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MN journalist captures striking images at a secret Pride celebration in Uganda

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This Sunday, journalist and photographer Katie G. Nelson will be exhibiting images and stories she collected while covering Uganda’s annual Pride Festival, which has occurred over the past four years despite laws that forbid homosexuality in the country. Called “I am Ready: Images of Resiliency from Uganda’s Gay and Transgender Community,” the show seeks to showcase the strength and bravery of the community, who demand that the world accept their humanity.

Nelson, whose background is in public health, has been working off and on in Kenya for 10 years now, having started teaching reproductive health in a refugee camp. She began working as a journalist five years ago, and six months ago made a full-time move to Nairobi.

Because Kenya felt like a second home to Nelson, and there were so many stories that weren’t being covered by the media, Nelson wanted to use her skills as a journalist to cover human-rights issues.

Last summer, Nelson found out about an annual Pride Festival that happens in Uganda every year, despite the fact that homosexuality is criminalized in the country, and many from the LGBTQ community live in “tedious secrecy,” she says.

This year was the fourth annual celebration of the pride festival, which was promoted on the website of a nonprofit called Sexual Minorities Uganda. 

Nelson flew out to Uganda for the festival, staying in contact with the nonprofit’s media communications team, which consisted mostly of one person texting out locations an hour before each event would happen. 

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“Because they had negative outcomes their first year — several people were arrested — the nonprofit worked directly with police to make sure they could have the festival on private land,” Nelson says.

Still, there was fallout from the public, who were either nearby or who showed up specifically to harass people. Nelson was in a compound covering the final celebration when another journalist was stabbed in the neck, and “a dozen people were beaten throughout the five days,” she says.

Nelson named the exhibit “I am Ready,” based on a quote from one of the young people she interviewed. During the festival, she spoke with a man about the event, and asked if he wanted to use a nickname. “He said, ‘I want to use my full name, because I am ready for people to know that I exist,’” Nelson says. 

For many in the gay and transgender community life is dangerous and unfair. The men and women living in the safe house Nelson visited, for example, have all been evicted from their apartments or kicked out of their family’s homes.

“They can’t get jobs, they can’t even own land,” she says. Many of them are forced into homelessness and sex work because they have no access to resources. At the same time, she wanted to show the community’s strength amid this adversity. 

IF YOU GO:

"I AM READY: Images of Resiliency from Uganda’s Gay and Transgender Community"

7 to 10 p.m. Sunday

Five Watts Coffee