NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Ugandan activist Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, who has been beaten, threatened and arrested for her LGBT campaign work, has won Sweden’s Right Livelihood Award, also known as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’, the award’s foundation said on Thursday.
The 35-year-old has successfully used legal avenues to push for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender rights in Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal, as well as staging the east African nation’s first Gay Pride event.
“Nabagesera is one of the most courageous and outspoken human rights activists in Africa,” the Right Livelihood Award said on its website.
The awards, founded in 1980 and often referred to as Alternative Nobel Prizes, are presented annually in the Swedish parliament.
Described as the founding mother of the LGBT movement in Uganda, the dreadlocked Nabagesera appeared on the cover of Time magazine in June, wearing a three-piece suit and baseball cap.
“Even if, at home, my work is regarded as immoral and criminal, at least there are other people out there who appreciate the efforts,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from the Ugandan capital, Kampala.
Harassment of sexual and gender minorities is increasing in Uganda, driven by politicians, religious leaders and the media, activists say.
A law passed in 2014 punished gay sex with long prison terms and imposed a life sentence for “aggravated homosexuality”, which referred to HIV-positive gay people having sex. It was later overturned on a technicality.
Nabagesera was openly lesbian from a young age. While her family accepted her, she was harassed at university, which led her to set up the LGBT advocacy group Freedom and Roam Uganda in 2003. She also opened Kampala’s first openly gay bar.
Nabagesera and her colleague David Kato successfully sued Uganda’s Rolling Stone newspaper for invasion of privacy in 2011 after it outed them as gay under the headline ‘Hang Them’.
Kato was killed weeks later.
She set up Uganda’s first LGBT magazine, Bombastic, in February, to change attitudes to sexual and gender minorities in the conservative country.
Hundreds of volunteers distributed it for free across the country, to the president, parliamentarians, in supermarkets, churches, anywhere that LGBT people may fear to come out, she said.
While some people burned the magazine and threatened to cut off her head, others responded positively.
“(I had) parents calling and saying: ‘Thank you. I think my son could be transgender. I didn’t even know that this word existed’,” she said.
Eight months ago she also launched an online radio and television station, Kuchu Times, which has had 1.3 million views. Kuchu is slang for LGBT in Swahili.
“Other parts of Africa have really fallen in love with the idea,” she said. “They are sending us their work to share. It’s the only (LGBT) platform we have now on the continent.”
Minutes after her award was announced on Thursday, Nabagesera said people started posting hate speech online.
“People are already telling me I should check out so-and-so’s Facebook pages,” she said. “I really don’t want to kill my mood so I’m avoiding checking all the negativity.”
Other 2015 award winners include a Pacific island foreign minister who took legal action against the world’s nuclear powers and an Inuit leader who fights to protect the Arctic in the face of climate change.
Reporting by Katy Migiro, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org