By Mary*

*Name changed for protection

Life was miserable in Uganda.

A few years ago, I was forced to leave my home and my country for good. My family caught me with my same-sex partner and nearly beat me to death. When a chance to escape came, I didn’t turn back.

I’ve resettled in a nearby country. My family is still looking for me, so I cannot disclose my location. And my life is still filled with challenges and discriminations.

As a refugee, it is always hard to survive by. As a lesbian refugee in Eastern Africa, it is near impossible.

Worst of all, I’m unable to get a job. People look at me and judge. They ask why I’m a refugee and I cannot tell them the real answer. So it’s a constant struggle to get enough money for food, medication, rent, and other basic human needs. Many of us have to resort to dangerous sex work to make ends meet.

Luckily, I’m not alone here. There are many other LGBTQ refugees nearby and we have come to form our own families. We look out for each other and rely on each other. We keep each other safe. Because we are constantly at risk of being beaten, harassed, raped, or arrested. And we know that it will probably be years until we are resettled to a safer place. We are going to be here for a while.

© Corrie Wingate

But I am not helpless – far from it.

A little while back, I taught myself how to make shoes – beautiful, hand-woven sandals. People wanted to buy these shoes. So I taught a few of my friends, other LGBTQ refugees, to make them, too. More people wanted to buy them.

But we had to stop making them because we did not have enough money for supplies and tools. I am hoping that will change soon.

My friends and I were chosen to be a part of a campaign by All Out and the Refugee Coalition of Eastern Africa called Grassroots Empowerment.

We have a business plan and are ready to go.

There are other LGBTQ refugee business plans being fundraised for, too – a photography studio, a restaurant, and a chicken farm.

These businesses will give us a real chance to escape the poverty we were forced into, just because of our identities. We were all forced to leave our homes and everything we knew behind. And now, we are all kept from working, regardless of the skills, experience and willingness to work hard that we have.

This is our chance to beat this homophobic and transphobic system that wants to keep us hidden away in the shadows. This is our chance at a new life.