By Joseph Tolton
Ellen and Portia shook hands and had a warm meeting with Rwanda’s President Kagame. Rwanda is still trying to both remember and go beyond the genocide of the 1990’s.
President Kagame has led Rwanda into a new era and was recognized by all African Presidents when they elected him President of the Africa Union.
Ellen and Portia are helping to save the apes by building a center in Rwanda to house research, security, tourists, and community education.
Kagame was not required to meet with them, but he did. Two openly lesbian women married to each other. All Africa—and the world—took note.
There is little love lost on lesbian, gay, and bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Rwanda. Their neighbor, Uganda is infamous for its anti-gay sentiment while most countries in Africa still have “sodomy” laws on the books calling for a 13 or so years of prison or hard labor for anyone who is proven to be gay.
Rwanda has no such law, but the prejudice is there despite the clear direction of the country to not allow rules or propaganda against classes of people that can lead to targeted persecution.
Tolerance is important in Rwanda so LGBTI people have a window into the larger society. By meeting with Ellen and Portia, Kagame may have just opened the door to allow one more breath of fresh air into the land.
On June 7, 2018, the LGBTI community in this incredibly small, land-locked nation, once besieged by genocide, will celebrate Pride by bringing LGBTI leaders from Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, the USA, and other countries together for a regional conference to celebrate the full dignity of humanity of LGBTI people and the diversity of all humankind.
Today, the LGBTI community in Rwanda has built an inclusive church, The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries Rwanda, which is truly a home for all souls to experience God’s love.
This emerging community has also created formidable alliances with organizations in the civil society arena, with media properties, an array of businesses, academics, and local and national government officials.
The idea of this progress in the heart of Africa just a few years ago would have seemed unthinkable.
The idea that America would loose its standing as the global giant advocating human rights, or that we would witness a global trend of an astonishing erosion of democratic values was also unthinkable.
The proposed summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un, will undoubtedly forego any conversation about human rights. In Turkey, President Erdogan is on the verge of another power grab, which could sink the nation’s economy.
In the West, efforts to maintain liberal governments and social policies to support marginalized populations are under dire threat from populist/nationalist movements, right-wing media, and international digital misinformation campaigns.
It is so easy to be totally overwhelmed by the racism, misogyny, terrorism, capitalist corruption, gun violence, and intractable tribal struggles around the world.
So where is the hope? From Black American NFL players under seige, to Palestinians and Israelis who believe in peace, to every journalist imprisoned in Turkey, to every LGBTI person fending of persecution in Tanzania, to strivers seeking refuge in the US while grasping their children, to Europeans clinging to unity, to the Muslim women in Saudi Arabia learning to drive, people are valiantly working to expand freedom.
The young LGBTI people of Rwanda live in hope for the whole human family. When we find such inspiration, we must drink it in and own it as our very own struggle and march toward victory. Now, more than ever, progressive movements must become one.
Our fate is inextricably linked and our strategy must be based on the notion of interconnected justice. As Yvette Abrams observed, when an ecosystem is stressed, it is its internal diversity that helps it to survive.
The irony of Ellen and Portia funding a center to protect the Apes comes at the same time as Rosanne Barr slandered Valerie Jarret by calling her the daughter of an ape.
The irony is that of course, she was trying to dehumanize her, but it was around their mutual love of apes, that Paul Kagame found a moment of peace with a lesbian couple. Somewhere between his moment with Ellen and the emergence of Rwanda’s LGBTI community there is a sign of hope.
We have witnessed hatred for difference that suffocates the human spirit—now let us breathe together. Let us con-spire in truth—as Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz would say—to love our diversity as we work for the global advancement of the human race and spirit.