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Council on Global Affairs holds LGBT-rights conversation
by Melissa Wasserman
2017-05-03

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The Chicago Council on Global Affairs hosted a conversation-based event titled "The Global LGBTQ Rights Movement" on April 27.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan membership organization that provides insight on global issues and is committed to bringing clarity and offering solutions to issues beyond borders and transform how people, business and governments engage the world.

The event was a conversation between Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities of Uganda ( SMUG ); and Jane M. Saks, founding president and artistic director of Project&. Topics included Mugisha's start in activism, his strategies and developing reliable networks around the world, religion and culture's role in LGBTQ rights, particularly in Uganda and his thoughts on SMUG's crimes against humanity lawsuit, among other issues.

According to Saks, this event, part of the Women and Global Development Forum, was the first LGBTQ-focused program that the Council has ever done. While, same-sex marriage has been legalized in the United States, countries like Uganda, are facing the opposite in which laws that criminalize homosexuality are passed. The evening's discussion provided some insights in the experience of the backlash sexual minorities face.

"I think events like this remind people what it is to be human and what it is to be the same," said Mugisha. "We could be different, but we all want the same thing."

A Q&A portion where attendees could engage followed Mugisha and Saks' discussion. The event was also livestreamed and allowed for at-home viewers to ask questions.

"The LGBTQ communities in Chicago are incredibly active and really fierce and I'm really proud to be a member," said Saks. "I think that this is an important city to go to. It's very diverse and it's also very segregated and we've had some real tragedies happen here—a lot of murders and hate crimes and then we've also had great successes and strides and so I think that that's an important way to start conversations is to really think about 'ok, where are we, where have we been and where are we going.' It's what I call living in all tenses of the verb as an activist; past, present and future and you can't stay in one or the other."

Saks' Project& is a Chicago nonprofit organization that supports art with social impact.

SMUG is an LGBTI, non-government network, formed in March 2004, that addresses Human Rights issues surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. The network's mission is "to monitor, coordinate, and support member organizations to achieve their objectives aimed at the liberation of LGBTI people."

"I have to show people that homophobia isn't a Ugandan or an African problem, it's a global program," said Mugisha. "So, people coming to listen to me is not about Uganda, it's about their friends here, it's about their relatives and family here and also any other LGBT person around the world. That's why sometimes in most of my talks, you'll hear that it's not only about politics, but it's about me as a person and my lived realities or experiences because then those touch people to think, help and engage."

Mugisha shared that, by chance, his work in activism found him. While he was appointed to his role with SMUG, he explained when one experiences vulnerability and discrimination, it pushes for the need to work hard to change people's minds. In tune with that concept, he said he believes he is saving LGBT people every time he speaks out, holds a meeting, or even does a workshop.

"It's very challenging for activists to work, especially when it's very hostile," said Mugisha in the conversation with Saks. "The only thing that we relied on as protection was international pressure. International organizations talking about what is going on all the time, which is happening now. And I think most importantly being in touch with the activists on the ground and listening to them and asking them what exactly should we do, how should we respond. I think political pressure is very good if it is done in a very strategic way."

Mugisha commented that some people don't see the progress being made, but if it is you who is doing the work, you see the progress. He adding there are many ways one can support the LGBT movement.

"You have to make very specific choices to do the work that Frank does," said Saks, who developed a friendship with Mugisha some time before the event. "You can't get too high up and you also can't just be on the ground and he has to balance the two staying very close to his community and what the struggle is and also developing a large visionary perspective and that's a very hard way to live while your life is being threatened."

"I believe you still have to have really fierce activism, you have to fight like hell, you have to be willing to take risks, you have to really be courageous, you have to honor everybody that's come before you, who has made it possible, so these kind of personal connections, are not in lieu of really fierce advocacy and activism, but the fact is, there are these kinds of quiet moments and sometimes it's social moments, where people don't say things," said Saks. "They don't say things about race, they don't say things about poverty, they don't say things about gender, they don't say things about being queer and at that moment, you could actually could really crack something open, as well as through the real strategic activism and policy shifts."

For more information and to watch the conversation, visit www.thechicagocouncil.org/event/global-lgbtq-rights-movement .


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