Call Me Kuchu — Painful look at homophobia

By Clare Obradovich

Call Me Kuchu, a film that documents Ugandan gay rights activism in 2011 as a new bill in legislature threatens to make “aggressive homosexuality” punishable by death, was one of the conference highlights.  The film by Malika Zouhali-Worrall and Katharine Fairfax Wright opens with an introduction to David Kato, a vocal activist in the struggle for LGBTQ (called Kuchu in Uganda) rights and “the first gay man to be open in Uganda.”  By interweaving scenes of activist efforts by Kato and his fellows as Ugandan newspapers viciously out Kuchus and American evangelical ministers preach about the abomination of homosexuality, the film addresses the far-reaching power of state-sanctioned homophobia as well as the necessity to resist it.  The film covers both the overturning of the bill and the brutal murder of David Kato. 
4x6_VerticalWe watched this narrative unfold with the vivid knowledge that a similar bill resurfaced and was passed into Ugandan law this winter (death penalty was dropped).  After the film, Jessica Stern, director of programs for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, began the discussion by acknowledging the strong emotions present in the room and asking that we begin to share our reactions. There were several comments on the heartbreaking reality of the death of  Kato and on the pain and violence that results from homophobia within the Ugandan context of this film. The role of religion and religious leaders was questioned. Initial remarks reflected both a sincere empathy as well as a sentiment of distance. Participants expressed outrage and sadness at what is happening in Uganda.  Several attendees asserted that we should look to share our knowledge and experience of gay rights work with activists in Uganda. Stern and other participants gently troubled these notions by remarking that the sophistication and effectiveness of queer rights activism in Uganda possibly outstrips that of queer rights activism in the United States. 
The conversation shifted. Questions surfaced regarding how the film acts as a window into the fear and violence faced daily by LGBTQ individuals in many parts of the United States.  Are the events of the film so incomprehensible? Or are they particularly horrific because they are familiar?  We reflected on the courageous activism documented in the film and acknowledged that Call Me Kuchu is a film as inspiring as it is heartwrenching. The film was praised for its role in promoting intergenerational and global dialogue and serving as an eloquent comment that gay rights are human rights. 

 Clare Obradovich is a science student at Seattle Central

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VIDEO: #WRIHC Keynote with Stella Nyanzi now online

Ugandan scholar and activist Stella Nyanzi, PhD, kicked off the 11th Annual Western Regional International Health Conference, Uncensored: Gender, Sexuality & Social Movements, with a rousing call to action.

Nyanzi urged attendees and the broader global health community to push back against the structures that are “sealing our lips,” reminding us that “boundaries are negotiated, contested, debunked.”

“How can we mobilize within our movements for global health?” she asked. “Understanding the context of the countries where we work is important. If we don’t understand why things are the way they are, I don’t think we can begin to have solutions.”

Nyanzi also stressed the need to build alliances with other movements, because “gender and sexuality permeate every aspect of health.”

“It is important that we ‘uncensor’ gender and sexuality, because this is not just about gay people – it is about all of us,” Nyanzi concluded.  “We are pretending and lying to ourselves about global health for all human beings if we do not begin to engage with these issues, and realize that they are our issues too.”

Thank you to the Seattle Channel for featuring this amazing speaker and event.

Mariel Boyarsky’s Top 10 conference highlights!

We asked Conference Coordinator Mariel Boyarsky for her ‘Top 10′ Conference Highlights. It was hard to name only 10, but here’s what she came up with:

  1. Attending a conference where gender and sexuality issues are front and center – not a side topic during one breakout session, but the real focus!  For once, we had an opportunity to hear about diverse issues like comprehensive sex education; health and human rights for trans* people; and violence against women.
  2. The plenary panel, “Social Justice, Social Activism: Toward a Revolutionary Vision for Global Health.”  Every single one of the speakers was inspiring and passionate.  Sandeep Kishore’s call for action to support Dr. Vivek Murthy in framing gun violence as a public health issue was the perfect way to end this panel.
  3. Mariel, Suvakanta Swain and Stella Nyanzi.

    Mariel, Suvakanta Swain and Stella Nyanzi.

    Stella Nyanzi, our keynote speaker.  She is warm, funny, and brilliant. She truly set the tone for our “uncensored” conference – her talk was brave and revolutionary. Nyanzi noted that it was rare that a young professor from the Global South is invited to give the keynote address at global health conferences in the US and she was excited for the opportunity to share her work.

  4. The opportunity to hear from undergraduate students on a number of different panels – Katherine Venables, a sophomore involved in USAS (United Students Against Sweatshops) was particularly inspiring. Did you know that USAS has never lost a campaign?? Alejandra Silva Hernandez spoke about her experiences coming to the US from Mexico, integration of queer issues and immigration.
  5. Every single speaker I got to hear was amazing and inspiring – I loved that we got to bring together so many different people as experts in global health: LGBTQ individuals; people with HIV/AIDS; people from indigenous communities around the world; sex education teachers and researchers; spoken word artists; doctors, anthropologists, epidemiologists, and activists.
  6. Reading posts by our student bloggers on the www.wrihc.org home page.  It’s a great opportunity to find out more about breakout sessions that I missed out on!
  7. Connecting with speakers, resource fair representatives, poster presenters, and conference attendees on gender, sexuality, and social movements. Close to 600 people attended the conference in various capacities – there ARE people who want to see these themes incorporated into the field of global health!
  8. Watching the film Call Me Kuchu and having the opportunity to process it with Jessica Stern, Stella Nyanzi, and all of the other conference attendees in the audience.  The film is devastating and heartbreaking – yet also uplifting in the vivaciousness and resilience of the “kuchus” – the queer Ugandans in the film.
  9. Jacque Larrainzar and Monica Rojas performing music during Sunday’s lunch. It was fun, upbeat, and beautiful!
  10. Visiting the poster session, and the announcement of the winners of the poster awards!  Congratulations to Nicolette Dent and Sean Bernfield.
Mariel and Grandma

Mariel Boyarsky with her grandma, who came from Florida to attend the conference.

Photos from Uganda win $250 poster prize

SeanBernfeldSean Bernfeld, a first-year medical student on the Global Health Immersion Program (GHIP), went to Uganda to work with Hospice Africa Uganda, which provides support for patients with HIV/AIDS and cancer.  Bernfeld said he wasn’t sure what he was going to do while he was there, but he had brought his camera, and a photo project was born.  During routine visits with hospice nurses, patients began to request pictures when they saw Bernfeld’s camera.  Most patients had no access to a camera or had a photo of themselves.  The service was then offered to all patients. A patient, who wanted a photo taken, signed a consent form and photos were printed at a local print shop (Prints were 40 cents). The photos were then placed in a patient’s chart. Photographs were taken of 14 patients with such great results that a Canon Powershot-Z was donated to the hospice nurses so the project could continue.
Said Bernfeld: “Patient reactions were overwhelmingly positive — many smiled, some showed the photograph to family members, and one woman excitedly demonstrated how she was going to hang her photo on her wall. Others declared they would give the picture to family or keep it to show visitors.”
Judges said Bernfeld’s project touched them. He was one of two poster presenters who received $250.

As tweeted at #WRIHC 2014

 

 

 


 

 

 

‘Taboo Topics in Film’ panel addresses financial barriers faced by trans people, and the mystery of female condoms

I wasn’t sure what I was getting into with a panel title, “Taboo Topics in Film: Social Justice in Gender Identity and Sexual Health.” Even the word taboo made me think of fishnet stockings.  Instead, this engaging panel addressed two very distinct and important issues: female condoms as a preventative tool for women, and the financial barriers to medical procedures faced by transgender people.The Cost of Gender

In the film “The Cost of Gender,” we meet two trans women who have undergone, or would like to undergo sex reassignment surgery.  Filmmakers Dacia Saenz and Sara McCaslin created this film in conjunction with the Seattle Globalist. They wanted to provide a three dimensional character of what it means to be trans today, rather than a sensationalized story, as often portrayed in the media.

The film features Carla Robinson, a pastor at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, WA, who is fundraising to travel to Thailand for sex reassignment surgery; and Morgana Love, an opera singer from Mexico City who undergoes the surgery in Thailand.

Despite the severe health disparities and stigma faced by trans people they are often invisible in the media, even that which features LGBTQ narratives. The film provided some staggering statistics: 57% of trans people report being  refused medical care; 41% of trans people attempt suicide; and 53% LGBTQ homicide victims are trans.

“Whether you agree with this movie or not, the reality is trans folks face the majority of LGBTQ violence and discrimination,” said Dacia Saenz.

In addition to the social, physical, and emotional costs, the film estimates that the total economic costs per year for trans people seeking sexual reassignment surgery averages US$30,000 per year.  And, this is often a multi-year process.

Film Panelists

Shannon Mills of PATH, Conference Organizers, Moderator Pam Racansky, Dacia Saenz of Seattle Globalist, and Hailey Wright of PATH.

Unlike “The Cost of Gender,” the female condom films from the “Female Condoms Are _____ Film Contest” address the issue of sex and sexual practices. Female condoms, which debuted over 20 years ago, remain hard to find, and many people have never even heard of them.

female condom movie 2

PATH’s “Female Condoms Are_______ Film Contest” received over 30 submissions from around the world.

Seattle-based PATH was interested in creating conversations and increasing the awareness of female condoms. To do this, they took a big risk and invited the world the submit films about female condoms, and provided a cash prize to the best film.

What ensued was weeks of waiting on the part of staff, wondering what types of films they would get, if any. “We were taking a risk. PATH had never done a contest before.  We thought, we might get a lot of porn – we don’t know!” said Shannon Mills of PATH.

When it came down to it, over 30 films were submitted. Those featured at the conference offered a diverse array of perspectives from Malasia, Kenya, Mozambique and South Africa. The winner, from Mozambique, followed a young woman whose mother taught her about female condoms.

To view these films and learn more:

Amelia Vader is a Communications Specialist at the Department of Global Health at UW. She has worked and volunteered in the HIV/AIDS community since 2006, and has been involved with various women’s rights campaigns for over 10 years. She can be reached at vadera@uw.edu.

Prioritizing Gender Equality in Global Health: “It’s all social construct”

If you can see a human being as an object, you can justify violence and ill-treatment against that person.

This cycle of dehumanization persists in the modern world. Sutapa Basu, Ph.D., referenced a 2013 World Health Organization report that estimates that one third of women across the world have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence. In particular, women are often violently coerced into sex work.

Photo by Adiba Khan.

Photo by Adiba Khan.

Dr. Basu explained that this violence has a cost to all of society: hundreds of thousands of healthcare dollars spent on the treatment of physical and psychological problems.

People of non-conforming gender and sexual identities have also faced violence and discrimination that often stems from fear and misunderstanding. Many trans and variant gender youth in America who are forced to leave their homes end up in sex work in order to sustain themselves, explained JoAnne Keatley, MSW.

“Good health is about well-being, and living under a state of intolerance erodes well-being,” said Grace Poore, MA, pointing to the fact that LGBT individuals often face employment discrimination and physical and verbal assault.

Keatley discussed transphobia as a major reason for the disparity in healthcare treatment for trans and gender variant communities. She specifically noted the lack of studies and therefore data regarding trans and variant gender populations. In one of the few studies that exist, a large number of participants mentioned that they were harassed by their provider or interacted with providers who were not trained to treat them. This is concerning in particular because the rate of HIV is high among transgender people.

“It’s all social construct but social construct goes deep,” said Gloria Feldt, the former head of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Feldt proposes we redefine “power” in order to tackle issues of gender equality. She suggests we should starting thinking about the power we have to do something, rather than the patriarchal idea of having power over something.

“Power unused is power useless,” said Feldt.

Consider the immensity of these issues.

If your physician harassed you because of an integral part of your identity, would you feel comfortable seeking help from that physician, or any physician, thereafter?

Would you agree to have sex with a stranger for money if the punishment for refusing was a rod covered in cayenne pepper in your vagina?

You have power. How will you use it?

 

Adiba Khan is a senior at the University of Washington and is studying biochemistry and journalism.

Social justice plenary wraps up weekend conference in the spirit of activism

“Global health and social movements must be anchored at the local grassroots level,” said Walter G. Flores, the first panelist to speak this Sunday at the WRIHC’s final plenary session.

Flores, who works for the Center for the Study of Equity and Governance in Healthcare Systems, was one of four distinguished keynote speakers who wrapped up this weekend’s global health conference in the spirit of social justice and activism.

UW students and healthcare professionals in the audience sipped coffee, grazed on pastries and listened to Flores speak about improving healthcare access for Guatemala’s indigenous communities by “tackling inequities of power.”

Flores said effective social change must start from within local communities – it cannot be prescribed by NGOs coming in with their own ideas of what’s best. Instead, organizations like CEGSS should act as enablers providing local people with the tools needed to fight for themselves.

“We can’t assume we have all the right answers and can tell [locals] what to do,” he said.

Immigrant-rights organization OneAmerica is also embracing grassroots mobilization and community building as vessels for social change, according to policy manager Roxana Norouzi, who spoke after Flores.

She says OneAmerica has transformed over the past couple of decades from a “reactionary” service provider to a proactive grassroots organization. Now, OneAmerica seeks to challenge power structures through on-the-ground advocacy, leadership in immigrant communities, and “changing the story around immigrants – and changing who is telling it.”

Thanks to OneAmerica’s many community base groups that facilitate civic engagement, the organization spearheaded last year’s passage of the Washington State DREAM Act. Norouzi says this crowning achievement was a direct result of “the army of youth putting pressure on the state legislature to take action.”

‘Power to the people’ seemed to be the recurrent theme throughout all of Sunday morning’s presentations.

Kristen Beifus of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 talked about the importance of free trade as a tool for revitalized standards of living — how unjust trade policies e deepen economic disparities throughout the world.

 ”It is only through collective resistance that we can stop these trends,” she said. “We must act locally to support global change.”

Sandeep Kishore of the Young Professionals Chronic Disease Network made a similar point in his speech as the final keynote speaker, ending Sunday’s plenary session on a motivational note (and with more than a few quips).

Sandeep Kishore, PhD, delivers the closing keynote address on Sunday about social activism within the global health sphere. Photo: Melanie Eng

Sandeep Kishore, PhD, delivers the closing keynote address on Sunday about social activism within the global health sphere. Photo: Melanie Eng

“As students, our collective social capital is way more powerful than that of any single faculty member here,” he said.

Kishore, who spent a big chunk of his life as a PhD student and self-described lab-rat, said rocking the boat — even when it’s unpopular to do so — is what keeps society moving forward. And it doesn’t have to be in a big way.

“Not all of us are going to be rallying on the streets or going on hunger strikes,” agreed Norouzi in the day’s closing Q+A. “But you can take the spirit of activism with you, wherever you go.”

Melanie Eng is a journalism and international studies major at the University of Washington. She can be reached via email at eng.melanie@yahoo.com.

Panelists speak about their experience as outsiders

Jacque Larrainzar was granted asylum by the United States in 1997. She had left Mexico after being arrested and tortured because of her sexual identity. As a refugee, she felt she could never belong after the trauma she experienced.

“Art is the one of the few things I found to break those barriers,” she said.

She believes art can be therapeutic, and offer people a way to share traumatic experiences without being re-traumatized. As a musician, she has been able to feel a sense of inclusion again when performing with others.

Larrainzar was one of four speakers on a panel in this weekend’s 11th Annual Western Regional International Health Conference on Sunday. The panel discussed problems facing immigrants, refugees, and marginalized groups.

Feeling disconnected or excluded because of status as a refugee or immigrant, sexual identity, or stigma surrounding diseases like HIV/AIDS was one of the themes prevalent throughout the speakers’ presentations.

Ali Adem is a global health student at the University of Washington, and originally from Somali. According to Adem, because of the large number of refugees in the world, only a small percent get granted asylum in the U.S.

“It’s like winning the lotto,” he said.

He has lived in Canada and America for 20 years, but still doesn’t feel as if he belongs.

“I still feel empty,” he said. “I have unfinished business [back in Somali]. I don’t feel like an American.”

  Chris Lopaze is studying Journalism at the University of Washington.

‘Strategies and Successes’ in obtaining social change

There are many questions that can produce social change.

“How can we be advocates? How can we become the opinion leaders, the decision makers? How can we have presence on the local, national, and perhaps international scene?”

These questions have been pondered by many social advocates and activists, including Pat Milgiore and her friends when they initially formed BABES Network, a peer education and support program for women living with HIV/AIDS.

“People living with AIDS and people with other unique backgrounds – we all have stories to tell,” Milgiore said, having lived with HIV herself for the last 28 years. “We want to hear them; we want you to hear them; we want to be witnessed. Can that story change the way a legislator is going to vote?”

This was a major question at the Social Advocacy and Activism: Strategies and Success session Sunday afternoon, the last session of WRIHC’s “The People United” themed track. Four panelists – Rami Basatneh, Cecilia Sol Plotkin, Alejandra Silva Hernandez, and Milgiore – met to discuss various victories and roadblocks within their respective movements, and consider the methodologies that most affect their outcomes.

“There’s so much power to a story,” said Hernandez, an Undergraduate student at the University of Washington and immigrant from Oaxaca, Mexico. Having worked as a community organizer for several immigrants’ rights groups, she’s had experience working with many immigrants who have suffered trauma either in the United States or while trying to return home.

“Can you imagine going about your day and suddenly getting arrested, sent to a deportation center, and then kept imprisoned for seven years, even if you did nothing wrong?” she asked.

Panelists Rami Basatneh, Cecilia Sol Plotkin, Alejandra Silva Hernandez, and Pat Milgiore with UW Department of Global Health Chair King Holmes. Photo by Cooper Inveen.

Panelists Rami Basatneh, Cecilia Sol Plotkin, Alejandra Silva Hernandez, and Pat Milgiore with UW Department of Global Health Chair King Holmes. Photo by Cooper Inveen.

Hernandez believes that bringing the stories of real people to the immigration discussion can foster a stronger sense of empathy between the greater population and those most affected by immigration policy.

“You have to create a sense of solidarity,” she said.

Personal stories are important in Cecilia Sol Plotkin’s field as well. Plotkin, an Argentinian-born social worker with a focus in migrants’ rights, worked with refugee youth in Montreal, Quebec to study how kids were able to cope with traumatic experiences after having fled from the countries where they happened.

“We asked them, ‘What should we be asking in our research? What will give us a better idea of what you experienced?’ And we were told, ‘Don’t ask questions. If you want to know our stories, just listen.”

But even when people’s stories are being circulated, there is always the possibility that someone will try to silence them. Rami Basatneh, a first generation American Syrian and Global Health Liaison at PNWU School of Osteopathic Medicine, explained how “[Assad’s regime] paid millions for ‘Twitter-bots’ to clutter Twitter with useless information,” in an effort to weaken communications between oppositionists.

“We just need to be louder,” he said. “Louder than the Assad regime.”

Although there are many possible strategies for obtaining social change, two elements seemed key today’s discussion: speak your story, and speak it loudly.

 

Cooper Inveen is an undergraduate student at the University of Washington studying Journalism and International Studies: Africa.