Here we have an interview by the amazing long time LGBTI activist, editor of Bombastic Magazine, co-founder of Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG), Ugandan Lesbian Feminist Troublemaker and all round epic titan Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera.
What is it like being called ‘the founding mother’ of Uganda’s LGBT movement?
Kasha Jacqueline : For me, it is just great to contribute to the creation of spaces for sexual minorities in Uganda. Especially as I was personally, somewhat, in a place of comfort and not facing many of the problems my peers had. The community had problems like homelessness, dropping out of school, rejection etc. so I used the privilege I had to do what I could. My family never rejected me and so I took advantage of that to create a space for belonging for others.
Does your high profile nature affect your romantic relationships?
KJ: It doesn’t. Although in many cases, it puts a lot of pressure on my partners. They worry about my safety and that of our families. The nature of my work also stresses them because I am always on the move or engaged in risky projects for the movement.
You reside in Uganda, even following several anti-gay campaigns. Have you ever considered ‘jumping ship’ and leaving Uganda since being such a presence within the LGBTI scene you would be internationally welcomed?
KJ: To be sincere it has never crossed my mind. Even when I was evacuated in 2005 to South Africa, I thought of it as a time to get rest and recuperation; and I couldn’t wait to get back to the action on ground. I left again in 2011 after the death of David Kato but at the time, I wanted to be with my community more than ever. I knew though that it was in everyone’s best interest- especially mine- for safety reasons. I know my colleagues, who have since left, had to make one of the hardest decisions of their lives. Sometimes there is no use staying in a place where you are not at peace. I hope that the little peace I have now will remain or even increase, for I dread having to consider the decision to leave Uganda.
You and David Kato sued Rolling Stone for violation of human rights, and continue to fight for the rights of gay Ugandans. Besides the legislation and public crucification, what do you feel are the most pressing issues for the LGBT community? In Uganda and the rest of Africa?
KJ: Family. I know that family and community rejection are some of the most pressing issues affecting LGBT communities. We are talking about moments where a person cannot even go to the shops or get out of their rented room. They cannot even get in touch with their families because they have been given an ultimatum. I have engaged with so many people in these kinds of situations. It is depressing.
Then there is the issue of health. This is not just HIV/AIDS but also mental health issues. In many communities that I have interacted with on the African continent, substance and alcohol abuse is rampant. People suppress their emotions with drugs and alcohol which later expose them to abuse and violations.
Physical and sexual assault are also big issues. Even worse, many survivors will never take their cases through the justice system for fear of exposure and more abuse from both state and non-state actors. This makes it more difficult to curb.
Lastly, unemployment which leads to unwanted sex trade, unsafe living conditions, exploitation and self-rejection.
There was Sappho Islands. And now you have a magazine, Bombastic. What are the plans for the magazine?
KJ: Sappho Island was a pub I opened, not for profit, but to create a safe social space for my community. I was tired of waking up to intense emails every Monday morning after a lovely weekend telling horrendous stories of how members were thrown out of pubs for simply dancing together or they were beaten for being cozy in a pub. I was personally denied the use toilets every time I went out. I was tired. So I decided to open this place where this time whoever didn’t like what they saw, it was them that had to get out. I am planning to open it again as soon as I find a safe place.
Bombastic is a project of Kuchu Times, a media platform This media platform is a Radio, Television and Website where lived realities will be shared. There will be debates, discussions, stories, movies/documentaries and it will also act as a one-stop site for allies, scholars, students, families and friends, researchers, activists and well wishers. We are hoping that this platform will attract a lot of anti-gay groups whom we hope to teach something about the struggles of LGBT people and communities in the hope to change negative attitudes but also act as a platform for sensitization within and outside the LGBT community. The first issue of Bombastic was funded through crowdfunding, and we hope to have more issues. The site is still functioning with an active viewership.
Please tell us a little about being expelled for your sexual orientation during school? How did they find out, what happened? How did you feel?
KJ: Writing love letters and sharing beds but mostly because I never hide my feeling for other girls in school. I openly lived my lesbian life and that got me suspended and expelled from many schools. It didn’t feel good because I could see it was taking a toll on my parents who had to look for new schools all the time. I am really blessed that they never gave up on me.
What advice would you give young people within Uganda and the continent in general on tackling homophobes?
- Never be embarrassed to stand up for what you believe in, no matter how unpopular it is.
- Always seek advice from older peers before making irrational decisions.
- 3. Be ready for the challenge. It will not be an easy road but never give up until you achieve your vision.
- Violence is never the answer. Peaceful means are slow but they will save you from many unfortunate situations.
- 5. Never walk alone. The movement is bigger than one person so always bring others on board. Everyone has something to offer the struggle.
- Don’t sit back and wait for others to do the work. One of my favorite quotes is: “if your voice is not heard, you are silent.”
Do you feel people need to ‘come out of the closet?’
JK: Having never been in any closet, I wouldn’t know firsthand. I don’t know if I would have been in a closet had I known it wasn’t okay to be gay. However, with my vast experience working with many, many people who have been, I would say it is a personal decision. And, coming out should always be determined by the person in the closet because only they know how stuffed their closet is and how much space they will occupy when they get out. No one should ever be forced out.
When you aren’t being the queen of campaigning, what do you do?
KJ: (Laughs) “Queen of campaigning”. Nice. Well I am not really into a lot of physical stuff although I like to watch rugby and soccer. I love playing scrabble and chess, watching movies and most of all partying with friends, family, guests or even just by myself. I am known to party alone even when my housemates are busy in the house. But mostly when I am not campaigning, I am thinking of a new initiative. I think I am addicted to new ideas. Most times it is because we get bored of the old initiatives and some new action is needed to wake us back up.
Catch Jacqueline on Twitter with @KashaJacqueline.