Sunday, May 15, 2011

Today, we defeated you

Activists in Uganda have done a stunning job. You can look at your opponents and say “Today, we defeated you.” There will be another fight tomorrow but recognizing the power that you have built is important for everyone. You have really shown the world what is possible. You have worked with allies in sectors of human rights, legal services, refugee rights, women’s rights, faith organizations, sex work, lesbian, gay, intersex, trans,. There has also been impressive work between the Ugandan community and embassies in Uganda on a level that has been challenging in the past and in other parts of the world. Activists have had to immerse themselves in the workings of the parliamentary process and become familiar with legislative procedure. Activists have become intimately familiar with the inner working of media houses, the process of getting stories accepted or rejected. Groups have delved into the relationships between courts, the media, the public and the legislature.

Ugandan activists are now better known to those in other countries at much greater level than before. Activists have had to make tough decisions about how strong to push or how much to hang back, whether to argue equality or government transparency or human rights or traditionalism or faith. Folks have had to decide who is the best messenger in one moment or another, be it a law professor, someone who has been victimized, a gay person, a straight person, a clergy person or someone else. Activists have acquired new skills, writen web pages, press releases, budgets, appeals for assistance, all sorts of things that will continue to serve the community. Activists have worked at the level of the Ugandan government, the UN, with Special Rapporteurs, at the Commonwealth, at the African Commission and with allied governments. It has really been a tremendous achievement.

This is really a tremendous achievement. Bahati, anti-gay evangelicals and supporters had the goal of passing this bill. They did not achieve it. Of course they will come back again but clearly their goal was passage now and they lost and they know it. This is a moment when the Ugandan community can face them and say “Today, we defeated you.” Social change will also require changing hearts and minds, but part of that is simply showing that LGBTI people and their allies have the willingness and ability to successfully enter into the battle. This was a battle fought over 2 years, since the time the first version of the bill left Bahati’s office. It has required persistence, the ability to survive arrest and murder, and a view past the short term.

I want to make a case for a declaration of victory. It will show our opponents that victory is not always theirs. It will also show others in the LGBTI community that despair is not the only option. This is a defensive victory, and temporary, but unless one knows that ultimately victory is possible then you might as well fold up and go home. It is victories like the current defeat of the Bahati Bill that lets us know that ultimate victory is possible. A declaration is victory is also a claiming of power and of rights and a statement that the community is willing to be persistent.

Congratulations to all.

Andrew Park

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