Much More than a Uganda Trip Pt 3.
By This time, its Monday, December 4th, and we’ve traveled to the town of Mbarara for a training that Jay is speaking at.
This specific training is Put together by the HRAPF (Human Rights Awareness & Promotion Forum). Their main focus and mission is to educate workers in the community on the human rights that all citizens have all across the country.
Many officers asked questions that were 90% offensive, and with queer people in the room, it was hard not to feel offended. BUT, I also found myself understanding why this was the case. For many of these men (most likely all of them), they have never actually truly listened to a person from the LGBTQ community. So their knowledge is either based on what the media shares, what missionaries and pastors share, and thoughts they formulate on their own.
Jay spoke and shared her story. This was the first time I heard it from her mouth in this type of setting so believe me I was all ears. She commanded the room, and I couldn’t count a face that wasn’t focused on her. I respected her on an entirely higher level. She shared that her experiences are similar to theirs. She shared that we all have similarities, and differences. I could see some of the men relax their shoulders a little. It made sense to a few. Thats a start.
This can prove challenging when discussing the rights of a group of people you feel should not exist. This was the challenge present during the training. I found myself listening to Ugandan Police officers, and really trying to understand their thought process.
Many of them come from religious backgrounds, and the influence of Missionaries who spread the word of homosexuality being a sin. These men only know of one thing. Which is that sex & relationships should only occur between men and women.
“So how can you tell me that to penises touching is ok?” “when i see two guys holding hands, I’m doing preventative policing by arresting them. I’m preventing a problem from taking place.” “being gay or lesbian is a choice and it’s wrong and gross.”
These are questions and statements that flooded the space during the training.
I realized in that moment, that conversations are extremely important. Dialogue is crucial to understand viewpoints that are different than your own.
One of the most intense experiences I’ve had in my life was speaking in front of this very room.
A police officer noticed me sitting off to the side behind him and began asking me questions. “do you believe in Lesbianism?” “are you asking if I’m a lesbian?” “Yes!” he said. I told him that I was. He smiled, turned back around in his seat, then turns back around, and about 10 seconds later he extends his hand to give me a fist pump accompanied with a smile.
I knew he was doing this based on his idea of women, and seeing two women together as a sexual fantasy for him. Or, maybe he was actually supportive. Tw o seconds later he asks me if I liked the female officer next to him, and if I would date her. I politely said “I don’t know her but I’m sure she’s a nice woman.”
He then asked where I was from and I said California. His eyes got as big as the size of the room! He eagerly said “can you speak? Can you share your experience as a lesbian?” I had a moment where I had to catch myself and be extra present in the moment. Like ‘is he asking ME to speak in front of all of these officers?’ I told him I would if he wanted me to and if it was ok with the leaders of the training.
I got the attention of the leader and shared that one of the officers wanted me to share my experience and would it be ok if I got up there for a few minutes to do so.
I quickly found myself sharing what it was like to be a lesbian in the States. I was surprisingly calm, confident, and proud of how I was able to make eye contact with these men. I felt heard by some, ignored by others, and understood by few. It was hard to find the right words! I wanted to go so deep and multilayered, because that’s who we are in all our beauty, but I knew taking that approach would only complicate it, and I would lose their attention. I had to talk in a way that very simple. Speak in a way that they could understand. But at the end of the day it was worth every moment of fear, sweat, anxiety, and shakiness to be able to share my voice to these men who may have never heard of a lesbian woma from the states.