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Americans Can Learn from Africans in the Fight for Sexual Freedom

October 3, 2010 Leave a comment

(This was posted originally September 20, 2010 at The Bilerico Project.)

Recent polling suggests that Americans are becoming increasingly accepting of same-sex couples and their families. The second poll in as many months shows that.
This is a remarkable statistic and is no doubt a result of all the work that thousands of gay rights activists and allies have done in laying the groundwork to change hearts and minds. The fight for equality, however, should be examined through the lens of the larger fight for sexual freedom in general.

We as LGBT people are a sexual minority and as we help this country’s citizens progress in their view of the definition of what love means, we are also exceptionally poised to help them acknowledge their own sexuality and that sexual freedom is a fundamental human right.

For Kushaba Moses Mworeko, or Moses, as his friends call him, the struggle for sexual freedom has meant having to leave his home country or face potential deadly consequences. Moses’ remarkable story was first told earlier this year when he was featured as a panelist at the American Prayer Hour press conference. The American Prayer Hour was an alternative interfaith service held in protest on the day of The Family’s National Prayer Breakfast. Moses, who hails from Uganda, talked about his experience as a closeted gay man in Africa. His story was especially significant as Uganda’s legislature was, and still is, considering passage of the homophobic Anti-Homesexuality Bill of 2009.

The pictures of Moses speaking with a paper bag over his head to hide his identity while he spoke at the National Press Club have become iconic images.

Since then, Moses has officially come out to the world revealing his face on the cover of Washington’s Metro Weekly. His story has also served as a rallying call in the international fight for equality as evidenced by a recent blog post at Truth Wins Out. In it, Moses called on Anglican leaders to denounce the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

It is time for Christian leaders in Africa to start promoting peace and stop persecuting LGBT people,” said Kushaba Moses Mworeko, who recently escaped to the United States. “I call on the Anglican Church to speak out forcefully against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and to support decriminalizing gay relationships across the continent. As the church grows in Africa it must choose to be a force for good and not intolerance.

To honor all this work, this week (September 23, 2010) Moses will be awarded with the Victoria Woodhull Sexual Freedom Award, the “Vicki,” for his bravery and for embodying the mission and vision of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, which works to affirm sexual freedom as a fundamental human right. Moses plans to work with the Woodhull Freedom Foundation to help them establish an Internet platform for global rights, which he will use to continue his advocacy and work.

The award ceremony is part of Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Day, a day long event taking place at the National Press Club this Thursday. The day will be capped with the release of Woodhull’s new report, “The State of Sexual Freedom in the US” at a 3 p.m. press conference. Bilerico’s very own Bil Browning is a also a featured panelist.

The award is named after the group’s namesake, Victoria Woodhull, a progressive suffragist who advocated for sexual freedom and who was the first woman to run for President of the United States.
Moses is humbled to be receiving the award and the attention he’s received in the last year has bolstered his belief that what he is doing is right.When it comes to his own thoughts on sexual freedom, Moses is very clear about what he feels is most important.

“It is okay for people to do whatever they want to do, provided the sex is consensual and safe,” he said.

Moses quoted Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood and early champion of birth control, to help explain his view: “Through sex mankind may attain the great spiritual illumination which will transform the world, which will light up the only path to an earthly paradise.”

Getting to this earthly paradise is something he is confident will happen for the U.S., Africa and the world in general.

“In Uganda, internet usage isn’t as prolific there as it is in the West. They do use it, but they don’t do much research,” he said. “My story has opened their minds and their view of the Internet, so if I keep speaking about it folks will slowly start to understand.”

Though he is 31, he says that he has never felt more free than he has since going public with his true identity this past summer.

“I look at myself as a person who is now free and empowered to do whatever I want to do with my life and I think that also encompasses the sexual side of myself,” he says. “I feel like I am now out of the closet and I think I am the happiest person around. I can function more normally now that I am free.”

Despite this newly found freedom and the attention he has received in this country, Moses is quick to note that he does not consider himself to be the new face of the fight for equality. Rather, this humble man feels he’s most effective when he’s working behind the scenes of the movement.

“I’ll always speak out about injustice. That’s all I can do. If I’ve been of any help through my words then that is a good thing,” he said. “I thrive on feedback when talking with the other side and I don’t mind their responses to me, but the whole issue is that if I communicate with the other side that’s a good thing. We have to be able to engage them.”

Moses acknowledges very frankly that coming out has caused some pain for him and his family and friends, who have only recently learned of his activities here in the States. The calls from home have been endless and most are in disbelief that it is true. While he is disheartened at some of the negative reactions he has encountered, he is determined to keeping up the fight for equality here and at home in Uganda.

Moses is currently living in San Francisco where his case for asylum has been moved and he’s looking forward to working with local LGBT groups there when he returns later this week as he waits for his case to be decided.

He’s also working on his plans for the future which include a return to graduate school. His studies were cut short in Uganda when he had to leave and his application was positively received at Johns Hopkins University, where he hopes to soon matriculate in order to work on his other passions: social work and public health.

And, through this all, Moses says he will continue to do his part to ensure sexual freedom and equality for all. His core set of values is based on a simple yet profound idea that gets to the heart of the equality movement and the Woodhull Freedom Foundation’s mission.

“All I care about is having people free to express themselves the way they want to.”

Learn more about the work the Woodhull Freedom Foundation is doing and read their recent report on the  State of Sexual Freedom in the United States.

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Encouraging Signs

July 23, 2010 Leave a comment

I am a proud gay man. I am a proud Latino. I’ve spent my adult life working on behalf of both of those communities.

Sadly, those two communities have not always embraced each other. The gay rights movement has for too long been lacking in diversity and has been slow to address that issue.

The Latino community, with its heavy Catholic influence and family dynamics that are often rooted in traditionalism is wary of what gay rights could mean for them.

This has been a source of frustration for me and I’ve often racked my brains over how to bridge that divide. After the first couple of days at Netroots Nation, though, I am seeing some very good signs of encouragement.

It seems that everywhere I go at this conference, everyone is talking about immigration, including progressives in the gay community. Indeed, Kate Kendall of National Center for Lesbian Rights, made a compelling case for how the gay community must embrace and support the Latino community, and minority communities in general. This is a significant move for the gay rights movement as it is finally starting to realize that immigration affects them, too. I see much collaboration between the two communities in the coming years, and I think the conservative right should be scared.

I have been delighted to hear that gay bloggers want to make our leaders accountable on immigration reform, not only where it concerns UAFA, which would directly affect bi-national LGBT couples but on immigration reform in general.

One of the most encouraging talks I’ve had about what we bloggers can do to work with immigration reform advocates had to do with being in the closet. And, I think it is one of the best selling points we can make to win over the hearts and minds of those in the gay community who, at best, have been lukewarm to the idea of supporting immigration reform.

Undocumented immigrants are also in the closet and every out gay person knows what it is like to live a lie and to be in constant fear of being discovered. We have all been through it at one point or another and if for no other reason than this, we should be supporting immigration reform that would help these folks come out of their immigration closet. Our undocumented brothers and sisters live every day in fear that they may not see their families after they leave for work in the morning. They live in fear that their families will be ripped apart for an unknown amount of time. They live in fear of having to make the trek back across the border after being deported.

The gay community can make real inroads with another community that is in desperate need of the kind of advocacy the gay rights movement is famous for.

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