I have a story to share, which I got from my friend Gabi Clayton, in Washington state. (Walt and I stayed with her and her husband Alec last year when we went to Olympia to see Steve in concert.)
Gabi is one of the founders of a group of Quakers called "Friends New Underground Railroad." It began in April last year when several people heard from friends in Uganda -- both gay and straight -- that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered folks were encountering grave threats to their lives and safety and the situation was getting worse because of the impact of the soon-to-be-enacted-anti-homosexuality law. People were being kicked out of homes, fired from employment, removed from colleges and universities, denied medical care and hospitals, pursued by mobs, beaten, and sometimes killed.
Gabi writes, "While they understood the risk to their own lives and those of their families, our friends there were prepared in the manner of the Underground Railroad which operated in the United States prior to the Civil War, to conduct people to safety in more welcoming countries."
Gabi and her friends took their concerns to a Quaker meeting and the group adopted the effort to support the work of these brave Ugandans as their own project. As of today, the group has funded the passage of 715 people (including eight children, six straight allies, and 33 people who identify as transgendered) to flee from Uganda. Many of them are now in their final countries of destination -- Canada, Sweden, Rwanda, South Africa, Norway, Denmark, South Africa, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Ireland. Some of their stories can be read here.
That so much pain can be inflicted in the name of Christ is inconceivable and certainly must cause great pain to Jesus himself.
Gabi says "we are still mourning the loss of our conductor, Tony. Tony was pressed into service when his predecessor, S, was beaten so badly he suffered intracranial hemorrhaging, a broken skull and multiple rib contusions requiring a very difficult medical evacuation. We understand that S is now in detention in Canada awaiting a hearing on his request for permanent refugee/asylum status.
"Tony was a 35 year old pharmacist with no experience in the matter of leading passengers to safety. But with his daring, great resolve, and a huge heart for people, in three months, working himself sick, he engineered the escape of almost 280 passengers, including five children. Returning from his last mission Tony suffered a blood clot in his lung, which was traveling to his heart. He was operated on successfully, but when he returned to the ward, it was found that he had been doing all of this work with the Friends while suffering from malaria, typhoid, active tuberculosis, worms, bacterial dysentery and severe malnutrition."
Gabi says their work is far from over and that the Ugandan Parliament is very close to voting on a new anti-homosexuality bill, even worse than the last. Among other provisions, those who house, feed, transport, or assist gay people in any way can be subject to up to 10 years in prison.
"Friends New Underground Railroad is operated by Africans for Africans. Our role is to tell their stories and to raise funds to support them in the brave and remarkable tasks they have taken on for LGBT Ugandans."
Each escape costs between $55 and $185, depending on the route, mode of transportation, and interim destination. There have been some other expenses such as medical care and temporary lodging while passengers wait to cross into other countries.
Gabi has asked that her friends share her story and the desperate needs for funds to save as many of these LGBT Ugandans as possible. So I am publishing the story here and hoping that some will take the time to visit their web site and consider helping a bit. I know that we are all inundated by requests for worthy causes, but this one is literally a matter of life and death.