Sharlotte’s Story: “When someone we love is in trouble, we turn the world upside down.”

Sharlotte Kigezo serves as NGLHRC’s in-house psychologist, supporting LGBTQI+ people in times of crisis. Photo by Lameck Ododo.

As NGLHRC’s in-house psychologist, Sharlotte Kigezo is often called to the front lines to serve LGBTQI+ people in crisis — folks at their absolute lowest, in desperate need of help, hope and compassion. Sharlotte offers them a seemingly endless well of support, but does not let the darkness swallow her. In fact, she is NGLHRC’s self-described comedian, even sharing her own struggles with sharp humor.

She knows this fight requires positivity — losing hope is not an option. Sharlotte grew up Uganda, part of a deeply religious household. She understood early on that her identity as a queer woman would not be met with kindness. When her mother saw her tattoo years ago, she called in five clergymen to pray for her soul.

“I remember thinking: If I finally come out to my mom, will the entire church show up at our home?” she laughs.

But the joke is underscored by a harsh reality: in Kenya, stigma against LGBTQI+ people is powerful enough that families regularly abandon their queer kids. Thankfully, Sharlotte says, her mother has learned to embrace her identity, and keeps her more traditional, extended family at bay.

Still, she says, “No matter how much my mom protects me from our own family, as a queer person you are constantly living in fear. NGLHRC allowed me to create a foundation of chosen family. And we’re helping our larger community do the same.”

Sharlotte says she is “cautiously out of the closet,” perpetually asking herself: “What if this is the day the cab driver decides to take me into a corner because he saw me exit an office covered in rainbow flags? What if today, my dad says, ‘I’ve phoned a man, you’re married now. They already gave us a dowry of cows’? What if today my aunties try to pull me into conversion therapy or find someone for a corrective rape?”

Too often, these scenarios are actually experienced by the people Sharlotte counsels. And only one thing can calm her fears, allowing her to continue serving those in crisis: her community.

“Thankfully, I know no one can come and carry me off. Because when someone we love is in trouble, we turn the world upside down,” she says. “NGLHRC never stops showing up for our people.”

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