‘Call Me Kuchu’: The continuing battle against homophobia in Uganda
When we first started filming Call Me Kuchu, our documentary about the first openly gay man in Uganda, David Kato, we were immediately struck by the apparent disconnect between our experiences in Uganda and what we were seeing in international media reports.
Much of the coverage of the persecution of the Ugandan LGBT community was dominated by a narrative of victimization that depicted Kampala’s LGBT people or “kuchus” as powerless, and rather miserable subjects of a dismal fate.
But while the LGBT community did indeed suffer from harsh, state-sanctioned homophobia, many of the kuchus we encountered were also joyous, loving and charismatic individuals who routinely came together to celebrate and support one another, albeit behind closed doors. As one of Call Me Kuchu’s main characters, Long Jones, declares at a party for two of his kuchu friends in the film’s first scene: “The reason we are here is to jubilate with them!”
What’s more, many of the kuchus we met weren’t victims, but dedicated and increasingly sophisticated activists working with absolute determination to change the status quo – even, eventually, in the face of a devastating and unthinkable loss. One phrase that epitomized this attitude was a rallying cry from Mozambique’s war of independence that was adopted as something of a mantra by David and Uganda’s LGBT activist community: “A Luta Continua,” or “The Struggle Continues.”
In fact, looking back, our decision to make Call Me Kuchu in the first place came about largely because of a story we heard that hinted at the courage and audacity of this community. That story was about a lawsuit filed in a Ugandan court by Victor Mukasa, a transgender LGBT activist whose home was raided by the police. Victor sued the Ugandan Attorney General for police harassment and in 2008, he won his case.
In a country where sodomy carries a life sentence and where state-sanctioned homophobia is applied equally to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender folks, Victor’s legal victory was no small achievement. We were intrigued to learn that there was an organized LGBT community in Uganda ready to take action against discrimination and persecution, moreover, that Uganda’s judicial system was independent enough to allow LGBT people, or “kuchus,” to reclaim their constitutional rights.
Then, in October 2009, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was introduced in Uganda’s parliament. It is a draconian piece of legislation that proposes a death sentence for HIV-positive gay men and prison for anyone who fails to turn in a known homosexual. As connections were drawn between the influence of American evangelicals in Uganda and the creation of the bill, a media uproar ensued. But how, we wanted to know, were LGBT activists on the ground working to fight this proposed law?
David Kato was the first person we met with once we arrived in Uganda – he reeled off names and numbers and introduced us to the kuchu community. As we spent more time with him, we were increasingly intrigued by his fierce intelligence and relentless passion, his sharp sense of humor, and his deep-seated fear of sleeping alone at night. He was also one of the most outspoken activists in the community. It soon became clear that David was the protagonist of Call Me Kuchu.
On November 2, Call Me Kuchu will be released in cinemas across the UK and Ireland, and we will be joined at the opening screenings by Naome Ruzindana, David’s close friend and another activist featured in the film. While Call Me Kuchu highlights David’s life and work, and the courageous efforts of Kampala’s kuchus in recent years, we will also be emphasizing that the fight is most certainly not over. As the Ugandan LGBT activist community has become stronger and more visible, so too, have its opponents. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill may have failed to pass in 2011, in part because of David’s work, but it has since been tabled again in Uganda’s parliament and currently awaits debate.
In recent years David and his fellow activists have worked tirelessly to change their own fate through every means possible: the UN, the news media, the general populace, and both the Ugandan and US court systems, where cases have been filed against the Ugandan Minister for Ethics and Integrity, and against American evangelical Scott Lively.
One of the reasons people around the world, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, are talking about LGBT rights is because of the relentless dedication of the LGBT community in Uganda. As a result, Call Me Kuchu is a nuanced story of empowerment as much as a story of persecution. We hope it will provide audiences with a new understanding of Kampala’s kuchus, both as a loving community that has achieved a tremendous amount in the past three years, despite suffering a tragic loss, and as individuals who have actively chosen to become agents of their own destiny.
But this isn’t just a Ugandan struggle. Homosexuality is currently illegal in 76 countries, five states have death penalty provisions, and a recent spate of homophobic laws have been introduced or passed around the world, including in Ukraine, Russia, Liberia and Nigeria. That is why we have partnered with Amnesty International UK to ensure Call Me Kuchu can help draw attention and action to the international effort to protect the human rights of LGBT people around the world. As David would say, “A Luta Continua.”
Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall are the co-directors of ‘Call Me Kuchu’ which will be released on 2 November.
For more information about the film visit callmekuchu.co.uk
Tagged in: Africa, Call Me Kuchu, David Kato, gay, gay rights, lesbian, LGBT, Mozambique, Scott Lively, transgender, Uganda, Victor Mukasa
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