Kasha: The Voice Of LGBTQI In Uganda
Last May 3, 2021, Uganda’s Parliament passed the controversial Sexual Offenses Bill (SOB), which has raised the ire of the international community and LGBTQI activists for criminalizing same-sex activities. Martin Ennals Award Laureate 2011 Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera is the founder of Freedom and Roam Uganda, a platform fighting tirelessly for the rights of marginalized communities in her country. Kasha takes the floor and explains why this Bill must be revised.
Kasha, you are known as one of the fiercest activists for LGBTQI+ rights in Uganda and in the region. What ignited this activism in you?
One day, I simply had enough of the constant harassment, judgments, and threats I was subjected to in my everyday life. I had enough of my university’s instructions to stay away at least 100m from female hostels and to provide daily reports to the administration proving that I wasn’t “dressing like men”. I had enough of being repeatedly suspended and of new students being warned not to associate with me against threat of repercussions.
Those denials of my rights made me eager to fight and understand why my sexuality and gender were an issue everywhere I went. This is how I started investigating, spending all my pocket money, deep diving the internet in cafes. When I found out that homosexuality was illegal not only in Uganda but in other parts of Africa and the world too, I was in shock and decided that I had to do something about it.
That was the turning point where I officially became an activist and created my organisation. The media contributed a lot to this kick-start by publishing articles about my fight. This visibility helped a lot, quickly the organisation grew bigger since many people who identified to the LGBTQI cause then joined me. Together, we would paint the city pink!
When you won the Martin Ennals Award in 2011, you declared “I don’t think you can ever give up on human rights, in anyway whatsoever”. Has your opinion changed since then?
My opinion has not changed and will never change. As long as there are human beings, there will be human rights violations and abuses. And the more the world develops, the more injustices there will be. It is our duty to continue to fight against these and to never stop defending human rights for all.
Uganda’s 2019 Sexual Offenses Bill (SOB) triggered your ire and that of the international community. Why?
Let me start by saying the SOB was born out of good intentions. But sadly, what was meant to be a long-awaited bill to protect survivors of sexual abuse, harassment and exploitation had been hijacked by misogynist, homophobic and sexist manoeuvres. For example, some clauses of the failed Ugandan Anti- Homosexuality Act (AHA) from 2014 were re-injected into the SOB. This distorted the original good faith of the bill and undermined its integrity. Furthermore, it brought down all the hard work done by LGBTQI activists in Uganda over the last few years for more freedom, safety and dignity for sexual minorities, including gay and queer persons.
What can be done to make a shift now that the Parliament has adopted the bill?
Now that the SOB has been adopted by the Parliament, it only needs the President’s approval to become an Act. What can still be done now is to lobby the public and the President to send back the Bill to Parliament for review. The President has indeed the power to form an independent team to review the bill and its consequences, particularly those of clause 11 which forbids same-sex activities. Attention should also be paid to the vague terminology used in the SOB regarding the definition of violations, which leaves room for too many interpretations that could lead to further violations of citizens’ rights, for example by overzealously criminalizing sexual practices. However, the Bill can still stand if it is revised, so let’s not destroy what was well intended.
What is your message to Uganda’s LGBTQI+ community in this context?
I sympathize with all the LGBTQI+ activists who are disappointed with the SOB right now. Yes, it is disappointing that we must, once again, fight so hard for our rights. But let’s remember where we started and how far we have travelled. We will fight for this Bill to be revised just like we fought AHA in 2014. Let’s not despair, keep focused and stand united in our fight.
And what is your message to the international community wanting to provide support?
Allow me to express my gratitude to the many partners and friends from all over the world for always standing by us. We couldn’t have gone so far without them. However, the past has also shown that, sometimes, more harm than good is done in the name of “support”. I would therefore like to remind the international community of the importance of always consulting local actors first. Consult with us on the best strategy to adopt or on the best messages to shape. Sometimes quiet diplomacy is the way to go, other times a lot of noise is needed… Different situations require different solutions, and local people always know what is best for them. This principle applies to anyone wanting to support any cause in the world.