When the Blade caught up with American lawyer Nate Freeman, he was just returning from a long weekend of canoeing on the Orange River in Namibia.
Most anyone else would have been resting because on Jan. 9, Freeman embarked on a 12,000-kilometer bike ride from Cairo to Cape Town that will span four months and travel through 10 countries in Africa.
The Out in Africa Ride is the inaugural project for an initiative that is dedicated to identifying and supporting nonprofit groups throughout Africa who are working to fight homophobia, eliminate stigma and provide legal protection to LGBT people.
“A major component of human dignity is the ability to express yourself,” Freeman says. “I was looking for what I could do policy wise and connect that to groups on the ground.”
Freeman requested that this story not be published by the Blade until he passed safely through Egypt and Sudan due to the safety concerns of an LGBT rights advocate crossing their borders.
The Out in Africa Ride is piggybacking on an event known as the Tour d’Afrique and Freeman is one of 40 cyclists on the Tour. They will only have 20 rest days during the four-month ride and several of the ride days will be a stage race similar to the stages in the Tour de France.
The group of cyclists on the Tour range from people who just want to finish to competitive cyclists. Many are riding for causes of their own choosing.
The obstacles the cyclists will face are enormous and include politics, religion, animals, disease, climate, terrain, injuries and stone-throwing children. Last year, two of the riders on the Tour contracted Malaria and there is the constant threat of Dengue fever.
Freeman, 32, was born and raised in Mount Vernon, Iowa and went on to Whitman College. He received his law degree from Yale.
He ran cross country and played tennis in high school, but it wasn’t until his college years that he truly found athletics and it began with rock climbing, hiking, dance and ballet. He segued into triathlons after his college years and continues to dance.
After receiving his law degree, he spent two years clerking for the Honorable Tena Campbell and the Honorable Robert J Shelby in Salt Lake City. It was during that time that Judge Shelby struck down Amendment 3 of Utah’s State Constitution banning same-sex marriage.
For the past year, Freeman has been clerking for Justice Edwin Cameron at the Constitutional Court of South Africa. Cameron is the first and only senior South African official to state publicly that he is living with HIV/AIDS. He is widely known for his advocacy of LGBT rights.
Leading up to the Out in Africa Ride, Freeman found himself struggling with the context of the project he was about to initiate.
“I was forming a challenging role to play,” Freeman says. “When you care about an issue and you are not from the place experiencing the issue, it doesn’t always translate.”
The first purpose of the Ride is to get donors to contribute to programs that are not widely known. They have chosen two organizations as their first partners; the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum in Uganda and the Gay & Lesbian Network in South Africa.
The second purpose is to get local programs to link with other local programs and to share their current campaigns and advocacy strategies.
The timing seems right for this kind of connection between the advocacy groups. The criminalization of same-sex relationships in Africa is widespread and growing. Much of it has made the news, but there are instances in lesser known parts of the continent where the laws are incredibly repressive.
The Ride project has presented an interactive map reflecting the current laws in Africa with three countries showing a same-sex relationship death penalty.
“Many of the intolerant leaders in Africa believe that homosexuality is a Western concept and that LGBT rights are a way for former colonial powers to exercise control,” Freeman says. “As for the people of Africa, many of them don’t realize what rights can be available to them.”
As of the release of this story, the cyclists have crossed 2,916 kilometers of terrain with 9,178 kilometers to go.
Despite the challenges, Freeman remains upbeat about the experience and what lies ahead.
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