Africa and LGBT Rights with Kasha Jacqueline

Jacqueline Kasha, a Ugandan activist and founder of ‘Freedom and Roam Uganda’ (FARUG), a lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersexual rights organization in a country where homosexuality is criminalized, addresses the 3rd Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.

Full remarks

Karin S. Woldseth: 

Meseveni set up a commission to investigate possible implications of the law with a recommendation to shelf it. However, it is still being discussed in the parliament in Uganda as such. It is estimated that out of the total population of 31 million people in Uganda, about 500,000 are LGBTI. That is half a million people being seen as criminals just because of their sexual orientation. One of those brave person[s] is Jacqueline Kasha, founder and director of Freedom and Roam Uganda, the only LGBTI organization in the country. I introduce to you, Jacqueline Kasha.

Jacqueline, you have the floor.

Jacqueline Kasha: 

Thank you, I think I’ll use the podium. I’m glad to be here, because speaking on the floor, after listening this morning to all these powerful testimonies and experiences from great speakers, makes me really know that some of us are lucky. Some of us think that our experiences are very unique. But listening to people who have been detained, people who have been tortured, because of standing up to make this world a better place, gives some of us more strength to know that not all hope is lost; people are still standing out there and they are ready to make this place a better world. So I’m honored to stand on the same podium with such people and I’m grateful to be standing here and sharing some of my experiences and also some of the experiences my friends go through. 

So I’ll start my presentation by once again introducing myself. I’m Kasha Jacqueline, from Uganda. I come from a very, very beautiful country with a population of about 31 [million], as she said. […] We have a population of about 31 million people. Out of those 31 [million], half a million are perceived to be homosexual and criminals. I happen to be one of them. 

And it’s not only in Uganda; there are many countries in Africa criminalizing homosexuals. It’s only South Africa that legalizes same sex marriages. But regardless of the positive progressive laws in South Africa, there’s still a lot of violence, there’s still a lot of hate crimes. And it’s not only in South Africa, it’s all over Africa. 

In Uganda we have an anti-homosexuality bill. We have a lot of support that has come from the international community [to oppose the bill] that you can see here. This anti-homosexuality bill was introduced in 2009 in the parliament, because we have penalties ranging from 7 years, to 14 years, to life imprisonment for being homosexual but in Uganda they feel that these are very weak laws and so they are proposing the death penalty. They feel that life imprisonment is still very weak and so a member of parliament introduced this tough law, to the extent of even proposing penalties for just failing to report a suspected homosexual. 

There was a lot of international outcry as you can see; there are many people outside Uganda, in Africa, in Europe, in the States, who condemned this bill. And it did not go well even in Uganda because of the support we got from the international community. Ugandans were very furious. Homosexuality is un-African. Homosexuality is a Western influence. And that’s why you see there are very many people outside Africa who are  supporting these “criminals.” 

The bill caused a lot of unrest in the country because the international community is talking about [how] you cannot do this because it is against the international standards. In Uganda they say, “It’s our culture; we cannot allow homosexuals.” Until the President came out and said, “I think that we need to go slow on the issue of the anti-homosexuality bill because it’s a foreign policy issue.” That was a very powerful statement coming from the President, because he had recognized that the world is watching. It’s not something they thought would happen, they thought they would just introduce this bill and it passes in two or three days, because if they have interest in any bill, they do that in Uganda.

This bill caused a lot of issues, it caused a lot of homophobia that was even covered in Uganda. The media began witch-hunting homosexuals because of the international support we had got[ten]. 

So last year in October, one of the many tabloids that had been exposing homosexuals, this time called for the hanging of homosexuals. They said they are here, they are sick with HIV, and they are coming here to infect your children, they are after your children, so hang them. They told the public to hang [them]. 

This was all over the streets of Kampala. Many people appeared in this newspaper, about four pages [long]. People lost their jobs. People were evicted from their homes. People were expelled from schools and very many things. Some have families, their children were harassed at school for appearing in this tabloid. 

But this tabloid was not the first time that homosexuals were being exposed in the media, but it went ahead and told people to hang us. This is exactly what the bill is proposing; a death penalty. And indeed, even Ugandans, who did not mind about homosexuals, woke up this time. Because they’ve told them, “Homosexuals are evil. Homosexuals are after your children. Hang them!” We said, “enough is enough,” and we sued this tabloid, myself and two other colleagues. 

Earlier this year, we won the case in the High Court. There was an injunction because we said, “it may be illegal according to your laws to be homosexual, but you did not have the right to incite violence, to expose our privacy, our names, where we stay, where we work, where we go and have fun. We’re exposed in this newspaper.” So whoever wanted to hurt you, knew exactly where to find you. We won the court case in January. But that did not stop the violence that this paper had exposed and incited. 

And indeed, two weeks after we won the court case, one of my colleagues who was in the suit, who happened to appear on the front page of this newspaper, was murdered in cold blood. After appearing on the front page of this newspaper, after they exposed where we stay, where we go every day, someone followed him and hit him on the head three times. David is gone. He has not lived to see the liberation he’s been fighting for. Many of us are going to follow and these are questions we ask: Who is next? 

At David’s funeral, the minister who was requested to come and say the final prayers for David to go and rest in peace, instead, turned against us. He began condemning David in his coffin. He began telling all of us who were at the burial, how we are going to be next, how we should repent. I’ve never heard of this in any culture in the world. This is the only time, even if you’ve been the worst person on earth, this is the only time people say good things about you. But this man was not shameful. He condemned us at the burial. The village was supporting him. We almost got attacked. But we did not give up. We said we have to send David in respect. And so we shut up the priest; we shut up the priest and sent him away. And then talked to one of our allies who has been excommunicated from Church for supporting our cause, the bishop you see there, and he took over the ceremony and David was laid to rest. 

But that is sending us a very strong, strong message. Who is next? […] After burial, the government was the first people to come out and distance any relation of a hate crime in David’s murder. But the words of the priest I had at David’s funeral, half of David’s brain I saw on his bed, the dead bodies I saw in the mortuary when I went to pick him up, will never be forgotten. But where do I go to make sure that this never happens again? 

These structures that are supposed to protect me, are the structures that are violating me. You go to [the] police to report a case, you’re instantly subjected to harassment, to assault, just because of who you are. And you tell them: It’s as simple as that. You may like beans, I may like meat, but why don’t we fight over this? Why do we have to fight simply because I have a different sexual orientation? Or, I have a different sexual lifestyle? Sexuality? Why is it different from the beans and the beef? Why does it have to be like that? 

People don’t get it in Uganda. When we try to go to the media, to sensitize them, the media houses are closed down, the hosts are suspended. And you know what happens? For them, they go out to send their message very clear. Ours was censored. Theirs, even [the] police protects them. They go out and carry out their hateful messages in different parts of the country. Almost every month. There’s a demonstration. Led by who? Ministers, Priests, Members of Parliament. But for Kasha to even just ask for 30 minutes to speak to the masses, just to sensitize them about us, is illegal. It’s unheard of. And that’s why this bill is being introduced. So that I can’t even stop going back on national TV and say, “This is who I am. These are our issues.” They’re trying to make that even illegal. Because right now they have nothing to hold against me by standing up. But this is not only the adults. 

Very many people say homosexuality is un-African. And even Africans say it’s un-African. Why? It’s because of our systems in school. You’re born in Uganda today, you grew up being told, “this is supposed to be this and this is what it’s going to be” in your head for the rest of your life. You wake up in the morning and you look at this when you’re a child. How will you change when you grow up? Look at these children! Look at these children! These are the future ministers in Uganda. The future doctors in Uganda. Future presidents of Uganda. But see how they are being brought up. No room for respect, no room for diversity. And what do we get? The death penalty. Why will this child grow up and propose the death penalty? Because he’s been brought up like that. 

We are happy to be here. I’m actually very happy to be here. Sitting in a very nice plane, sleeping in a very glamorous hotel, getting some money. But the day I have to pack and get back home, when I have to sit on that plane back home, it gets pretty scary because I don’t know what to expect. Such s platform is very good for us to solicit for solidarity, for support, to create awareness about issues. But that is not enough. What are all these people we meet in all these forums doing to help an activist back home like me to be able to continue my work? What is happening? 

We are in Geneva. I’ve been at the UN for the last two weeks and I’ve been asking the same question. Why isn’t the UN or the Human Rights Council holding our governments accountable? You bring all these conversions and all these states in the world sign up to them. And after they come and sit in the Council and they say, “we have to separate human rights,” which are more less important than the others because it’s against their culture. If It’s against their culture, then why did they sign in the first place? Why did they sign in the first place? And what is the UN doing about this? Why tell people to come up with all these conversions, put them there, tell governments to sign and they all sign, and then you cannot hold them accountable when they fail to abide [by] them. Why? We, people in Geneva today, what are we doing about this? 

We all know about Libya, what has been happening in Libya. But [in] Libya, everyone knew who Gaddafi was and they went ahead to elect him on the Human Rights Council. And now we’re all here feeling sorry. […] We are taking away from this. Why is it now? Yet we know we can avoid all these things. 

My government could have avoided my brother from dying. It could. And this is when it comes out and says, “we are going to carry out a fair and just investigation.” But after coming out, and telling the whole world that this has got nothing to do with a hate crime, yet, you saw the paper that called for the hanging, and they never held these people accountable. When the suspect was caught, [the] first thing they said, is exactly what the government said and the media in the press. Exactly what the media and the government said in the press is what he said after he had been arrested. What did they expect? Someone is out there and he’s saying that he has a lot of support from the media, from the government. Of course, he has to say what they’ve already said, because he knows their support. 

We could have avoided this and I know we can still avoid this. However, I’m still honored and happy to be here to share with you and I will stop so that I can give room for a dialogue between me and you. Thank you.


Karin S. Woldseth: 

Thank you, Jacqueline. We are honored to have you here. And thank you for sharing your story with us because I think all of us [are] touched by the story and it’s obvious that [there’s] a lot to do in Africa, and especially in Uganda, with killings and harassment. We should not allow that in 2011 anywhere in the world. 

But before we let the floor ask a question, I would like to ask you one. I’m a politician and I know there are a lot of politicians all over the world that actually want to help you. And Norway is one of the larger donor countries to Uganda as well. And I asked my minister what he was going to do about the death penalty and if he was thinking of doing some sanctions. Well, he didn’t. But I will ask you, what do you think we, as politicians all over, can do to help you to actually make the Ugandan authorities understand the seriousness of what they are planning or doing?

Jacqueline Kasha: 

Thank you for that question. Actually, there is a lot of support from the diplomatic missions and members of Parliament from around the world and Norway is indeed one of our strongest allies in Uganda. They help us organize meetings with other stakeholders and they’ve even had diplomatic meetings with our government and I believe it’s because of this support that they build up to now is still like, shelled and it’s not yet been discussed. Because I believe if we did not have this diplomatic support, [if] we did not have international solidarity, like some of the demonstrations that happened around the whole world, I don’t think he would have been able to show this bill as only Ugandans. Because in Uganda, there are a few people who believe that this bill is not needed. The majority of Ugandans, actually even right now, [are] accusing the government for failing to pass this bill. It’s over a year now and they’re asking the government what is happening. There is a petition in parliament from parents around the whole country who are telling the government, “Pass this bill immediately!” Demonstrations are going on. 

So for us to have embassies coming out, diplomatic missions, and President Obama recently came out and said something good and [inaudible] when he was still on came out and condemned. So having these voices around the whole world is very, very strong and it helps us on the ground to know that, okay, the government is going to back off because there’s international pressure, And we have to remember, [in] Uganda, as much as we have our own laws, we are part of the international community. They also have to think about that.

Karin S. Woldseth: 

Thank you. I do have a little – it’s a small question. Or it’s not probably small. But do you see any improvement in the rest of Africa about this issue?

Jacqueline Kasha: 

The improvement will come. I know, it’s going to be a long, long, long journey, but the mere fact that these issues can be discussed now openly, is already improvement enough. Because before in Uganda, we were just talking and people were saying no, “Those are being paid to talk. Why don’t they come out and we see them? Why don’t they show their faces?” And then we came out and showed our faces. And there was a change, a shift of attitudes; people were like, “Oh, actually, they are real people.” They thought maybe we were green, or purple, or something like that. So we came out and showed our faces, which was not the issue before. So that already is improvement. 

These issues were never talked about in Uganda or in Africa but now the movement in Africa is strong, people are coming out and saying, “We are here, we are proud, and we are here to stay. This is what we want.” People are afraid of requesting or pleading, we are now demanding, because this is something that was robbed away from us that we want to get back. So we do not have time to request a lot. We have very peaceful ways of demanding for what we want. Because we cannot use violence to get what we want. We believe that is not the strategy. So there is improvement in Africa, the mere fact that people are out now talking about it, groups are formed up.

We all witnessed what happened in Malawi last year. There was solidarity from around the world, but the biggest solidarity came from Africans. African LGBT groups came out and said, we have to support our brothers and sisters. And we did it. So the mere fact that these issues are coming on [the] agenda is good enough. So I believe that the time will come, the time will come, I do not know if some of us will not be here, but time will come. And the fact that we’ve been given a chance to be part of this struggle when we still can, is good enough. So even if we never live to see freedom, at least, we are glad to be part of the struggle, part of the foundation for the future. So I’m hopeful time will come.

Karin S. Woldseth

Thank you so much. That’s at least good to hear. [Are] there any questions? No. Okay, there is one. Okay.

Question #2: 

Thank you very much for coming here and holding this speech and also for all the work you’re doing already. My name is Naomi Ichihara Røkkum, I’m the Vice President of International Federation of Liberal Youth. We’ve been also doing campaigns and working with LGBTQ through our campaign called, “Freedom to Be Yourself,” and so I’m really glad that you’re raising this issue. 

My question to you is how to tackle, what you mentioned, is often used as an argument, which is a politician saying that it’s not part of our culture. I’ve been in panel debates with politicians from different African nations and they often come back to this argument about, “it’s not part of our culture.” But I’ve also worked with certain organizations in Southern Africa, who are working on documenting how this has actually been part of different African cultures before colonial time. So I’m just wondering, in which way can NGOs and governments address this issue that politicians just continue on saying that “it’s not part of our culture” when there has been documentation and it has been part of different African cultures. Could you please make a comment on that? Thank you. 

Jacqueline Kasha: 

Where I come from, there’s documented history since 1886 from my great, great grandfather, because I come from the royal family, it’s documented everywhere. You can even go to Google, you’ll get more details, just put King Mwanga of Buganda. It’s documented. He was a homosexual, that’s how he identified himself. And this was before religion came to Uganda. This was before colonialists came to Uganda. And he lived his life and everyone knew that the king [was] like this. It was normal for the whole community, it was normal for the whole country that the king is like that. 

But when the colonialists came, they told the communities that it is wrong what is happening because he was not the only one, there were very many; “what you’re doing is wrong.” And so they came with their laws and made homosexuality illegal. It’s them. Why would you make something that you have not formed illegal? They formed it there and made it illegal. If they had not formed it there, I don’t think we would have their laws. 

And then two years later, the missionaries came. We had our own traditional religions, which we used to believe in. Two years after the colonists came, the missionaries came. And they came with a Bible. They came with Christianity. And what the Bible came with it being a sin. And this is the religion they came to preach to people, at least in Uganda — and I know it’s not only Uganda. 

If you go and look at Uganda matters, this is a day that we celebrate every year [on] the 3rd of June. Even the late Pope Paul came to Uganda in 1993 to anoint these 32 young boys who were killed by this king, the so-called homosexual king. He killed these boys, because they had turned against him. The Christians and the missionaries made these boys turn against the king. And the king was furious. And he killed them. Because they said, “we cannot practice what has been practiced, because they said, it’s wrong, it’s illegal, it’s a sin.” And he burnt them alive. He burnt them alive. This story is documented in history. It’s brought [to] the surface every 3rd of June in Uganda and every Ugandan knows, we still have people who are practicing same sex relationships. We don’t know what they want to call it; these names of homosexuality, lesbian, and whatnot, we’ve also just learned them, that that’s what they’re called. We have them in our local languages. Where did they come from if we did not have it. These things are documented.

The President himself last year, when he was addressing the youth, he told the youth, “Well, this issue of homosexuality has been there. But people never used to put it out in the open. They never used to just be persecuted.” The President acknowledged this and [is still] telling the youth, I don’t want to hear you marrying fellow men or fellow women, because now it’s not proper. Meaning he knows it was there. They all know, even the people who are condemning us using the Bible, they all know that the Bible is un-African. 

The African cultural tradition I know is communal, where we all sit under the tree, under a fire, eat together, drink together, and sing together. The African culture I know does not hate. People never used to have the Bible, but they’re using the Bible now to condemn us. The computers they’re using to write all these hateful emails are not African. The clothes they’re wearing are not African. So then you know that traditions are moving on, and moving on, and moving on. The language, the words “homophobia,” are not African. But they’re not talking about all this, they choose where to see. So really, we all know it, we just don’t want to believe. We just want to choose what we want to believe. 

But we all know that the issue of homosexuality does not have to be African or Western; the issue of homosexuality is universal. It’s not Asian; it’s not Sudanese; it’s not Ugandan. It’s universal. As long as we are human beings, we are all bound to have diversities, we are all bound to speak different languages because we cannot all be the same. 

And that’s why today I’m sitting here in a different capacity. You’re sitting there in a different capacity. We cannot be the same, even these fingers are not the same. They are separate. And this is why many African people, many people around the world are failing. 

People came from the US to come and preach homophobia in Uganda. And after they say that it’s westernized, yet it’s the American evangelists who came down to Uganda to help draft this bill. They imported their homophobia from the west and put it to Uganda and told the members of parliament, “Homosexuals are taking over your country. Deal with them!” So which of the two is Western? They did not come and tell the Ugandans, “let homosexuals be free.” They came on to Ugandans to criminalize homosexuality. So it’s the other way around.

Karin S. Woldseth: 

Okay, thank you, Jacqueline. I guess the time just left us. We could probably sit here for another hour to listen to this very interesting and very moving work that you are doing and I will personally thank you for what you are doing and for the brave work you’re doing. And I hope you will stay among us for a really long time. Continue the very, very important work that you do, for humanity actually. So thank you very much.

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