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Rwanda set for a historic first pride event

June 25, 2021
topic:LGBT Rights
tags:#LGBTQI, #Rwanda, #pride, #discrimination
by:Bob Koigi
Despite Rwanda having jettisoned a provision in the constitution that criminalised homosexuality in 2010, the guaranteeing freedom of association and worship and ensuring sexual minority groups are protected by the law, and although the country is a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community and organisations in the East African nation continue to face increased discrimination and stigma from family and community members.

The growing attacks on the queer community in Rwanda has seen its members become among the most economically marginalised, vulnerable and poorest in the country, as they struggle to access employment opportunities and health services.

Addressing this crisis, a coalition of LGBTI rights groups under the umbrella of Isange Rwanda has, since 2013, been providing safety and social nets through a series of activities. Having started with 3 groups, the coalition has grown to include 18 of them and reaches out to members of the LGBTI community across Rwanda. 

A safe haven of economic empowerment

In order to economically empower LGBTI Rwandans, the coalition runs a micro-projects initiative that offers financial support to queer people keen on setting up small businesses. The beneficiaries have gone on to set up shops, kiosks, clothing stores and charcoal selling outlets to tap into the high demand by urban households. A group of queer people in rural Rwanda have also come together to start planting maize for sale. 

The coalition has also been actively involved in advocacy activities by networking with civil societies, local NGOs and international partners to exchange ideas and learning experiences. They do so while advocating for an inclusive and safe work environment for LGBTI people at the workplaces.

Isange Rwanda has also held trainings on gender identity and methods of dealing with discrimination. Trainings have also been given to various community members, doctors and other health officials, in which they were educated on extending nondiscriminatory services to the LGBTI community. 

“In such a hostile environment where members have to contend with harassment, physical and sexual abuse, humiliation and being ostracised by the society, Isange Rwanda offers [queer people] a safe haven by empowering them economically, offering them counselling and pointing them to professionals who they can be free to talk to,” said Albert Nabonibo, a facilitator at Isange Rwanda who also oversees the mapping of members and activities of the coalition. 

Nabonibo has endured a painful journey after coming out in 2019. A renowned gospel artist and accountant, he was ostracised by friends and family members, mocked, insulted and had ultimately lost his job. “But I had decided that there was no turning back. I had to be strong, for me and many others who wanted to live normal lives without fear,” he added.

Rwanda’s first-ever Pride: a football match and round of discussions

That drive to create awareness and dialogue about issues affecting members of the LGBTI community has inspired Nabonibo to organise the first-ever pride event in Rwanda. 

Planned for July, the event will involve a football match and thus bring one of the country’s most popular sports into Pride. At the match, LGBTI people will play against media practitioners. “We want the media to be an integral part of our campaign to raise awareness about the tough conditions gay people go through while using mass communication platforms to reach out to any member who might be living and fear, “added Nabonibo.

In order to drive advocacy and influence policy among decision makers, the event will also include discussions with government officials, security personnel and other policy makers, while giving queer people a chance to present their talent. 

While many in Rwanda’s queer community would have wished to hold parades and street marches, Nabonibo says that it is a delicate balancing act and that they would have to work with government officials who have, at the moment, only agreed to the match and workshop. 

The pride event is being supported by AllOut , a global LGBT+ rights organisation, through a global fundraiser that is reaching out to people and asking them to donate for the cause. 

AllOut has previously supported such events in Uganda and Eswatini, two countries that to this day criminalise homosexuality.

“This is a historic moment for Rwanda and with the pioneer pride event we hope to grow the movement to a national event in years to come and bring onboard as many partners as possible to champion the rights of our community members,” added Nabonibo. 

Ultimately, Isange Rwanda is looking to grow the organisation in order to economically empower its members, create information platforms for them, influence policies around equal rights and treatments by working with the government and engage more with local leaders to address homophobia and stigma. 

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
Pride march in Eswatini. Many LGBTQ+ people in Rwanda expressed a desire to stage a Pride march as well, but the government has only approved a football game and worksop so far.
© Mathias Wasik / AllOut
Pride march in Eswatini. Many LGBTQ+ people in Rwanda expressed a desire to stage a Pride march as well, but the government has only approved a football game and worksop so far.
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