Monday, 18 October 2010

Though lesbians suffer in Rwanda, they're determined to be visible

Source: Horizon Community Association (HOCA)

By Naome Ruzindana (Founder Member and Director of HOCA)

Lesbian study on lived realities of same sex women in Rwanda done between 17 March and 20 May 2010.

The Research was carried out in Gasabo district of the Central Province of Rwanda. The Focus was on lived realities of open lesbians living in Kigali. The study was therefore limited to only Kigali by Horizon Community Association because it was an initiative to recognize the problems faced by lesbians after the several attacks and arbitrary arrests that has been in Rwanda since 2004

The study also focused on the specific activities of Hoca and how it has improved the livelihood of its members in Gasabo.

The study again highlighted the background of Rwanda as a nation and her culture, and they perceive homosexuality right from the past generation to date.
How can you fight for recognition when you are not visible? Visibility is essential. People need to know us and our being.

Rwanda Background

The Richness of Rwanda culture is apparent in the wide of fine craft. These include pottery, basketry; jewel they also do iron wood curving metal work. All the ethnic groups cherish oral traditions of proverbs, songs and chants.

The Tutsi in particular are well known for their epic songs and dynastic poetry. Following the origins of the Tutsi ruling class.

Again on the sexuality side, it’s defined in different ways that encompasses many different aspects of our lives; sexual behavior, sexual identity and sexual orientation. My points will based and focused on sexual orientation and the way Rwandan takes it or understands it.

Sexual Orientation may refer to the gender (male or female) persons that sexual interests are for the same sex. These people do exist in Rwanda and they are completely ignored.

They are misunderstood, and they suffer because the mainstream culture has to date been intolerant. Even in traditional society, Lesbians people used to be there but it was never accepted deviations in behaviors whether these deviations were physiological in nature or acquired in practice as such, deviant sexual behavior was treated as a disease or a mental illness that required to be treated, prayed for or locked up as if such external stimuli would cure the physiological nature of so called sexual devious.

Rwandan Society itself was and remained closed with regard to discussion of sex and sexuality. Girls for instance, are given sexual education in a limited space of time of seclusion in a practice known as “gukuuna-imishino” this is the practice of elongating the labia minora, the inner-virgin lips. This is a Rwandan culture for sexual desires for both parties.

Otherwise there’s no other time for external expression about sex and sexuality. Many lesbians in Rwanda are treated as sexual deviants and they are misunderstood and have gone through a lot of experiences.

Horizon Community Association

Horizon Community Association is an organization that works towards a society that wants to be liberated from oppression, stigma, and hate crime in which all people should have equal rights, opportunities, peace, prosperity, and dignity and live in harmony. Horizon Community Association is an LGBT group that is based in Rwanda. It is a community based organization that advocates for the rights of all LGBTI individuals within Rwanda. It was formed in the year 2003 February.

Lesbians and gays in Rwanda face discrimination and hardship on a daily basis, which has a profound impact on their quality of life. Though homosexuality is not against the law in Rwanda, many individuals find themselves harassed, threatened, imprisoned or abused because of their sexual orientation. Discrimination, and even physical violence, is a daily reality for many of those who are open about their sexual orientation, and as a result, many gays and lesbians live a secretive life, unable to tell their families or friends about their sexual orientation. There is a lack of social services targeting the gay and lesbian community, as Rwandan society and the Rwandan government prefers to deny or ignore the existence of a gay and lesbian community.

Horizon Community Association was formed to address the above challenges. Though still small, even its existence is a remarkable accomplishment. The members find solidarity, can share their experiences, and can look out for one another’s safety. HOCA also serves as a platform on which to advocate for LGBT rights and to sensitize society to the challenges that gays and lesbians face.

Interviews where conducted by one on one questioner method from different persons located in different areas of Rwanda below are their responses and a number of issues affecting the lesbian community in Rwanda.

Legislative activity in Rwanda within last year has failed to move towards the greater compliance with the state mandate to protect the individual rights regardless of their sexual orientation. Rather, last year’s amendments demonstrated the lack of commitment by the state to protect the LGBTI individuals and this has also inspired the family and community to regard them as a disgraced people and outcast to the culture and Rwandan social norms.

Specific objectives
  • To document the lived realities, background and experiences of lesbians in Gasabo district prefectures of Rwanda i.e Kigali, because these are so out of the closet and are willing to give their testimonies. This will include the victims them selves, and their parents / big brothers / big sisters to find out their early period of sexuality as they experienced the transition of childhood to adulthood.
  • Find detailed challenges faced by the families and friends of the lesbians as their sexuality became a reality
  • Discover the violations that lesbians face in their day to day life and over the time of their adult history.
  • To identify the mechanisms for lesbians to engage with the mainstream Rwandan and get their formal fundamental rights as unique sexual beings.
  • To create an understanding of the background and experience of lesbians in Rwanda specifically in Kigali.
  • To contribute to the body of knowledge about the livelihoods of lesbians and their dependents
  • To provide our information to our networks, donors and our government and range of audiences about what happens on the ground.
  • To promote and facilitate information exchange and practical cooperation between members and our local network.
Statement of the Problem
  • Because they are regarded as sexual deviants, there’s no society that has taken an effort to understand them or even to treat them seriously. The Society has continued to deprive their fundamental rights most pronounced the right to privacy.
  • The denial of right to privacy deprives these people of other rights like the right to dignity, as such people are insulted by means of offensive words right from their areas of residence, on the streets, public gatherings, churches, society meetings, places of employment, and the media.
  • This limited their freedom, and some times puts their lives and professions at risk due to lack of state protection.
  • When all these rights are deprived from them, they are forced into heterosexual relationships which lead them to unlimited pregnancies, multiple rapes in a pretext of making them normal women. And some times this is encouraged by the family members to persuade them into normal women, some times referred to as curative rape where it’s believed to cure them from lesbianism.
  • It’s this violation and others that forced me to carry out a study about these individuals, and to understand their background experiences, feelings, fears, dangers and challenges that lesbians undergo in Rwanda society.
  • The Rwandan Community is very hash and cruel with ignorance about homosexuality, and this has pushed many lesbians to face so many dangers on the way i.e discrimination, eviction, arbitrary arrest and detention.
  • There’s too much fear and stress among the lesbians due to continued attacks that has led some to flee the country, and left many in closet hence lagging behind in development.
  • The Rwandan government has also contributed a lot towards homophobic attacks, by failing to put strict laws defending our existence and also to sensitize the public about the causes of HIV/ AIDS and also to directly link homosexuals to government treatment grants
  • Although the proposed neither provision nor longer technically criminalizes homosexuality conduct, the government have failed to fulfill its duty under the article 26 to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.
  • Most members shied away from giving appropriate information, some preferred using nick names to disguise themselves because of fear for their lives
  • The environment was not friendly, heterosexuals were not willing to reveal what they feel about lesbians however they are aware of their existence
  • Most times, many cases of harassment against lesbians in Kigali (Rwanda) are overshadowed right from the families, societies, places of employment and the state itself. The situation may be lack of friendly families and society. Similarly the mainstream culture has to date been intolerant, the church’s involvement, weakness of human rights organizations, misconception and rights might have a greater contribution to make the situation more difficult. Avoiding cases of horrific experiences against lesbians in Kigali (Rwanda) depends on rightful information, settings, state involvement, etc.
  • The major intent of this research was to create an understanding of the background and experiences of lesbians in Kigali (Rwanda). And also to identify the mechanism for lesbians to engage with the mainstream Rwandan and get their formal fundamental rights as a unique sexual being.
Targeted Audience

Sixteen (16) lesbians were interviewed and they were mainly living in Kigali.

The research has adopted questionnaires for the target population. Project expectation to reach out lesbians . selected from different regions of Gasabo-Kigali central.

Questionnaires, interviews and critical observations was onto a few willing family members and friends of lesbians and also reaching out to the known hanging areas like a few bars and clubs.

Expected outcomes
  • Existing violations that lesbians in Kigali (Rwanda) go through are identified.
  • Impact on personal, family and friends of lesbians explored.
  • Applicable recommendations to suppress the incidents of human rights violation against lesbians (Rwanda) prepared.
Methods to be used
  • Selection of volunteers (lesbians, family and friends and some indigenous people).
  • Focus group discussion (FGD).
  • In-depth interview using semi-structured questionnaires.
  • One on interview.
Health Care

Members have suffered from homophobic related physical injuries, mental health illness, and HIV /AIDS which requires special attention. Many members have a very negative attitude towards life. During the interview, members were traumatized, heart broken and requested for ways to be integrated to the Rwandan society and needed some psycho-social support from the Organization (Hoca).

Members have a problem of shelter since they are evicted from their family members on a daily basis.

Rwanda Ministry of Social Welfare does not have provision for households for vulnerable members.

Members have no permanent accommodation or decent places to sleep, often having to live in transitory life moving from one place to another searching for shelter, hence resulting into higher anxiety and hopelessness.

Most of them are very poor, and are left with consequences of Homophobic attacks and general ill health with no support. Many has no skills to acquire jobs even those who have are low income earners.

The only support the Members have managed to get, is from the Organization (HOCA) which is not also doing well, because of inadequate funding.


Horizon Community Association has done a lot of advocacy and networking for the past years. Because of continued injustices that has happened to members, we decided to come out through advocacy, and document our lived realities with testimonies, and this has helped us gain strong and supportive network within Rwanda.

Hoca have also done a lot of security training to ensure her members know their full rights and how the rights have been violated.


Horizon Community Association have done good partnering with most NGOs in Rwanda, Civil Society Organizational Media Houses, Health Institutions, all Embassies and friendly individuals. Hoca has gone further to network with different levels like East Africa, Africa, East And Horn Of Africa and the World.

Challenges encountered when carrying out research
  • Some members were not willing to give their information.
  • Some members shy away to give out realities of what happened to them for the purposes of their privacy.
  • Heterosexuals were not willing to cooperate with us during the research.
  • It was costly as many heterosexuals kept canceling our appointments.
Members that participated in the research

Interviewee one: Nusher

Nusher identifies as a lesbian, who is out and in an open relationship with a live in partner? Below is her response to the interview.

ME: What is your sexual orientation/gender expression?
NUSHER: lesbian, because it's the way I was born and way am, I can't change it. I have learnt to accept it even though some people reject and hate me.

ME: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
NUSHER: Born and raised in Kigali, Rwanda

ME : What is your level of education?
NUSHER ; I attended primary school and secondary school up to A level

ME ; Did your sexual orientation had prevented her from continuing her education as you might otherwise have wanted to?
NUSHER ; Yes, because I have been out since my childhood days so issues of harassment where common in my daily life. I was also abused and battered due to my sexual orientation.

ME ; When did you first know that you were LGBT?
NUSHER; I knew that I was LGBT in primary 6, and felt that I was a man, to a girl at age
I felt that I had to fight it, and that I wasn't doing the right thing until I met others like me from around. At age 12, I began dating a girl, and since then have dated women and am living with my partner.

ME ; Does anyone know about your sexual orientation? Family, co-workers, friends
NUSHER; I'm very open about my sexuality; I came out the closet quite a long time, my family is aware, some have accepted but other reject and despise me, I don't care about sharing my sexual orientation.

ME ; Are your families supportive?
NUSHER; My family has tried to discriminate against me, and separate me from my brothers and sisters. HOCA has helped me to build friends and provided support to help me work on my relationship with my family and Rwanda is a very conservative. Most people don't believe that its normal. But I will fight for my rights until I get them.

ME; How do you meet LGBT people in Rwanda?
NUSHER; In most cases, LGBT in Rwanda come in all spheres of life so you can identify with people from different social, economic class in different settings, more to that, girls start dating girls that approach them. Also transgender people are visible and known.

ME; Have you ever experienced discrimination or harassment because of your
sexual orientation/gender expression?
NUSHER; Discrimination and harassment are the most important issues that we face. Everyone has experienced discrimination and harassment, I'm having difficulties with the local authorities because I live with my partner in the same house and people have reported us to the local authorities. People surrounded us and wanted to bring in the media to expose us, but I wasn't threatened. We've been publicly harassed at nightclubs and bars, and many men approach us and ask us how we have sex and how we can satisfy our partners, but we have learned how to handle these situations through training. We are called cruel words and beaten in bars and clubs on more than one occasion.

ME; What are the most pressing issues for LGBT people in Rwanda today?
NUSHER; We don't have any freedom at all - no free speech, no freedom of association, no freedom of assembly. We are not regarded as human beings. Employment is a big issue - we are discriminated against and can't get employment because of our sexual orientation.

ME; What do you think can be done to improve the lives of LGBT people in Rwanda?
NUSHER; it's about self esteem and acceptance, the process starts with us. We must be visible. We must be out and visible as HOCA members before we can advocate to others.

ME; Are you worried that gaining visibility will create a backlash?
NUSHER; visibility is worth the risks. People cannot get to know us and respect us if we are invisible. Visibility is mostly good because people will get to know us, and that is a good thing.

ME: Has HOCA helped you to meet other LGBT people, or helped you resolve any problems?
NUSHER: HOCA has identified us and brought us together, which is incredibly important.

Finally, Nusher says she is aware of HIV/AIDS but agrees that there is need for more sensitization on the issue in the LGBTI community in Rwanda.

Interviewee two: Dada

Dada is a transgender and identifies as one, he is still single but gets involved in casual relationships with different partners. He hopes to settle down with a partner some time in future.

This is his reaction to the questions.

ME; what is your sexual orientation/gender expression?
DADA; Biologically born a girl, but I feel I am a man

ME; Where were you born and where did you grow up?
DADA; I was born in Rwanda, Kigali to be specific.

ME; What is your level of education?
DADA; I attended primary school through Senior 5 - needed one more class to reach A level.

ME; Did your sexual orientation had prevented you from continuing your education?
DADA; Yes it did affect me due to the stigma I got from some of my family members, since they refused to pay for my tuition due to my gender identity, yet I couldn't financially help myself.

ME; When did you first know that you were LGBT?
DADA; Age 10 - I was born like that. I felt like a man even though I had never heard anything about sexuality or transgender people. I felt that I had to fight it, thinking it was wrong until I met someone in high school, at boarding school who was my room mate. I talked to her about the issue and she told me that she too had the same feelings, at one moment we ended up kissing.

ME; Does anyone know about your sexual orientation? Family, Co-workers, friends?
DADA; Coming out is a process - I'm still working on it. Some family members know, some doubt it. Because I have not openly talked about it I need to come out of the closet. But my elder sister is so homophobic and she claims that I will spoil our family image if I come out.

ME; Are your families supportive?
DADA; I don't discuss it with my family, but I demonstrate it by dressing like a man. Everyone knows about it but we haven't had a lot of conversations.

ME; Do you consider opening up?
DADI; I have one person in my family who supports me. Not all are against me, though the supportive ones are quite few. my mother is supportive.

ME; How do you meet LGBT people in Rwanda?
DADA; It's different. Some people I date consider them selves straight.
Others I meet think I'm a man so approaching them makes it easier for me.
I do go to different places and I meet different people as well, foreigners too. Its quite and good experience.

ME; Have you ever experienced discrimination or harassment because of your sexual orientation/gender expression?
DADA; Yes, Discrimination and harassment in Rwanda is so common because of the cultural and religious believes which have strong roots here, like yesterday, a man was arrested and accused of sodomizing a younger boy. We believe this is an example of arbitrary arrest and harassment for being LGBTI. I hope HOCA is going to follow up on the case and investigate to see if the charges are true or if they are false persecution.

ME; What are the most pressing issues for LGBT people in Rwanda today?
DADA; Like I said, the problem of religion and traditional beliefs is one of the most pressing issues which has caused a lot of hatred leading to the increase of homophobic acts.
For instance; a radio broadcast hosted live a lesbian couple, who talked about their life experiences. This occurred in April 2009. Two weeks later, they were beaten in one of the bars around here as a result of being hosted on the radio. There had been a dialog on the radio that hosted them.

ME; What do you think can be done to improve the lives of LGBT people in Rwanda?
DADA; we are much traumatized because we don't know where and how to exercise our rights. There are things that we are afraid to do because of the impending law. I hope that HOCA come out and stand up for our rights because we too are human beings should be considered like such.

ME; Are you worried that gaining visibility will create a backlash?
DADA; NO! How can you fight for recognition when you are not visible? visibility is essential. People need to know us and our being.

ME; Has HOCA helped you to meet other LGBT people, or helped you resolve any problems?
DADA; HOCA has played a big role on the issue of LGBTI visibility, meeting people who share the same feelings is great.

Dada, says she is not aware of HIV/AIDS and she has never gone for testing because she feels health, maybe on some occasions she do have headaches which she says that are bought about due to a lot of stress, but no serious illness.

To this I feel there is a need to do a lot of sensitization to create awareness of the most killer disease.( AIDS)

Interviewee three: Maddox

Maddox identifies as lesbian man {Butch}, she believes that being gay is not a choice but an in born thing, so there is nothing one can do to change. She has a girlfriend who is loving and supportive.

This is her response to the interview.

ME; What is your sexual orientation/gender expression?
MADDOX; I am a lesbian man,or call me a butch, I love my identity because I believe that's how I was born nothing can change me.

ME; Where were you born and where did you grow up?
MADDOX; I was born in Kenya, raised in Burundi, and now live in Rwanda [Kigali]

ME; What is your level of education?
MADDOX; I dropped out from senior 5.
My education was affected a lot because I had to drop out of school due to discrimination and refusal by my parents to pay my school dues.When they found out about my gender identity.

ME; When did you first know that you were LGBT?
MADDOX; I knew in high school, at boarding school. I was talking with my roommate explaining my feelings. So,as we talking she too shared her experience and we ended comforting and consoling each other. I never slept with a man. I've always been gay since my childhood. I knew at 14; at 15 I began dating.

ME; Does anyone know about your sexual orientation? Family, Co-workers, friends?
MADDOX; my family knows. My mother, brothers, friends - everyone knows
I was born like that and have always been out. I'm known at my work place.
I'm very open about my sexuality.

ME; Are your families supportive?
MADDOX; my family is not supportive because they are Muslims My mother is a hajati and she doesn't believe in that third identity, that I'm possessed by demons.
When they discovered I was gay they were on my case. I stayed with them until I felt I couldn't handle the pressure any more, I left home and started living alone but now I moved in with my partner we stay together.

ME; How do you meet LGBT people in Rwanda?
MADDOX; Meeting LGBT people in Rwanda is so twisted reason being that we do relate with both LGBT and heterosexuals at some point, the problem is that most gay men here are effeminate, and most gay women are masculine, so the straight people come to us. We're not just having sex with fellow gays, we network thoroughly.

ME; Have you ever experienced discrimination or harassment because of your sexual orientation/gender expression?
MADDOX; I come from a family of more boys than girls, and my family discriminated against me, and rejected me in comparison to my brothers and sisters. My brothers tried to fight me and stop me from being a lesbian, but my mother has always been there for me,though she doesn't embrace my being.
People too discriminate us because they have differing views about us like for example priests and traditionalist don't accept us due to their doctrines.

ME; What are the most pressing issues for LGBT people in Rwanda today?
MADDOX; There is an element of division. Some LGBT are known and are not abused because of their status with in the country. Class and wealth divisions create protections and vulnerabilities. There are people in the government who are gay, but they are not open about it and will not admit it. We do need visibility and acceptance even at grass root levels. We are all human beings and we deserve equal rights and treatment.

ME; What do you think can be done to improve the lives of LGBT people in Rwanda?
MADDOX; Am worried because of the pending penal code seeking to criminalize homosexuality. It's still in flux. We need some lobbying and advocacy to stop the acceptance of this.
If we know about the law, we can change our behaviors, but if there is no law, then we can fight more easily and not break the law
We are very traumatized because we don't know where and how to exercise our rights. There are things that we are afraid to do because of the impending law.

ME; Are you worried that gaining visibility will create a backlash?
MADDOX; I fear it will create more stigma and hatred among people which will take way even the little peace of mind we have had, however I believe that visibility is mostly good because people will get to know us, and that is a good thing.

ME; Has HOCA helped you to meet other LGBT people, or helped you resolve any problems?
MADDOX; HOCA has identified us and brought us together, which is incredibly and we are all grateful for HOCA.

In a nut shell Maddox says; she is grateful to her girlfriend of six years who have helped and supported her through all the good and bad times. She also acknowledges the presence of HIV/AIDS saying that every one should be alert and careful. She is healthy and has gone for the HIV/AIDS test with her partner.

Interviewee four: Jane

Jane is 26 years of age and identifies as a bisexual but right now she is in a serious relationship with a female partner.

ME; What is your sexual orientation/gender expression?
Jane; I am bisexual and I feel fine with it, though at times am discriminated against by both heterosexuals and LGBT as well.

ME; Where were you born and where did you grow up?
Jane Born and raised in Kigali, Rwanda.

ME; What is your level of education?
Jane; I completed senior 6 and I dropped out of school since my family's reaction was not good when they found out that I had dated girls it created enmity and hatred as well the loss of family love. I also lost out on education as I dropped out of school. It was also not easy to fit in school I had to struggle a lot.

ME; When did you first know that you were LGBT?
Jane; Bisexuality is common, but no one here identifies that way though I feel bisexual.
I knew at age 14. I started dating women at senior 2, started dating men at Senior 6, and got married. My husband and I had two children and were married for 5 years, but I became more interested in the same sex.

ME; Does anyone know about your sexual orientation? Family, Co-workers, friends?
Jane; I'm very open about my sexuality; I've never been in the closet and I don't care about sharing my sexual orientation
I'm known all over. My neighbors know, my family knows. We have been living together with my partner for 5 years, everyone knows.

ME; Are your families supportive?
Jane; No! My family is not supportive. They excluded my children from theirs. In 2007, my brother decided to cast me out of the family, and they told me to take my children away from theirs. My family knows, but they are not supportive. But my kids know about my sexual orientation.
Explaining to our families is still a big struggle, but HOCA is working on it as a team, and we're still working on the process.

ME; How do you meet LGBT people in Rwanda?
Jane In most cases, we meet on the net and in different places and I being a bisexual is not hard I do blend easily in different classes of people on different levels. I do like to interact with friends and I engage in sports too so I meet a lot of people.

ME; Have you ever experienced discrimination or harassment because of your sexual orientation/gender expression?
Jane; Discrimination and harassment to me were mostly done by my family and other relative because they were the ones who mostly knew who truly I was. But People too now threaten to report us to the authorities for living together. We are still strategizing how we can work on the case.

ME; What are the most pressing issues for LGBT people in Rwanda today?
Jane; There is an element of division in the LGBT them selves there's always a tendency of not accepting bisexuals claiming that they “fake”. I don't understand what that truly means but I think we should first work our difference out even before we tackle other issues. The pending penal code issue too should be looked upon.

ME; What do you think can be done to improve the lives of LGBT people in Rwanda?
Jane; The process should start with us. We must be united and visible. We must be out and visible as HOCA members we need togetherness, unity and visibility before we can advocate to others.

ME; Are you worried that gaining visibility will create a backlash?
Jane; NO! visibility is worth the risks. You can't fight a battle when you are hidden and you succeed easily we need to come out and fight for our rights and respect. People need to get to know us.

Jane's response struck me as being such an incredibly brave sentiment.

ME; Has HOCA helped you to meet other LGBT people, or helped you resolve any problems?
Jane HOCA has played a big role in getting us together and listening to our issues which I believe is for a good cause and we will go to higher heights with them.

Finally Jane says she is aware of HIV/AIDS and that she goes for tests every three months. but she says she has got asthma and ulcers which affect her some times. furthermore Joan says is afraid of the laws deny us of any rights as well as offering no protection from violent attacks and yet we need this like any other citizen of Rwanda.

Interviewee five: Joan

Me: What is your Name, and how old are you?
Joan: My name is Joan-Jones Musana and I am 20 years of age.

Me: What do you do
Joan: I am a human Rights Activist on grassroots level

ME: When did you know you are a lesbian
Joan: When I was 7 years. I loved girls all my life and felt am a man all the time. The only time I addressed like a female is my school time because it had to be uniform and it was a dress, but apart from that, I used and still dress like a man because I feel I am one. Even our neighbors used to think I am a boy up today, many still think I am a boy and I am proud of being who I feel.

ME:How do you meet LGBT people in Rwanda?
Joan: I am among the new Members in Hoca.I heard had about Hoca, but had not got a chance to meet them in person. Most especially the Director since there's a process to become a member.

ME: What Process / Criteria?
Joan: You have to be recommended by at least two people who knows you well, and about your sexual orientation, there's a membership that one pays, there's a code of conduct and memorandum of understanding that one has to sign before becoming a member.

ME: So how did you meet other LGBTI in Rwanda?
Joan: I first googled them on Internet and knew some members who connected me to the Director became a member in 2008.

ME: Have you benefited from being a member
Joan: Yes Hoca has united all of LGBTI persons, socially politically and economically. We are politically known in Rwanda and in our community because of Hoca.

ME: Have you ever experienced discrimination because of your sexual orientation
Joan: Yes, I come from a family of girls only and I am their last born, so they expected me to be like them yet it is impossible. I have been evicted from family because of my sexual orientation, I nor longer stay home because of that and my elder counseled my bursary because of that same reason.

ME:Do you have a partner
Joan: Yes I have different girl friends but have not yet decided to settle down with any of them.

ME; Are you worried that gaining visibility will create a backlash?
Joan: No I am not worried because I think visibility is the only way to help us out of this general discrimination from community and Government.

Interviewee Six: Naome

Naome is called the Great in Rwanda!

(When I asked about Naome all members were like Naome the Great?)

Naome identifies as a lesbian she has two loving kids and not in a relationship now. Below is her response.

ME; Can you briefly tell me about your childhood memories
Naome; I grew up in a strict Christian family we used to go for prayers and read the bible I too went to Christian based school which where so strict on the religious norms. In senior one, I was elected on the committee of the Scripture Union heading all the Senior One streams.
This made me more strong and devoted to Christianity i.e heading prayers during services, Reading bible scriptures.
At the age of 12 I started feeling strangely attracted to a fellow girls at school, with a girl who used to be my care taker, who also felt the same way but we didn't know what we were doing we only became aware of it when one girl at school was exposed at the assembly and expelled from school.

ME; didn't that scare you and your little friend?
Naome; it did scare us but at that time we where not having any sexual relationship it was just mutual one. But when I joined secondary school in Uganda, this time it was a mixed school and I really wanted to try men. And at age of 19 years, I got a boy friend who was by then doing a course at Kicwamba technical school in Fort Portal, we never had sex because I really feared him and I was so open to him that I had not played sex with men. He was much older than me, and she used to handle me like his kid sister
That was during the time the RPF were invading Rwanda, we had several meeting and big networks because we were doing lots of fund rising for our rebel brothers in Rwanda.
We met many people together and this boy friend of mine introduced me to one of his friends that were from Entebbe, One of them started advancing one me, buying me expensive things like expensive watch oh my God!
I have forgotten the name of the watch, (I think it was called Seiko 5) hahahaha, shoes and gave me much money hence engaging me in sexual act
That's how and when I started having sex with men. And that is the Father of my two Children

ME; did you ever live together with him?
Naome: oh yes, we stayed together for five years but we hardly had sex, and even though I continued having sex with my old girl that was at Compass by then she used to come home she could sleep with us on the same bed thinking she was so close to me. Until I felt so guilty and decided to live a life I enjoyed.
After him, I tried other men thinking maybe he was a failure, but I came to realize I do not have feelings for men at all.

ME; so how do identify you self?
Naome: I identify myself as a straight Lesbian.

ME; what's that? Explain more
Naome: I identify myself as lesbian
I had also failed to come out of closet for my family and friends until 2007 when I came out on Voice of America.

ME; what was your family reaction about your coming out
Naome: it was so cruel because my elder brother who is a solider in RPF called me and said they heard had about my interview and requested me to drop our father's name Ruzindana am using.
Then after that he called me to take away my kids, that they would infect theirs with a homosexuality disease!

ME; didn't you feel rejected?
Naome: yes I have felt that and have split with many of my family members
But my mother and my two young sisters are in support of me.

ME; are your kids aware of you sexuality
Naome: one knows because I have stayed with them while staying with my ex.

ME; what was her reaction
Naome: she used to read our messages and one time I was out of country when I called my girl friend, she took the phone to her and said your baby is calling. But the problem is she has also been confronted by the fellow student at school that she is a daughter of a lesbian because I appeared on the television one time.

ME; that so ugly, what was her reaction
Naome: there's one sad moment that I will never ever forget in my life. When we heard of confrontation of my daughter by her fellows confronting her of being a daughter of a lesbian! My girlfriend (ex) refused to go with me to her school to pick her for the holidays that her status and security will be jeopardized.

ME; oh
Naome: I went alone, but in terrible and I isolated situation, and this is a time I felt that my kids are mine alone. And felt that was the time to be there for her and ready to face the Administration if they raised the question to her again. Luckily enough they have not dared disturbing my daughter again. And am so proud of her performance, she is performing perfectly well and all her teachers are impressed.

ME; that's an ugly experience didn't it lower your esteem?
Naome: No, instead it has really boosted my morale and strength to work hard
And continue defending people of the same sexual orientation like me

ME; that's good to hear. Can you inform me about the type of work you do to defend same sex people
Naome: I advocate for LGBTI people of Rwanda, founder member and a Director of the only existing LGBTI organization in Rwanda.

ME; how have you managed to work under hostile conditions
Naome: it involves sacrifice my dear!
There one time some influential members left the organization and even left the country because of being vulnerable and fear to loose their lives, I had to re-organize but still it has not been easy operating from there.

ME; how is the Rwandan government and society reaction towards homosexuality?
Naome: Very hostile indeed, we operate in a cruel situation, many of members fear being open about their sexual orientation, and those who do are targeted and talked about in media

One of the few heterosexuals I interviewed told me that homosexuality is not a new phenomenon in Rwanda, that even in early age, girls used to visit bush to do what was called GUKUNA pulling their clitoris, then they could compare after by rubbing them selves to each other and they could do this using their fingers to measure the length of the clit from another girl's vagina. In the end they would have sex as a way of practicing their clitoris and making them longer, this is a long way Rwandan culture.

ME; OH! Are in a relationship now?
Naome: No

ME; Ok, if you happen to be in one what role do play. Dominant, passive or fifty- fifty?
Naomi: Either way depending on what my partner would feel comfortable with.

ME; so are you versatile?
Naome: Yes I am, but I love being more of a woman because I love being spoiled, taken care love in terms of love.

ME: What is your conclusion and what do you say about the HIV/ AIDS in the lives of Lesbians in Rwanda and what are likely measures Hoca is to take forward.Naomi: Last year in March,a research was carried out on MSM Hoca male members participated and it was on national level, it showed that there is high rate of infection in the Male who have Sex with Male in the community, and there are no control measures as of now, even the government didn't include MSM in the HIV/AIDS policy.

The response to the questions below which where directed to the people who attended the conference. The answers were from Workshop reactions.

What was your experience like at the workshop on human rights? [Asked only to the person who had attended the workshop].

The workshop was very progressive and interactive; very positive, however we did not get much time to talk about LGBT issues. The most important thing that I learned was about how culture and rights work together hand in hand. The law is not yet applied, but we are already criminalized because of our culture, even though there is no official law which criminalizes homosexuality. I've learned a lot from this workshop and I think it will take HOCA to another level. But there was never a discussion of the law. Some Rwandan delegates were uncomfortable with it; some were positive, but most were not in agreement with me and my sexuality.

The workshop was both positive and negative.

Finally the above interviews leads us in the terrible and stigmatised lives of the LGBTI communities in Rwanda.there is need for more sensitisation, lobbying and advocacy to better the livelihood and well being of the LGBTI community. HOCA is dedicated to the improvement and betterment of the LGBTI community.

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