and dreams with a great commitment of respecting each one’s differences that might exist. It is not a must that friends have to agree on each and every issue before them. It is a situation where secrets are justified when shared with the person you trust. This situation is measured by the ability of both parties to keep their secrets. In Uganda, we have two types of the friendship; street and home friendship. Street friendship is a situation whereby you can’t tell all your secrets to the friend, with fear of him/her breaking the silence. Home friendship is a situation whereby both parties are called diehards. And few fall in the latter category.

Sincerely, I had no particular mentor in my life. Nevertheless, every sad and good experience I had in my life was a great training and mentoring process for me. My sad years more especially, helped me to see how life is never straight-forward or easy to handle. I also realized that, having a dream and working towards its reality is the most challenging avenue of humanity in maturity. Behind me, though, were my sponsors (Stephanie Sonya and Kyle McKinnon) whom I have never seen face-to-face. And sadly, they are all deceased but lived in the American town of Fresno-California.

My biological mother is living on and she used to love me so much. However, she became so hostile to me immediately she realized I was using part of my salary to educate the female sexual minorities who were expelled from Schools in 2013. Till now, she sees me as an outcast and abomination.

My dream is to transform the lives of all gay women and girls living in the most difficult situations. This dream is accompanied by the establishment the GenderPark above. My other dream is to making every woman more productive regardless of her illiteracy challenges or sexual orientation. This is being done my establishing zonal centers for Practical Skills like tailoring, knitting, hairdressing, handcraft and drama in the GenderPark..

I am devoted to inform, educate, and empower the gay women and girls in Africa to accept themselves as equal human beings that have equal rights to live like men or others. That they can too, make this planet a safer haven for humanity based on self esteem together with conserving the environment by planting trees.  .

Thank you World Pulse for giving me this wonderful opportunity to share my story.

I love you all,

Phionah

This post was submitted in response to You Are a Silence Breaker..

Comments 33

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  • jennyrose
    Mar 07
    Mar 07

    Phionah you are a shining star of a woman - thank you for you, for your incredible heart - sending huge love from West Wales in the UK love Jenny

  • phionah_2
    Mar 07
    Mar 07

    Hello my Lovely Jenny,
    Thank you for your unconditional love and care.
    I feel so blessed to have you.

    Much Love,
    Phionah

  • jlanghus
    Mar 07
    Mar 07

    Hi there Phionah. Welcome to the World Pulse community! I love, love your story and work. Wow! I can't even begin to tell you how impressed I am. What is your organization's website and/or social page(s) so we can follow them? I can't wait to hear more about what you are doing to elevate your country and the planet:) Keeping shining, sister! Please be aware that you may want to consider removing your FB profile link, as WP is a public forum, for your own safety and security. Thanks, and have a great day!

  • phionah_2
    Mar 07
    Mar 07

    Dear Jill,
    I have enjoyed your compliments and advise about removing the FB link from the WP page.

    We work under an Organization called Equality Heals Africa but it sensitively publishes our stories. They website www.equalityhealsafrica.org is under maintenance but FB page is: https://www.facebook.com/equalityhealsafrica/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel Though most of their conversations are done through emails.

    I am very sure that together persons of your kind and heart this world will make equality possible for humanity.

    Much Love,

    Phionah

  • jlanghus
    Mar 08
    Mar 08

    Hi there:) I'm glad you liked my feedback. I'm following your FB page now. Thanks for your kind compliments. Please be aware that you will want to use the big "left" arrow under each commentator's comment, so that they will receive an automated email notification that will let them know that you responded to them:) Have a great day!

  • Tamarack Verrall
    Mar 07
    Mar 07

    Dear Phionah,

    I am so very glad to meet you here and learn about the extremely important work you are doing. I am a lesbian in Canada (have written about this here in WorldPulse https://www.worldpulse.com/en/community/users/tam/posts/71314) in good part to be able to be available to LGBTIQ people globally. We here are aware of the extreme dangers being faced in Uganda. The film about the gay community and the murder of David Kato showed here in Montreal a few years ago. I have also been aware of the turmoil for LGBTIQ folks applying for refugee status in Britain, in particular Aidah Asaba. There is another strong WorldPulse sister who is an ally, from Uganda. I will try to look back for her name. I am very glad to know about Jenny and am so glad to see she is here too. I hope that through our connection here through WorldPulse I can add whatever I can to fundraising from the lesbian community in my city, Montreal, from my country and through the larger community I am part of throughout North America. Sharing what Jenny and you have put together would be a great start.
    I am not a member of TreeSisters but have been happy to know you exist. I find my strength in the trees and also work on the energetic level you describe. I am sure that the groundwork you and Jenny have laid will make it easier for North American lesbians - and allies - to find ways to help.

    With love in sisterhood and tree magic,
    Tam

  • Jafreen Alamgir
    Mar 07
    Mar 07

    Best of luck for your future endeavors. Happy International Women's Day!

  • phionah_2
    Mar 09
    Mar 09

    Thank you so much Jafreen.

  • phionah_2
    Mar 07
    Mar 07

    Hello Tam,
    I am so blessed to have you in the mission we treasure. And due to the sensitivity of our mission, you can inbox me for lengthy discussion.

    Much Love to you from Uganda/Africa.

    Phionah

  • Lucy Rowland
    Mar 08
    Mar 08

    Dear Phionah, I am a treesister too and was born in Northern Ireland where there is still so much negative feelings and laws about LGBT. I want so much for all people to be honoured and encouraged to be their best selves . An old friend of mine killed himself because of the descrimination against him being gay in Northern Ireland. Your work is amazing , your courage is of a lion, your wisdom is nourishing. Thankyou so much. Sending you Love , gratitude and support
    In sisterhood
    Lucy

  • phionah_2
    Mar 09
    Mar 09

    Dear Sister Lucy,
    Indeed the world is now a global village! How are you Treesister? I am so blessed that we are now connected. I humbly receive your support and love. Thank you.

  • phionah_2
    Jun 27
    Jun 27

    Hello Lucy,
    Peace and love to you.

    Phionah

  • OakTrillium
    Mar 08
    Mar 08

    So grateful to know you Phionah! Your strength and gifts are an inspiration to me! Keep up the great work! I see a rainbow connecting the womyns land here in Canada where I live with your Gender Park!

  • phionah_2
    Mar 09
    Mar 09

    What a peace to celebrate Oaktrillium! You are welcome to the Gender Park. I bless the power of Rainbow.

  • Veronica Ngum Ndi
    Mar 08
    Mar 08

    Hi Phionah
    Welcome to World Pulse community.You are a wonders worker.Keep up the good works
    Veronica

  • phionah_2
    Mar 09
    Mar 09

    Wow! Thank you Veronica!

  • Louise Tarrier
    Mar 08
    Mar 08

    Dear Phionah,
    So admiring your courage and all that you are doing in your community. Thank you for sharing your story.
    Louise

  • phionah_2
    Mar 09
    Mar 09

    It is a wonderful blessing to have and receive your compliments sister Louise. Thank you so much.

  • Wendy Stebbins
    Mar 08
    Mar 08

    Yay, Phionah,. You are amazing.

  • phionah_2
    Mar 09
    Mar 09

    Thank you sister Wendy!

  • Valéria Barbosa
    Mar 08
    Mar 08

    Dear Phionah, How beautiful is your work, Congratulations dear sister.

  • phionah_2
    Mar 09
    Mar 09

    Thank you Valeria.

  • Hello, Phionah,

    Thank you for sharing your story. You have a huge heart for reaching out and caring for many women. I am sorry that you experience such discrimination in your country. How tragic it is for gay women to commit suicide due to oppression.

    Thank you for being a TreeSister. I would like to be one too. I support treeplanting. How did you become a TreeSister? How can I be one?

  • phionah_2
    Mar 09
    Mar 09

  • Dear Phionah, This is such a powerful testament to the power of one voice, one set of hands, one heart, one soul -- you are a true beacon in the movement for a more just and gender balanced world. I am grateful you are fighting this fight on behalf of humanity. Love, Natalie and Kitty

  • phionah_2
    Mar 09
    Mar 09

    Dear Natalie and Kitty, greetings to you all from Uganda. What an inspiring echo and wisdom added to this fight!! Thank you so much.

  • Colleen Abdoulah
    Mar 09
    Mar 09

    what an inspiration you are to all of us! I too am a TreeSister and love that is being done through that organization. I was married to my partner of 14 years now back in 2016 and it was a beautiful celebration with family and friends. My heart breaks for your mother and the love and experience that she is missing by not choosing to have you in her life. I will pray for her and for you and your work. Your courage focus and determination will make a difference. Everyone is beautiful and deserves love and acceptance and this horrible discrimination needs to stop. You stay strong and brave and determined. You have all our support and we are here for you.
    I will go to the website and support you however I can.
    Colleen

  • phionah_2
    Mar 09
    Mar 09

    I am so honored to hear from beloved Colleen! Thank you so much.

  • Obisakin Busayo
    Mar 11
    Mar 11

    Dear Phionah
    Thank you so much for courage and boldness to be there for the gay sisters. You are such a great inspiration with the great work you are doing. Stay strong my dear Sister
    Warmest Love
    Busayo

  • phionah_2
    Mar 11
    Mar 11

    Thank you beloved Sister.

  • Adanna
    Mar 12
    Mar 12

    Dear Phionah,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I admire your courage.

    Well done sister!

    Love,
    Adanna

  • Kimberly Kling
    Mar 13
    Mar 13

    Phionah, you are an incredible inspiration! Thank you for being so courageous! ~Kimberly

  • kitty
    Apr 17
    Apr 17

    Dear Phionah,
    You are so cool! Thank you for advocating for gay rights, and working through these terrible boundaries, and for keeping track of who you are. Way to go! I look forward to seeing what amazing things you continue to do in the future!
    Love, Kitty