Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera: “I am no longer criminal, today we have made history”

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera

Some days the news is good. Today, that’s the case from Uganda. Last December, when the Uganda Parliament passed `ethics laws’, that, using the most vague and hence lethal language, threatened the LGBT communities with life in prison while also outlawing miniskirts, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, founder of FAR-Uganda, Freedom and Roam Uganda; Julian Pepe Onziema and Frank Mugisha, leaders of SMUG, Sexual Minorities of Uganda; joined forces with Professor Joe Oloka-Onyango, MP Fox Odoi-Oywelowo, veteran journalist Andrew Mwenda, Prof. Morris Latigo, Dr. Paul Nsubuga Ssemugoma, indigenous civil society organizations, the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) and the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD). Together, they sued the Attorney General. Today, they won. The constitutional court declared the passing of the anti homosexuality bill into an act as null and void.

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera and all the activists know the struggle is not over. They know that the LGBT communities, and especially their leaders, will be attacked with even greater vehemence. According to Kasha Jacqueline, “Many people are going to retaliate and attack community members. People are going to retaliate — not just the members of parliament and anti-gay groups and religious leaders, but in the community as well.”

But they know something else as well. You only win by pushing back and pushing forward. Kasha Jacqueline knows in advance that the government will petition the decision, as it did instantly. She knows that same-sex relationships, again still codified in the most ambiguous and hence lethal language, is still illegal. But she knows as well the great work of having faced down the State, the President, the Parliament, and everyone else who said she must just die, and the sheer joy of hearing the phrase “null and void.” The actions of those who would nullify her, of those who cast her into the void, are now null and void.

And Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera can laugh and cry and say, “I am no longer criminal, today we have made history for generations to come”. Some days, thanks to the work of women like Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, the news is good. Today is one of those days.


(Photo Credit: https://orgs.law.harvard.edu/womeninspiringchange/)


Amnesty has never meant freedom

Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, members of Pussy Riot, walked out of prison today. This is good news, but it’s not freedom. Freedom does not exist where whole populations live in fear of State mandated, sponsored, or instigated terror. Gay and lesbian individuals and populations, from Moscow to Kampala, know this all too well. Ask Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera about life in Uganda, and she will not talk about “freedom.” She will talk about the struggle for freedom, the long hard walk to a freedom dreamt of but not in sight. Ask those, like Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova, who suddenly leave prison if they feel “free.” They may feel joyful and relieved to be on the outside, however precariously, but they do not feel free. They remember too much.

President Obama recently “pardoned” and “commuted” a few sentences. He talked a little about the unfairness of some aspects of the so-called War on Drugs. He didn’t mention that he has the lowest pardon rate of any President in recent history. He didn’t mention the bodies piling up in prisons and jails across the country.

He certainly didn’t mention Karen Sandoval, originally from Honduras, who lives in constant fear and terror. He didn’t mention the terror of a rigid “immigration enforcement policy” that rips families and communities apart, that rends hearts and souls and sometimes minds, and, not incidentally, that targets women – as undocumented individuals, as those left to clean up and care for those, and in particular the children, `left behind’, and, when incarcerated, as those most vulnerable to sexual abuse and violence from staff.

In Spain, the conditions in immigration detention centers, in the notorious centros de internamiento de extranjeros, or CIEs, are infamously toxic. What’s the anwer? Build more! Put one on every corner. In Italy, the vicious conditions of immigration detention centers are so bad they have inspired prisoners to sew their lips shut, in protest. They say these are worse than prisons “or any other place”. In these prisons, “people … are treated like animals.”

None of this is new. We have seen the sewn lips before, and we have turned away. We have each time taken an oath to forget. That’s what amnesty is, that’s what amnesty was at its origin. Once a year, those who committed violence in the name of preservation of the democratic State, would gather, each year at the same time in the same place, and would take an oath to forget. That is why the State, from its earliest, feared the mothers in mourning, the mothers who refused to forget, who howled their remembrances in words and deeds.

Amnesty has never meant freedom. Ask those who remember.


(Photo Credit: CalvertJournal.com)

Uganda’s Christmas gift? Homophobia, violence, pogrom, witch-hunt

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera. Clare Byarugaba. Julian Pepe Onziema. Frank Mugisha. Geoffrey Ogwaro. These are the names of the most prominent gay activists in Uganda today, and they are under attack. Today, the Ugandan Parliament passed legislation, `ethics laws’, that threaten the LGBT communities with life in prison, and do so using the most vague, and hence most lethal, language. The law also outlaws mini-skirts. Of course. Because really, the biggest problems facing Uganda today are homosexuality and hemlines.

Three years ago Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, Julian Pepe Onziema, and David Kato sued a Ugandan tabloid for its “Hang the Gays” series in which it posted names, addresses, pictures of individuals reputed to be “gay”. Remarkably, they won the case.

Remarkably as well, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera helped found FAR-Uganda, Freedom and Roam Uganda; while Julian Pepe Onziema and David Kato led SMUG, Sexual Minorities of Uganda. David Kato was brutally murdered in January 2011.

Since then, the struggle for an end to the pogrom against LGBT people has waxed and waned, often deeply influenced by outside funders, and in particular those from the United States.

Gay activists organized and pushed back. For example, when the Minister for Ethics and Integrity broke up a gay rights workshop, run by FAR-Uganda, they sued. In fact, that case is meant to be decided next month. We’ll see.

This bill had been sitting in Parliament for two years. Last year, House Speaker Rebecca Kadaga promised passage as a “Christmas gift,” and today she delivered. No matter that the Parliament may not have had a proper quorum, no matter that proper procedures were scanted. What matters is “the gift.” After passing the bill, Parliament passed a motion thanking the House Speaker for “the gift.” Parliament was very excited to receive its gift.

And now the witch-hunt proceeds to the next level. Clare Byarugaba, of the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, put it directly: “You need to deal with your personal security. Whereas we’d rather stay and fight, but we know that people in power are way too powerful, and they can push their agendas at any level. So, rather than be witch hunted in the country that I’ve grown up in, that I love, it would be important for me to get out of the country and re-strategise on the future of gay rights in Uganda.”

 Clare Byarugaba


(Photo Credit 1: PRI) (Photo Credit 2: BBC)

Not just another murder, Brenda Namigadde

On February 4, 2006, almost five years ago, Zoliswa Nkonyana, “a young Khayelitsha lesbian”, was chased by a group of 20 or so young men. When they caught up with her, they clubbed, kicked and beat her to death. They tortured her to death for being lesbian, for being openly lesbian, for being a woman, for being.

It took two weeks for the news of her brutal murder to finally reach the media. The police didn’t make much of the death or its circumstances. The press in Khayelitsha, five years ago as today, is marked largely by its absence. It was `just another murder.’

Five years later, the case is still open, the trial is not yet finalized. Memorials will take place, no doubt, protests and commemorations.

Yesterday, January 26, 2011, gay rights activist David Kisule Kato was brutally murdered in Mukono, Kampala, Uganda. Kato was the advocacy officer for Sexual Minorities Uganda. Along with Julian Pepe Onziema and Kasha Jacqueline, Kato had recently won a case against Rolling Stone, restraining it from publishing photos and names of gay men and lesbian women. The High Court ruled that the tabloid violated the rights to privacy and safety. This time the news of the murder spread quickly. The Kampala police claimed, almost immediately, that they’re on the case.

In both instances, and so many others, the assault is on the right to public being, the right to access as gay men and lesbian women, to public spaces, to common and shared experiences, to mutual recognition.

Brenda Namigadde is a woman from Uganda. She fled Uganda in 2003 after her house was destroyed and her life was threatened … because her life partner was a woman. Namigadde fled to the United Kingdom, where she sought asylum. She was turned down, because of insufficient proof of `being lesbian’. Now Namigadde sits in Yarl’s Wood, and awaits, in terror, to be deported to Uganda.

One way to honor the memory of Zoliswa Nkonyana, of David Kato, of all the other gay men and lesbian women who have been brutalized, tortured, murdered, for the sin of being gay in public, for the sin of sharing their love in the common and shared spaces, is to make sure that Brenda Namigadde and other gay and lesbian asylum seekers are not transported back to the House of Death. If not, then Zoliswa Nkonyana, David Kato, and all the others, they’re just another murder.


(Mosaic of Zoliswa Nkonyana by Ziyanda Majozi. Thanks to inkanyiso.org)