Zimbabwean women’s and LGBTI rights activist Martha Tholanah is the winner of this year’s David Kato Vision & Voice Award, which honors people working for the human rights of sexual minorities worldwide, especially in homophobic societies.
Tholanah, a straight, HIV-positive activist “risks her life every day to support [LGBTI] people across the country. Her activism is a powerful example of a straight ally standing in solidarity with LGBTI people despite threats to her own safety and security,” said the Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF), which selects the winners of the Kato Award.
The award is named after David Kato, the human rights activist murdered in his home of Kampala, Uganda, in January 2011.
“As a trained family therapy counselor qualified in medical rehabilitation, Martha has established and headed health programs for Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) and the Network of Zimbabwean Positive Women (NZPW+). She currently serves as Chairperson of the Board for GALZ, an organization that has been a long time partner and contributor to MSMGF’s work.
“She is currently facing two charges with the Zimbabwe Government linked to her involvement with LGBTI activism. Despite these challenges she remains deeply committed to her efforts and continues to represent GALZ in legally challenging state-sanctioned homophobia and violence.
“Martha is also a proud feminist fighting to eliminate sexism in Zimbabwe. She works to make women living with HIV – young women and LBT women more visible in a male-dominated political and social landscape.”
Ugandan activist Frank Mugisha was selected to present her with the award on stage at the prestigious Teddy Awards ceremony in Berlin on Feb. 13.
In response, Tholanah stated, “I am incredibly honored to be given this award that to me symbolizes my struggle against injustice in Zimbabwe and across the globe. By honoring my work we recognize the human dignity and spirit of every person.”
The award is accompanied by a $10,000 grant to support the prize-winners’ advocacy efforts.
“Community-led efforts play a central role in securing LGBT rights,” said Micah Lubensky, MSMGF’s program manager for the award. “Yet so often these crucial efforts go unrecognized and unfunded. Through the David Kato Vision & Voice Award, we are able to provide activists with a platform to elevate the issues that are affecting their communities, as well as much needed funding to sustain and expand their work.”
“I have been on a long journey to accept myself as an HIV positive African woman. I fight for others to overcome the stigma and discrimination in their lives so that they can find self-love and acceptance too.
“This award strengthens my work with organizations such as GALZ and NZPW+. On the day I receive this award, my wish is that the violence and discrimination in Zimbabwe finally stop, and that all people will come together to end discrimination against marginalized communities worldwide.”
Previous winners of the Kato Award are