Mission: To save the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals in Uganda, one family at a time.
Background: In 2013 and 2014, after years of influence by right-wing Christian evangelical missionaries who wield enormous power because of the wealth they bring into the country (much of it for good acts such as supporting education and helping to bring water to villages), the Ugandan Parliament, under the long-time rule of President Museveni, began passing anti-LGBTQ+ laws.
Extremist Anti-LGBTQ+ Law: In May 2023, President Museveni signed anti-LGBTQ+ laws stipulating:
- The death penalty for two men having sex if one has HIV/AIDS
- 20 years’ imprisonment for advocating for LGBTQ+ rights
- 10 years’ imprisonment for witnessing or contracting marriage between same-sex people
- 10 years’ imprisonment for employing an LGBTQ+ person
- 7 years’ imprisonment for housing an LGBTQ+ person
In Uganda, imprisonment for being LGBTQ+ equals a death sentence. Unlike in the U.S. where prisons are obligated to feed prisoners, in Uganda, family and friends are expected to feed the incarcerated—but since it is illegal to support LGBTQ+ individuals, feeding the imprisoned is too dangerous. This means the LGBTQ+ prisoners will starve. Meanwhile, LGBTQ+ people outside prisons are bereft of homes, jobs, and financial sustenance.
CEHV Leads the Way: In June 2023, as part of Congregation Emanuel of the Hudson Valley’s response to Pride month, Rabbi Yael Romer introduced the congregation to Jo, a Ugandan lesbian in hiding with her family of 5. Jo’s presentation at CEHV on LGBTQ+ civil rights abuse—her first at a faith-based gathering—set the stage for multiple community outreach initiatives in Ulster County to help Jo and other LGBTQ+ individuals in Uganda find safety and sanctuary.
For a week-and-a half, Jo stayed at the home of Isa Coffey, a new member of CEHV. The day before Jo returned home to her family in Uganda, she asked if Isa would take on the responsibility of helping some of her LGBTQ+ Ugandan friends. Isa agreed to take responsibility for 10 adults. That number quickly grew to 13, and now includes 15 adults, 3 teenagers, 4 little children, and 1 baby.
Isa had never done anything like this before, and didn’t know how. Still, working closely with Ellie von Wellsheim, Jo’s longtime supporter, and assisted by Rabbi Yael and others, she began to meet each of the 15 adults, and has helped initiate multiple fundraising endeavors.
Early Accomplishments as of October 2023
- All fifteen adults have been rehoused to a safer home. For some this has included relocation to another country. For everyone, it has meant relocation to a different town/village/area. Many of the adults had been kicked out; some had been given notice; some already were in the streets.
- Emergency and long-term medical care has been paid for individuals suffering significant physical traumas.
- One adult has been able to open a small business.
Next Step: PODS: A tremendous amount remains to be done to house the Ugandan families, support the adults in opening their own businesses, provide medical and psychological care in the wake of traumatic violence, pay for children’s education, and more. To this effort, and to foster cross-cultural caring relationships between Americans and Ugandans, Isa has iniatiated PODs, meaning:
- A family, group of individuals, or an organization comes together in community to meet the monthly financial needs of a single LGBTQ+ Ugandan, couple, or family for one year—together committing to raise $500/month or $6,000/year.
- POD members agree to fund rent, utilities, food, medical care, emotional/psychological care, transportation, school tuition for children, legal assistance, visas, passports, cell phones, and unforeseen emergency needs.
- The Ugandan and U.S. POD members can be in direct contact, with Isa as intermediary.
Already, two PODS are providing life-sustaining help to two families in Uganda.
A CEHV POD To Save Lives: CEHV and Tikkun Olam Committee member Joy Weinberg has initiated the creation of a CEHV POD that would provide lifesaving support to one of these two families:
- POD 3: A lesbian single mother with 3 very young children forced to flee to a safer home after she experienced entrapment and assault following passage of the new laws. The family will need funds for rent, utilities, food, a phone and prepaid phone cards (this is how POD members communicate; no one is safe without a phone), medical and psychological support, and eventually school tuition for the children.
- POD 4: A gay man and his partner. Brutally beaten on the streets in response to the new laws, he has suffered severe injuries. Funds are needed for reparative surgeries. This family also needs funds for transportation to a safer neighborhood, housing, utilities, food, phones and prepaid phone cards, ongoing medical care, and psychological care.
- 10 CEHV families will each commit to provide $50/month or $600/year to support one of these two Ugandan families. Rabbi Yael and Joy’s families will be two of the 10 families.
- CEHV’s POD will have the opportunity to connect with their new Ugandan friends through safe channels.
- CEHV’s initiative will be pioneering: the first religious faith organization to come together in a POD community to support LGBTQ+ lives in Uganda. CEHV’s POD will serve as a lifesaving model for Reform congregations, for synagogues of all denominations whose members implicitly understand what it means when a government seeks your annihilation, and for all like-minded congregations and communities of faith throughout America.
To Join the Pioneering CEHV POD
Email or Text Joy Weinberg: firstname.lastname@example.org, 917-363-9056.