We Are Here: LGBTI in Uganda
BY Sunnivie Brydum
January 02 2013 4:00 AM ET
Photos by D. David Robinson © 2013, for use by The Advocate with this article only. All rights reserved. Subjects have approved use of images contained herein.
Cleo Kambugu, 26-year-old transgender woman, author of an open letter to Ugandan members of Parliament asking for tolerance
My name is Cleo Kambugu, and I work with Trans Support Initiative Uganda. This is one experience of my life as a trans woman in Uganda. Not every day is like this, but because of events like these, my kind and I smile and celebrate like there’s no tomorrow. For some of us, there isn’t. That is our reality.
I wondered how the evening’s events [when she was attacked by a mob] had brought me to this dark moment. The mob gathered and swelled by the second, people drawn by curiosity and by the insults the dark man spewed at the girl. I raised my head, and in the distance I could see the silhouette of a man I recognized as my boyfriend. He was upset, trying in vain to draw the mob away in his calm, true way. I pressed my hands hard against my ears, trying not to hear the insults — each was a blow.
I receded into a world of my own — my utopia — only to be pulled back by the gentle touch of an old man, a security guard. His silvery, teary eyes met mine. "Please come," he said. "Let's leave this place, my daughter."
He called me his daughter, even after everything he had heard. He understood what these men failed to recognize. My knees gave way and I broke down; I cried, I wailed. The man’s kind words went deeper than the blows and insults, and worked quickly to patch my heart. He drew me to my feet. “There, there … there, there.” And then, like a storm drained of its energy, the mob quieted and dispersed — all because of the tenderness of an old man, a stranger to me.
Sitting in my room this morning, going over all the events of last night, I can’t believe I made it — that I’m even alive to tell this. Until yesterday, I thought my heart was armored in steel, finally indifferent to the transphobia that is so true of my motherland.
But this event reminds me that I am still human — still flesh and blood. I survived to tell my story and it is my job, my passion, to do so. This experience pierced me to the core, and turns out to be just that spark I’ve needed to get to the next level in my work. I finally understand the need to do this like I’ve never understood it before.
My work will not be done until we finally have a gender-neutral society here in Uganda, one in which every gender is liberated and accorded the same respect and treated with equality. Join me if you believe in my cause.
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