The LGBTIQ and sex worker movements in East Africa Solome Nakaweesi-Kimbugwe with Hope Chigudu

Published: April 1, 2013

The LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Intersex and Queer) and sex worker movements in East Africa are movements of minorities struggling with many issues: identity, marginalisation, denial of citizenship, invisibility, discrimination, human dignity and oppression, at the same time as dealing with contentious issues within and between movements that can make it difficult to forge common interests, goals and strategies. In this case study we consider the background and development of the movements, the connections between them, and their strategies, tactics and agendas. We discuss key achievements of the movements and the challenges that remain, and we ask what lessons can be learnt about inclusive movement building for social justice and human rights.

From individual consciousness to collective organising
Over two decades ago, in the early 1990’s, individual lesbian and gay community members and activists stepped into rough waters to claim their right to be human, to engage on issues deeply passionate to themselves. The nascent LGBT movement was mainly organising around binaries of masculinities and femininities – one either had to be gay or lesbian. Activists worked with and were supported by key individuals from feminist and women’s rights movements. Later in the 1990s, the sex worker movement in East Africa grew from small scale regional organising to more joined-up activism which was strengthened by ongoing capacity building and leadership training to encourage sex workers to engage in policy processes and influence decisions.1 As a result, loose coalitions such as the African Sex Worker Alliance emerged.2
In 2005, Urgent Action Fund Africa convened the first regional meeting under the theme: ‘LGBTIQ organising in East Africa: the true test for human rights defenders’, aimed at identifying LGBTIQ priorities and finding ways of supporting them. This was followed by several conferences and regional ‘Changing Faces, Changing Spaces’ meetings in Kenya. These spaces brought opportunities for LGBTIQ and sex work activists from the East African region to come together with human rights, women’s rights and health advocacy activists, as well as progressive donor organisations that support human rights and sexual minority activism in the region. Working together, they could gather and track trends in the sector, explore new thinking and innovations, share successful models for intervention in the sexual minority health and rights sector, reflect on funding strategies and build greater alliances between groups in the region and beyond.

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