We’re currently shining a spotlight on Rainbow Riots, an organisation that focuses on bringing music and art together to help the LGBTQ+ community in East Africa. We recently spoke with Petter Wallenberg, activist and founder of the group, about setting up the group and how we can help create Uganda’s first LGBTQ+ community centre.
Today, we’re talking with Kowa Tigs – a campaigner who has been dubbed ‘The Rainbow Martin Luther King of Uganda’. Kowa helps marginalised people in her country access vital health services.
Kowa is all too familiar with the discrimination which is rife in Uganda. At one point, 15 police officers arrived at her home, searched the entire property and locked her in a cell. When she was eventually freed, her landlady evicted her, stating that the whole village wanted to burn the house down – so Kowa had to leave.
You’ve faced discrimination for being who you are, from being in prison and evicted from your home. What was it like growing up and having all this anger and hatred towards you for just being you?
To be honest, growing up was easy for me. In my small village where I grew up, everyone knew me as a tomboy – a girl who liked to play boy games and a girl that was carefree. But when I grew up, that’s when I started getting issues.
It was expected mostly but I didn’t expect it from the security or my landlord. I was paying my rent, rendering a service to the community where I lived. To then receive adversary from that same community was really disappointing.
What are just some of the many struggles that LGBTQ+ people are facing in Africa today?
We struggle to be accepted – not just acceptance by the community but the system, the state and the leadership. Having acceptance from the system and state would mean we would be protected.
There is also a struggle to fight and make haters who use tradition or religion as outright hate preaching. It is a big obstacle, especially having such people in posts of influence – their hate speeches reach millions.
Is there such a thing as being “out and proud” in Africa? What do you think needs to be done to ensure that members of the LGBTQ+ community can be confident in themselves?
Being out and proud is something only expressed within one’s self and one’s intuition to love one’s self. If the state persecutions continue then there will never be a free OUT and PROUD. There is a need for more sensitization, more advocacies and more awareness for both the community and our leaders.
How important are organizations like Rainbow Riots to people struggling with their gender identity and sexuality?
Rainbow Riots and other associated organizations enhance safe spaces for being free and also meeting other people of like-mindedness in a non-judgmental setting. These organizations help raise a voice needed to reach out and communicate. They offer avenues to understand best practice, organizing and reviewing how to address the issues affecting LGBTIQ people systematically and culturally.
Without such organizations, LGBTIQ issues would be buried and many people would suffer psychologically and the results would be disastrous. The voice raised within these organisations help communicate a view that LGBTIQ people do exist whether one likes it or not.
Why is the Rainbow Riots community centre needed?
Rainbow Riots is about art: Art-for-rights. There is a need for LGBTIQ people who are talented and who need a safe space to express themselves. Right now in Uganda, it’s nonexistent. Apart from
offices of organisations, there has not been a centre where those skills can be expressed developed and encouraged.
Do you think it could potentially be a safety risk for people to attend the centre?
I think it will all depend on the managing and what activities are done at this centre. If it remains focused on the main objectives on why it was created, if it doesn’t become an inconvenience to the
surrounding community in terms of noise and if people who use it remain skills and art focused there would be no security issue.
So, as I said, the management and relationship with the surrounding areas will be a great investment towards its security.