How quickly time goes by, yet in hindsight, it also feels like a life time of hard work and persistence.  This sentiment rang true for Freedom and Roam Uganda last week as they celebrated 16 years of existence and also hosted the first ever Uganda Lesbian Forum #UGALEF2019 in Kampala from 19th to 20th July 2019. The two-day event themed #FARUGat16 attracted an estimate of 50 participants from over 10 LBQ organizations from different parts of the country.

Nkali Ssefuka Warry, the Executive Director of FARUG beamed with pride at the organisation’s achievements as well as future prospects. "The dream has finally come true! I don't know how many years we have dreamt of this. I have tried over and over again to write a speech about today but I am still speechless. It is a great honor to have all of you LBQ Women here gathered for this forum," the visibly thrilled Ssefuka said as she welcomed their guests. She went on to express her concern for the limited LBQ spaces in the country. “Initially, most lesbian gatherings were invaded by gay men and MSMs. Among ten participants, you would find only two lesbians. But, today we gather as a team. We are one and that's the only way we shall succeed as LBQs. We have to help all the LBQs out there including those in the closet when we are united as one movement."

On Day 1, Kasha Jacqueline Nabageesra who is also a co-founder of FARUG led a session on the LBQ movement in Uganda. In a Q&A session that lasted for close to 5 hours, Kasha gave the participants a vivid genesis of FARUG and detailed the journey that has led to the LBQ movement as we know it today. "... We fought! I fought with them because I was looking for belonging. Despite my sexuality, I am a woman. No one could sit with me to eat. People packed their bags to leave a conference simply because there was a lesbian. But I chose to stay because it was also my space," Kasha shared about one of her may ordeals during this journey.

Kasha also highlighted that the journey of self-discovery is a gradual process due to all the external influences from culture to religion. But she encouraged participants to stay true to their personal visions and the movement even though it is clear that Uganda as a nation still has a very long way to go in realization of change. "You can even die before seeing that change but you can be proud that at least you are doing something about it. All of us can play a part. You don't have to be at the front line but you can do something," she shared.

The next day saw Dr Sylvia Tamale take participants through the Learning-Unlearning-Relearning process. This particular session focused on changing the way participants think despite the said basic knowledge that society has fed them. Dr Tamale urged participants to open their minds to reflect on the assumptions, stereotypes and generalizations about what they have believed to be true for most of their lives. She challenged them not to erect walls but knock them down and not be ruled by their prejudices. "It's very important for us to understand what is natural and what is socially constructed. Anything socially constructed can be changed. Most things are socially constructed to maintain the status quo, hierarchies and inequalities which fuel and sustain patriarchy in our communities," the Makerere University Law Don cautioned. About Gender Dynamics within SOGIE (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity/ Expression), she noted that sex is not a binary concept but rather a wider spectrum than just male and female. Dr Sylvia Tamale also led a conversation on the intersectionality of feminists in relation to the queer theory.

#FARUGat16 was crowned with the premiere of a documentary and launch of the research report titled The Lived Realities of Lesbian, Bisexual and Queer Women in Uganda. The report was launched by the guest of honor Solome Nakaweesi who was accompanied with Dr. Frank Mugisha (Executive Director Sexual Minorities Uganda), Nkali Ssenfuka Warry and Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera. Various partners and allies especially from the feminist movement in Uganda attended to show their support for this project. This project cut across all regions of Uganda with subject representations from of Lira, Gulu, Arua, Mbale, Kampala, Masaka and Mbarara.