EqualityUganda to examine Pan-African LGBTQI rights

On Saturday March 2 EqualityUganda will work to make students more aware of LGBTQI rights violations in Pan-Africa, according to senior Sam Colbert.

Colbert said that the idea for the event began after speaking with a friend he met while studying abroad who introduced him to Eric Bwire, a Ugandan refugee involved with LGBTQI rights.

“We’ve made a lot of progress in the gay rights movement [in the United States],” Colbert said. “We don’t really focus on international issues as much and I think it’s still important … especially in countries where it’s illegal to be gay … to focus our attention there.”

After hearing Bwire’s story, Colbert said that he decided to put on an event, originally for the Rochester Victory Alliance, for the LGBTQI community in Uganda, with the help of assistant professor of music Pamela Kurau.

Colbert said he originally wanted to bring Bwire to speak at the event, but for logistical reasons, could not. Bwire referred him to Luzau Balowa, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and after speaking with Balowa, Colbert decided to invite him to the event.

According to Colbert, Balowa advocated for LGBTQI rights in the Congo and spent time in prison because of his efforts. During his time in prison, Balowa lost six teeth and received a permanent scar on his face.

Colbert added that Balowa went to Uganda to seek asylum and tried to create an organization to combat homophobia. In order to do so, Balowa paid off the civil servants in various levels of the bureaucracy to receive a stamp of approval. Balowa’s process was then exposed and, as gay nongovernmental organizations are illegal, spent more time in jail.

“I wanted to bring a first-hand account as opposed to a movie,” Colbert said. “I wanted to bring a personal experience that we can expose our college community to. It’s a really different experience when you hear what someone has gone through first hand.”

In addition to Balowa’s presentation, Colbert organized a benefit concert with students and faculty from the music department as well as the Rochester Gay Men’s Chorus.

Colbert said that the afternoon lecture is free, but tickets are available to raise money for Other Sheep, a nonprofit organization.

According to Colbert, the money for Other Sheep goes toward distributing and translating more copies of the book The Queer Bible Commentary to provide to the LGBTQI community in Uganda.

“I think it’s a really interesting project because it’s targeting a social root of the issue,” Colbert said. “You can’t affect change politically if you can’t affect change socially and vice versa. I think it’s really important to change people’s minds on a social level.”

EqualityUganda begins at 4:30 p.m. and the benefit concert begins at 8 p.m. in Wadsworth Auditorium.