Richard Lusimbo is one that needs very little introduction within the Ugandan LGBT community. He has served as the Research and Documentation officer at Sexual Minorities Uganda for eight years and was recently appointed the new Programs Manager at Pan Africa ILGA.
Richard, whose love and enthusiasm for the community he serves is clearly evident, spoke to us about his life, his modest contribution and hopes for the Ugandan movement as well as what his new role means for us as a community.
Below are the excerpts.
KT: Tell us about yourself. Who is Richard Lusimbo?
RICHARD, THE ACTIVIST
I am Richard Lusimbo, I have been an LGBTI activist and SRHR peer for eight years now, I have worked with communities in different aspects and I’ve been at the forefront of public health engagements to ensure that issues concerning our community are heard and considered. I must say I grew tremendously while working at Sexual Minorities Uganda where I was until the end of May 2020.
I have now transitioned to working at a continental level after joining PAN AFRICA ILGA as their Programs Manager.
I did my primary and secondary education in Mbale before joining Uganda Christian University Mukono where I attained a Bachelor’s of Science in Information Technology. Immediately after graduation, I volunteered with Sexual Minorities Uganda and by the end of that year, I was brought on board as staff.
When I started on this job as a Research and Documentation Officer, I gave myself a time-frame and by 2016, I knew I had to upgrade. In 2017, I enrolled at University of Pretoria where I did a Masters in Philosophy and Democratisation in Africa. I graduated that same year and in 2018, I enrolled for further studies in Sweden. I graduated from this Program in 2019. This widened my knowledge scope and because of this, I like to think of myself as a cocktail because I have knowledge on a wide range of things from IT, law, human rights to public health. I must say that this is not the end of my academia journey, and I am eager to see what the future holds.
FAMILY, COMING OUT
I didn’t come out, I was outed. In 2012, after the President signed the Anti homosexuality bill, I was one of the people that were outed by Red Pepper. I remember the headline said, TOP HOMOSEXUAL COMES OUT and the story went on to narrate how I had become a homosexual. This was such a big shock for my family and friends because I had not discussed this with them.
It was also a very horrifying moment; I remember my close friends and family being very angry about finding out such information from a tabloid. I lost many friends and they were very many questions from my family. I must however say that my family has been very supportive and is very protective of me. My late dad was very supportive; he did not castigate me and did everything he could to protect me.
In our home, there was an unsaid rule barring anyone from speaking for or against homosexuality. That for me was the greatest gift that I have ever received. From that time, I chose to use the experience of being outed and channeled my effort to telling my story and working for my community.
KT: What was your greatest achievement during your time at SMUG?
RL: Having worked at SMUG for a little over 8 years, I cannot narrow down all I did to a single achievement. I created the Research and Documentation Department at SMUG. This had always been in the plan and was well documented on paper but a fully functional department wasn’t in place. At that junior level, I managed to attract resources that helped to set up the department. From this, we were able to do a documentation project that resulted into a documentary on the LGBTI movement history in Uganda as well as the impacts the Anti Homosexuality Bill had had on the community. This documentary was titled And Still We Rise.
The REACT Program which focuses on the reaction to crises within the movement as well as properly documenting this process, is another project I consider a great achievement. Our community has always suffered a lot of injustice and discrimination but we also didn’t have clear evidence. This Program was very vital because it shifted from being just a documentation project to actually helping community members get back on their feet after these incidents. REACT started at SMUG and has gone on to be adopted by over 22 countries worldwide.
Initially, SMUG was founded greatly to influence public health interventions because LGBTI persons were being left out of national policies and health intervention plans. I was heavily involved on issues around SRHR and HIV/AIDS; I ensured that SMUG’s voice was involved in different platforms like Uganda AIDS Commission, Ministry of Health, PEPFAR etc.
I also played a great role in bringing different movements together to have one voice on issues of health. This is what we now know as the Uganda Key Populations Consortium.
The other thing that I consider a big achievement was the 2015 Uganda Pride which I coordinated. There was a lot of community involvement, all the events were well attended, and there was clear community solidarity. This was the last time we actually marched as a community and we didn’t have any security incidents.
KT: What is that one thing that you’ve learnt from your time at SMUG and you’ll be taking with you to your new role?
RL: SMUG will always be my family, it will always be my home, it has grown and groomed me into the person I am now. I got connected to my new role through SMUG so they greatly contributed to my transition. In 2013, I was sent to Johannesburg for a consultative meeting with PAN Africa ILGA to rethink the process of rebuilding the organization. In 2014, I was a delegate from SMUG and got elected to the board as the alternate chair. In 2018, I stepped down from the board to make way for other people to incorporate their ideas and leadership.
Because of SMUG, I have learnt how to interact in different spaces; an aspect that is very important for every activist. This is something I know I will carry with me into my new role. On the whole, I feel SMUG has, over the years, been preparing and grooming me for this moment.
KT: Where do you see the Ugandan LGBT movement in the next ten years?
RL: I think there will be many changes in terms of activism styles and community engagements. When I started on the activism journey, things were quite different and many new faces have since joined activism. I believe in ten years, the trends will have shifted even further and more people will be coming out. The political climate may not have changed much but as a movement, we will have grown into a better way of doing things.
There is so much bravery and so many young faces coming to the front line of the movement and I believe that if the older and younger generations work together, we will be a dynamite force. The younger generation must be willing to learn and the older generation must be willing to groom.
KT: How will you use your new position at PAN Africa ILGA to benefit the Ugandan community in particular?
RL: I find myself in a regional position now but my experience from working closely with the Uganda LGBT community gives me the knowledge to understand what needs we have and what interventions will work to solve these particular issues.
I also have the advantage of contacts that I have made while working with SMUG, and this applies to the different continental regions as well not just Uganda.
KT: What does this new appointment mean for the Uganda Key Populations Consortium?
RL: I think this creates a very good opportunity for the consortium as it births the need for someone else to take leadership of the consortium. I will not be able to be at the helm of both organisations and deliver effectively.
This appointment also puts a spotlight on us as movement, it signals that the Ugandan movement is producing excellency that is attracting continental and international recognition.