We can be
Not all heroes wear Lycra and capes. Most are just everyday folk who do extraordinary things. This WorldPride, we raise a toast to some of the LGBTI+ heroes across the world who inspire us and make us proud to be a part of the queer community
By Matt Newbury
Kasaa Nabagesera, also known as Jacqueline Kasha, is a Ugandan LGBTI+ rights activist and the founder and executive director of the LGBTI+ rights organization Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG). After campaigning to end homophobia in Uganda, (where homosexuality is illegal), the Ugandan newspaper Rolling Stone published the names and photos of people believed to be homosexual with the headline “Hang Them.” It listed Nabagesera and her colleague David Kata, both of whom sued the tabloid setting a benchmark for human rights in Uganda. The celebration was short lived however, with Kato later murdered in his home shortly after winning the lawsuit.
Xavier Bettel, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, is the third ever openly gay head of government and the first openly gay premier re-elected for a second term. In June of this year, he condemned his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orbán after his ruling Fidesz Party outlawed the “promotion” of LGBTI+ lives to under-18s .Speaking ahead of an EU summit where he knew he would meet Orbán, he said, “To be nationally blamed, to be considered as not normal, to be considered as a danger for young people it is … it is not realizing that being gay is not a choice. But being intolerant is a choice and I will stay intolerant to intolerance, and this will be today my fight.”
Jean Wyllys is a Brazilian lecturer, journalist and politician, who rose to fame when he won the fifth season of Big Brother Brazil, and then went on to become a politician, becoming only the second openly gay member of parliament and the first congressman who was a gay rights activist. In office he defended minority rights and fought for the regulation of prostitution, the legalisation of marijuana and the government financing of sex reassignment surgery and hormone treatment for transgender people. Whyllys was forced to flee the country in 2019 following death threats. He has been compared to Harvey Milk for political work and advocacy for gay rights.
Alexya Salvador became the first transgender reverend in Latin America, when she was ordained in 2019. She also became the first trans woman to adopt a child in Brazil, when she and her partner adopted a son with special needs in 2015. They have since adopted two trans girls. The 2018 election of right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro has made the country even more dangerous for queer people. It’s why people like Alexya are so important at the moment. Describing herself as the “first transgender shepherd of Latin America,” she even held a LGBTI+-friendly mass alongside other trans pastors.
Arundhati Katju and Menaka Guruswamy
Arundhati Katju and Menaka Guruswamy are two public-interest litigators who successfully fought to overturn a colonial-era law criminalising gay sex in India. “I am what I am so take me as I am,” said the Chief Justice of India, somewhat misquoting La Cage aux Folles, as the Supreme Court struck down Section 377 of the India Penal Code in a unanimous vote in 2018. Arundhati and Menaka didn’t only fight the 157-old law, they also became beacons of hope for the LGBTI plus community. Their achievements can’t be underestimated. India is the world’s largest democracy and a country that boasts 17.74% of the total world population.
Alongside her partner Thea Spyer, LGBTI+ rights activist Edith Windsor began an involvement in LGBTI+ organisations in the USA soon after the Stonewall Riots. Time named her a finalist for their Person of the Year Award in 2013, and she lost out only to Pope Francis. She was engaged to Thea for 40 years, before they were able to marry in Canada in 2007. When Spyer passed away she left everything to her wife. As the US didn’t recognise same-sex marriage, Windsor was asked to pay taxes on the estate, far beyond what a heterosexual spouse would be required to pay. Windsor took the case to court, and the landmark victory led to federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
Peter Tatchell is a veteran human rights campaigner who has worked tirelessly for LGBTI+ rights over a career spanning 54 years. He has worked on various campaigns including Stop Murder Music (aimed at tackling music lyrics inciting violence against LGBTI+ people) and campaigns associated with age of consent laws and civil partnerships in the UK. He also works with activists in 76 countries where same-sex relationships are illegal. He’s the founder of the Peter Tatchell Foundation and this year was the subject of a Netflix documentary, Hating Peter Tatchell, which reveals he has been violently assaulted over 300 times.
Arsham Parsi is an Iranian LGBTI+ human rights activist living in exile in Canada. As a gay man born in a country where same-sex activity can be punishable by the death penalty, Arsham made the brave decision at the age of 15 to use the internet to support members of the LGBTI+ community. At the age of 19 he started secretly working for the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization (PGLO) and networked with doctors to provide HIV testing. Realising that the police were looking for him, he fled to Turkey in 2005 and then to Canada, where he set up the International Railroad for Queer Refugees, providing support for people seeking safe havens from both within and outside of Iran.
Alice Nkom is a human rights lawyer and LGBTI+ activist from Cameroon, where homosexuality is still illegal. At the age of 24, she became the first black French-speaking woman called to the bar in Cameroon and, although she identifies as heterosexual, she has dedicated herself to fighting for the LGBTI+ community in the country. In 2003, she founded the Association for the Defence of Homosexuality and has fought to free LGBTI+ prisoners, including those who have been entrapped by police officers. Despite receiving death threats, she continues to fight for people imprisoned because of their sexual orientation.
Anna Mohr was a Swedish archaeologist and a LGBTI+ activist and one of the people behind Frigörelsedagen (“Liberation Day”) in Stockholm in the 1970s. This movement would eventually grow into Stockholm Pride, which regularly attracts some 600,000 people. She was a former chair of EKHO (The Ecumenical Association for Christian LGBTIQ people) and worked with a health and HIV group for 20 years. Back in 1995, Anna and her partner Britt Dahlgren were the first lesbian couple to enter in a civil union in Sweden. Tragically, she died of COVID-19 in May 2020, when the pandemic hit Sweden.
Xiao Xian, usually known as simply Xian, is a Chinese activist, who founded Tongyu, a lesbian organisation based in Beijing. As a student, she discovered that very little LGBTI+ information was available in China, but with the advent of the internet, she was able to contact gay Chinese ex-patriates abroad and also arrange physical meetups for people in Beijing. Tongyu, which means “Common Language,” operates a lesbian hotline, attends academic conferences, hands out information leaflets and advocates for issues like same-sex marriage and LGBTI+ rights. Tongyu also works with activists from other Asian countries including Taiwan and India.