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Self-Healing Through Community

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Pride Uganda volunteer Patience and I have a lot in common. We’re queer, we benefit from The 519 Community Centre’s programs, and we enjoy trips to the mall and like watching movies. However, that’s as far as our commonalities overlap.

After hearing Patience’s history of homophobia and abuse, I marvel at her ability to get up every morning. Discovering other people in similar situations at Pride Uganda has helped her pave a path towards self-healing. Pride Uganda is a social group that promotes the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, queer people from East Africa and Africans in Canada.

When Patience sought out Pride Uganda almost two years ago, she wanted to find others like her. “I thought I was the only one,” she recalls. She not only found community in the group but a way to assist her healing after “living under scary circumstances” in her home country.

“It helped me a lot when I first came to Canada, I didn’t know anyone,” she explains. “Pride Uganda feels like my family. Nobody’s going to run after us. I know many who died or go missing but nobody minds about them.”

Of the friends who’ve went missing in her home country, her girlfriend is one of them. Before coming to Canada over a year and a half ago, Patience’s family forced her to marry a man she didn’t know. All the while, Patience kept her sexual identity and her same-sex relationship a secret. All the while, he new husband beat and raped her. After a particularly intense beating, Patience couldn’t take it anymore and escaped to her parent’s home and later, to her girlfriend. While seeking comfort in her girlfriend’s arms, neighbours saw the two women kissing.

“She and I went into hiding,” Patience explains. “The community went looking for us. I don’t even know if she’s alive.”

Luckily (if you can describe it as such under the circumstances), one of Patience’s family members planned to come to Canada to attend a wedding. She convinced him to take her, knowing she didn’t plan to return. This meant leaving her girlfriend behind.

“At The 519, I learned about the immigration process and that’s how I escaped,” she recalls. As for her girlfriend? “I never heard from her so I have a feeling maybe she was killed.”

Patience has pushed past feelings of self-loathing, homophobia and alienation and has started gaining confidence thanks to therapy, a return to school and her volunteer work at Pride Uganda. As meeting chair, she listens to attendees who share their experiences, and finds ways to welcome and assist them with feeling at home within the group.

“I want to give other newcomers like me help to become better people,” Patience says. “To show them, they have a home. You know here it’s so lonely. You really assure them they are safe. At the end, we’re realizing we’re good, human and we are proud to be who we are.”

Patience is more confident now and acknowledges, “I’m a much better person right now. I’m much happier knowing I’m safe. There’s nothing better than that.”

Profile written by The 519 Community Contributor Natalie Henry.

Note: Some facts from Patience’s story were omitted in this blog post to protect her privacy.

Keywords: Pride Uganda, volunteer, Natalie Henry, Pride Uganda Alliance International

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