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Legacy Walk welcoming Ugandan trans activist
by Melissa Wasserman

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The Legacy Project kicks off its fifth-anniversary season with a two-part celebration on July 11-12 and a visit from Ugandan LGBT activist Pepe-Julian Onziema.

Onziema, the program director of advocacy for sexual minorities Uganda ( SMUG ) will be visiting Chicago for the first time July 9-13. This will also be his first time seeing the Legacy Walk's bronze commemoration to his late friend and fellow Ugandan LGBT activist David Kato, which was dedicated in the fall of 2014.

"I've seen it online, but I just get goosebumps of what the walk will be like when I'm there in person," said Onziema. "For me this was really a good thing because when I read through the project, I liked the project and I was willing to contribute. It says a lot about the project that it is one that speaks to what it says, respecting the legacy of individuals, respecting a legacy of movement. So for me it was important to associate myself with something like this."

Currently, Onziema, who identifies as trans, resides in Washington, D.C., while he is participating in a fellowship under the National Endowment for Democracy. He has received numerous honors, including being named a Global Citizen by the Clinton Global Initiative for his work in human-rights advocacy, being short-listed for the David Kato Vision and Voice Award in 2013 and being selected by Stonewall Equality Limited, the largest LGBT rights organization in Europe, as Hero of the Year in 2014. He came out at the age of 12 and began his activism at a young age, remembering most of it as the age of 15.

"When I was 15, there were people my age who were sent away from school because they were suspected to be gay and lesbian," recalled Onziema. "So, for me, it was unheard of because my family accepts me and accepted me by that time. So, I found it strange and I found it was unacceptable, [and] I decided to take action [by writing] an article to one of the media. From that time, I really couldn't stand any prejudices or stigma or persecution that I faced or other people faced based on sexual orientation or gender identity."

On July 11, a welcoming meet-and-greet reception and fundraiser will be held at the rooftop of Boystown spot Sidetrack, 3349 N. Halsted St. The following day's activities at Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted St., include a program in remembrance of Kato titled "Facing the Future." There, Onziema will reflect on the life and death of Kato with a panel to follow that will discuss the state of affairs for LGBTI people in Uganda and elsewhere on the continent. Several other panelists representing charities with LGBTI initiatives in Uganda—working locally to help LGBTI African refugees and working on immigration reform—will join Onziema on the panel, while WCPT Radio's ( and Truth Wins Out founder ) Wayne Besen will moderate. ( Radio listeners can hear an interview with Onziema on WCPT 820 AM on July 11 on Wayne Besen's "I've Got Issues" show. ) All proceeds will benefit the Legacy Project Education Initiative.

"We are bringing together a consortium of groups working both in Uganda, as well as with LGBT refugees coming to Chicago and people seeking immigration reform to look at this crisis comprehensively," said Legacy Project Founder Victor Salvo of the program. "We think it will be a fascinating and important discussion, especially since the U.S. LGBT preoccupation with marriage equality has driven issues such as Uganda largely from the headlines."

Salvo explained that Onziema worked with the Legacy Project on the final text of the Kato plaque. Mutual friend Aaron Jackson, from Equality House in Topeka, Kansas, helped set up the partnership between Salvo and Onziema. Salvo credits Onziema's visit with bringing about the weekend's events.

"The visibility of his country and comrade and friend" is something Onziema said he is bringing to his presentation. He lists he will also talk about the devastation in Uganda right now, the position of LGBT members there and demystifying the conditions among other topics.

"He wanted to see us unite, not just as LGBT people, but also just as a country," Onziema said in describing his friend, adding Kato was selfless, inclusive and desirous of rapid change. "He was always working toward that. I think he was one of the people in the LGBT community who was very vocal and very sensitive about trying to unite people in the community."

The July 11 event at Sidetrack is 1-3 p.m. ( $30 admission per person, includes two drink tickets ) and the July 12 program at Center on Halsted's Hoover-Leppen Theatre is 2-5 p.m. ( suggested $5 donation ).

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit .

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