'Call Me Kuchu' - the secret world of Uganda's LGBT rights activists

When we started filming Call Me Kuchu, our documentary about David Kato, the first openly gay man in Uganda, 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 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual (LGBT) community in Uganda shows Kampala's 'kuchus' - a Swahili term many LGBT individuals there identify with - as powerless, and rather miserable subjects of a dismal fate. But while Uganda's 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!'

'A luta continua'

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, adopted as something of a mantra by David and Uganda's LGBT activist community: 'a luta continua', or 'the struggle continues'.

Later this week, Call Me Kuchu will be released in cinemas around the UK and Ireland. Tonight, we'll be launching it in London with Naome Ruzindana, an activist featured in the film, and a close friend of David Kato. While our film highlights David’s incredible life and work and the courageous efforts of Kampala's kuchus in recent years, we will be emphasizing that the fight is most certainly not over.

 

The work's 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, and with crucial support from Amnesty International, David and his fellow activists have worked tirelessly to change their 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 Evangelist Scott Lively, respectively.

One of the reasons people like UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon are talking about LGBT rights is in part due to the relentless dedication of the LGBT community in Uganda. As a result, Call Me Kuchu is a 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.

Beyond Uganda

This isn’t just a Ugandan struggle. Homosexuality is currently illegal in 76 countries; it's punishable by death in five countries; and homophobic laws have been recently introduced in countries around the world - including 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 urgent international effort to protect the human rights of LGBT people around the world and to support the human rights defenders like those featured in the film, who are demanding basic rights for their communities.

As David would say, 'a luta continua'.

Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall are the filmmakers behind feature documentary Call me Kuchu.

Call Me Kuchu is on general cinema release from 2 November 2012, and available to buy on DVD or download from 24 February 2013.

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