We’re heading towards the end of April and suddenly lesbians are everywhere!
BY PHYLL OPOKU-GYIMAH
It’s Lesbian Visibility Week and media outlets are falling over themselves to highlight amazing queer women. This is of course positive: although I think lesbians should be visible every day, even having it as a focus for one week is a big step forward from just a few years ago. But honestly, those lists of sapphic celebrities can get a bit same-y, and what they definitely don’t do is centre lesbians of colour from the Global South and East.
As the executive director of Kaleidoscope Trust, a charity that works to progress LGBTI+ rights across the Commonwealth and beyond, I know just how huge a role is played by lesbians in the global LGBTQIA rights movement, a role that is too often overlooked. So, this Lesbian Visibility Week I want to highlight some amazing lesbians who I am in awe of and honoured to work alongside: incredible women who are leading the fight for LGBTQIA rights across the world.
Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera
Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, also known as Jacqueline Kasha, is a Ugandan human rights defender and founder and executive director of the Ugandan LGBT+ rights organisation FARUG (Freedom & Roam Uganda). She has been campaigning for LGBTQIA rights in Uganda since the late 1990s. In 2010 a Ugandan newspaper published names and photos of people believed to be gay under the headline “Hang them” – Kasha’s name was on the list. Despite high levels of violence against LGBTQIA people and the subsequent murder of her fellow campaigner David Kato she has continued to stand up for LGBTQIA rights in her home country and has received international recognition for her work as an activist. Following the recent passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda she tweeted: “We shall continue to fight this injustice. This lesbian woman is Ugandan even this piece of paper will not stop me from enjoying my country. Struggle just begun.”
As co-founder of Sayoni, a feminist organisation working for queer rights in Singapore, and one of the leaders of the ASEAN Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression Caucus — Jean is at the forefront of the fight for LGBTQIA rights in South-East Asia. My colleagues at Kaleidoscope Trust recently spoke to Jean about her work: “We founded Sayoni because there was a lack of LBT leaders as well as [a lack of] a gendered perspective around organising,” she told us, “In Singapore we have just repealed 377A, a law that criminalised consensual sex between men but in reality we still have a lot of human rights work to do for LGBT people.”
Monica is a human rights lawyer, social justice advocate and women’s and LGBTQIA rights campaigner from Botswana. She co-founded LEGABIBO (Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana), the country’s largest LGBTIQ+ rights organisation which was at the forefront of the campaign to decriminalise homosexuality in Botswana. Monica now works as a policy specialist for LGBTQIA Inclusion in Africa for the UN Development Programme. Responding to claims that being LGBTQIA is “un-African”, Monica asked, “Is it African to deny and violate people’s rights? Is it African for people to live in fear, their very existence silenced and criminalized?”
Rosanna Flamer-Caldera is a Sri Lankan LGBTQIA rights activist and founder and executive director of EQUAL GROUND, one of Sri Lanka’s foremost LGBTIQ rights organisations. Last year the case she brought against the Sri Lankan Government to the United Nations Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Committee resulted in a landmark ruling that laws which criminalise consensual same-sex relationships between women contravene international human rights law. Following the ruling, she said, “A decision like this, coming down from the UN, is something that the Government can’t sweep under the carpet anymore.” The Sri Lankan Government has now announced plans to legalise consensual same-sex relationships.
Donnya “Zi” Piggott is a tech entrepreneur and LGBTQIA rights activist from Barbados. She co-founded B-GLAD, an LGBTQI rights organisation in 2012 and is also co-founder and CEO of Pink Coconuts, an award-winning travel company which creates inclusivity by connecting queer travellers to the local community. She has described setting up B-GLAD after living through homelessness as a young Black lesbian to advocate for LGBTQIA equality — she wanted to create for others the community that was missing when she needed it.
As executive director of Kaleidoscope Trust I’m so proud to work with these amazing lesbians and many more incredible LGBTQIA rights campaigners from across the Commonwealth and beyond. In the last five years we’ve directly supported 119 LGBTQIA or intersectional organisations and coalitions in 40 different countries, mostly in the Global South and East. You can find out more about our work and donate at kaleidoscopetrust.com. Keep an eye on our socials during Lesbian Visibility Week as we highlight many more notable lesbians from around the world!
Phyll Opoku-Gyimah is the executive director of Kaleidoscope Trust and co-founder of UK Black Pride.
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