Browse Tag: Uganda

One Year After the Murder of David Kato, Uganda’s Parliament Resurrects “Kill the Gays” Bill

 It’s been a little over a year since the brutal murder of David Kato, an LGBT activist who was hailed by many as the father of the gay rights movement in Uganda. David was bludgeoned to death in his home on January 26th, 2011, shortly after winning a lawsuit against a magazine which published the names and photographs of alleged gay rights activists (including David) and called for them to be executed.

The newspaper article had taken a cue from Uganda’s 2009 “Kill the Gays” bill, also known as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (AHB), which prescribes the death penalty for the “crime” of being gay or HIV-positive, and prison sentences for friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances who believe someone is homosexual but does not immediately report them to authorities.

Many feared a genocide of LGBT Ugandans were the bill to pass, and thus the murder of David Kato sparked international outrage. Human rights activists all over the world put pressure on Uganda’s government to dismiss the bill (which ran out of time before it could be voted on in parliament). The call for a “credible and impartial investigation” of Kato’s murder was answered with a small measure of bittersweet justice when Sidney Nsubuga Enoch received a sentence of 30 years for the crime.

But now, the draconian bill which began the chain reaction that led to David Kato’s death is back. A copy of Uganda’s Parliament Order Paper, dated February 7, 2012, has been making its way around the internet. Though, the government’s official spokeswoman maintains that the Ugandan government is “not interested” in the bill and that Cabinet had made its stand on the bill clearly last year by rejecting it, David Bahati, the senator who is sponsoring the bill, claims that the Ugandan government cannot influence his bill because it is a private members bill and as such, property of parliament and not Cabinet.

The return of the “Kill the Gays” bill is a major concern for Ugandan LGBT activists, but many have vowed to continue their struggle:

Amid the fuss over the re-introduction in parliament of the bills on Tuesday the activists put up a spirited defence for inclusion of homosexuals in the country’s National HIV/Aids response.

The HIV bill was challenged in April 2011 with a petition to Parliament by gay rights activists, contesting the exclusion of homosexuals from HIV/Aids prevention and control programmes.

This contentious bill was reintroduced alongside the anti-gay bill on Tuesday and has been put on the Parliamentary Order Paper that outlines priority Bills for discussion.

As the ongoing battle for LGBT tolerance in Uganda continues, activists abroad are also lending their support by leveraging media to spark critical conversations about LGBT rights in Uganda.

For instance, Val Kalende, a Ugandan journalist who was fired from her job for speaking out against the bill and was forced to relocate to the United States, reflects on her blog:

The death of David Kato has galvanized a breed of new activism and synergies in the Ugandan LGBT community. On my recent visit to Uganda, I met and interacted with a number of young activists and organizations whose joining the movement was a response to the death of this great activist. The movement has certainly grown bigger and stronger thanks to ongoing organizing by the Uganda Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law. It is encouraging to know that what began as a make-shift entity to respond to the Anti-Homosexuality bill has not only become proactive in action but more grounded in a multi-dimensional sexual rights advocacy. Members of the coalition feel that it is time to move Beyond the Anti-Homosexuality bill and build a movement of sexual rights activists who will influence policy and change repressive laws that hinder the freedom of sexual minorities.

Meanwhile, on February 11th, Call me Kuchu, a film by Malika Zouhali-Worrall and Katherine Fairfax Wright about David Kato’s life as the first openly gay man in Uganda will premier at the Berlin Film Festival:

Call Me Kuchu examines the astounding courage and determination required not only to battle an oppressive government, but also to maintain religious conviction in the face of the contradicting rhetoric of a powerful national church. As we paint a rare portrait of an activist community and its antagonists, our key question explores the concept of democracy: In a country where a judiciary increasingly recognizes the rights of individual kuchus, yet a popular vote and daily violence threaten to eradicate their rights altogether, can this small but spirited group bring about the political and religious change it seeks?

Via a series of presentation and panel discussions, the filmmakers have already been using the film to facilitate critical conversations about Uganda’s LGBT movement’s strategy. One of their hopes for the film is that it will become an accessible platform through which human rights activists from all walks of life can engage policy makers — perhaps even the “Kill Bill” sponsor, David Bahati — and hopefully arm LGBT Ugandans with the tools to fight against further criminalization, not just from a legal perspective, but from a human one as well.

Check out the trailer:

Call Me Kuchu – Trailer from Call Me Kuchu on Vimeo.

A Letter To My Plagiarist

As National Poetry Month draws to a close, I thought it only appropriate to post this response to the plagiarist who thought they could get away with stealing my words.

I admit that I wrestled with responding at all; the pain of knowing that a fellow African LGBT activist, who I knew personally, had done this to me was a lot to bear. In the wake of David Kato’s murder, a prominent LGBT Ugandan activist that was murdered in January, the last thing that I needed — that the Queer African movement needed — was internal conflict. Aside from the infuriating suggestions from people (including other writers– wow) that I “let it slide for the greater good”, I just couldn’t shake the feeling, that my words — the only things I have in this world — had been taken from me. I felt violated.

At one point, I had to say it out loud to believe it, “I’ve just been plagiarized, blatantly, by someone who knows me.” Seriously, verbatim. This woman (who was a journalist so couldn’t claim to not know better) had lifted a whole three paragraphs from the blog post I’d written about David Kato and read it as part of a speech in public forum (at a vigil held in NYC in his honor – starts at 2:00 min), no citation, no credit, no mention that her speech even contained excerpts from an ‘unnamed’ source. I found out in the worst way possible, on effin Twitter. I happened to click on a link to video coverage of the event she spoke at in NYC and there she was, speaking my words verbatim, being so inspiring it took me a few takes to realize why her words resonated so much… they were mine. Wow.

Of course I confronted her about it. I sent her a very nice but stern email that said I know what she’d done and I was giving her a window to take responsibility, apologize, and do something about it i.e. email the media outlets that quoted her with my words in my mouth and ask them to make corrections AND post in a public place (her blog for instance) that she’d taken my words without permission and was going to give appropriate credit to make it right.

At first she apologized and agreed to make things right, but then she did a switcharoo, all of a sudden getting annoyed that I was making all these “demands” of her and decided she was going to investigate on her own if she’d actually done anything wrong. Despite her new-found confidence in barreling through the issue without taking responsibility, I gave her several more chances after that. But all she ended up doing, to add insult to injury, was put up this deliberately condescending message about how trials as an activist on the day she had to give that speech, and oh by the way here’s this person Spectra who writes about Africa even though she doesn’t live there, and here is a link to her blog. I’m linking her here to “lift her up with visibility.” I was LIVID. But also incredibly hurt.

The experience, I admit, shook me. I only just realized recently that I hadn’t been writing and sharing as much content online. The fear of violation like that again, even the fear of being accused of not thinking about the “bigger picture” (i.e. going after a ‘fellow’ whatever) held me back; it become a subconscious trigger anytime I was about to post something online. I’m a writer first before anything else. I don’t want my words stolen. And certainly not from people who claimed to love, admire, care about me. But I’m done with the silence. It’s stifling. I’ll have no more of it.

Aren’t I the person that always tells it like it is, regardless of which ‘community’ I’m supposed to be aligned it? Aren’t I miss warrior woman, outspoken, no-bullshit, no-nonsense, no tolerance for injustice? If I don’t stand up to a bloody cyber plagiarist, then I fail all those people I’m constantly encouraging to speak up — writers, artists who believe their work is important enough to protect, to value, activists who feel trapped by petty politics, anyone who’s ever felt betrayed or violated by people that are supposed to be supporting them.

We must speak out against bad behavior, even within our movements. In doing so, we will find strength and healing we didn’t know was there, like I have. It is too important that we hold our communities — and each other — accountable, lest we begin to silence among ourselves.


Dear Plagiarist,

I must admit, you swept me off my feet.
Charmed me with flattery,
used words like “passionate”, “prolific”,
game changer, you seduced me,
sanctioned the urgency in my voice
just when I’d’ begun to shrink under the weight of accusations,
“aggressions unwarranted,” they said
even though our people were dying;
this “angry black woman” was on the brink of depression when you showed up,
offering verbal bouquets in my mother tongue.
You spoke friend, and I listened,
awakened my senses so that I could smell the bullshit from these white people
who only loved me when I was tame,
only loved me when I was game for banter,
could only stomach me placed neatly between the black and white lines of their own agenda
— I spit at their podiums.

But you…
I felt like I knew you.
Your accent, thick with struggle through colonial diction,
that awkward ensemble of western clothing gave you away
an immigrant attempting to recreate themselves in a foreign country,
I stood under you when you needed uplifting,
welcomed you into my house, unsuspecting
I fed you. Nurtured you when I myself was starving,
simply because I was thankful for the company,
for the ability to lock eyes in a sea of white guys who misused the truth for their own gains;
“We are Africans, the longest surviving population on the planet,”
I proclaimed, “… and we don’t need saving.”
We need solidarity.

In the aftermath, I wrote:
“David Kato, in the face of violence, we must never abandon hope for fear.”
…in the face of violence, we must never abandon hope for fear,
and you cheered for me in private,
clapped your ashy hands at the gall of this Naija woman
to inspire healing through pain as ego clouded your vigil;
you pounded your fist on the table as I vowed to share the truth,
that these westerners preached too god damn much to listen,
gave our fathers reason to say, “Homophobia is a white man’s problem.”

So I didn’t mind when your sound bites
had bitten off too many of mine
We were sisters, and what was mine was yours,
but when I heard the media applaud your thievery I saw it plainly:
my sister had maimed me,
ripped words like cheap clothes from my naked body,
and waved them in the air for glory.
You betrayed me.
I didn’t see it coming.

But see, the thing about being a warrior woman
is that I’ve been bitten one time too many
by snakes disguised as allies standing right next to me;
You must bleed to beat the poison,
You must bleed to win.

Val Kalende — What, thought I wouldn’t put you on blast?

At your best you were a thief,
impostor playing journalist stealing other people’s stories,
media sob story turned professional token — you have lost your footing
and now, your head bows low enough to be petted by the same jokers I wipe the floor with,
the same cowards who cower under the bass of my voice when they piss me the fuck off.

…and trust me when I say, that I am pissed the fuck off.

If you thought I would go sulk in a corner
a good girl ashamed to report her abuser
for fear of being accused of seeking media attention
damaging your “stellar” reputation out of envy,
then you must not know me.

I am a warrior woman,
a freedom fighter, truth seeker,
liberator of all who’ve been double-crossed by oppression,
I will make an example of you.
Run and hide behind the podiums these white people have given you,
a house kennel for the stray dog that you are
— no rhetoric will shield you, no eulogy will save you —
You will NOT escape my wrath.

In Memory of David Kato: We Will NOT Abandon Hope for Fear

So what now?
Lay down our swords? Fight with armor instead?
Who will be left to fight when we all end up dead?
– Journal Entry, 1/27/11

Last night, I received the news from one of my peers that one of us, a fellow African and LGBT activist, David Kato, had been brutally murdered at his home in Uganda.

Something about the way I received the news cut more deeply than all the other hate crimes that the media covered last year: several email forwards from other LGBT African activists I knew, Facebook status updates from friends who knew him personally, text messages of condolences, missed skype phone calls…

A year ago, I would’ve been part of a community of activists that were “outraged” at such a terrible crime. I may have even written a post condemning the destructive influence of the tabloid paper which outed several gay Ugandans (by publishing their photos and addresses, with the words “Hang Them!”), and called for all of us to acknowledge the power of media, and to contribute our own voices so that we can influence change positively.

However, a year of aggressive networking, coalition building, and supportive friendships with other LGBT Africans, both in the US and outside of it, has placed me closer to the frontlines of the struggle for acceptance; the fact that there were just  two degrees of separation between my own life and David’s murder is a harsh reality I’m still trying to absorb. I no longer have the privilege of being a passionate spectator. I’m part of a global community of activists who are deeply saddened, in mourning, and filled with so much fear…

When I read the news, I immediately thought of one of my friends, who’s presently seeking asylum in the United States after escaping just what may have been just as brutal an outcome for her in Kenya last year. That was so close, I thought. I may have never known her. I thought about the power Nigeria had just given back to traditional rulers in the spirit of preserving culture and respecting older  traditions, an act that empowered one of the rulers in Abia (Ibo land, where my mother is from) to put forth a law not just ostracizing persons who are “confirmed homosexuals”, but stoning them to death as well. My grandfather still lives there and he doesn’t know about me.

I thought of the last conversation I had with my mother. She’d told me, “Don’t come home,” and I’d gotten so angry. How could she tell me not to return home to my own country? At the time, I admonished her for letting her fear of what others would say cloud her judgment. I was her daughter after all. If she loved me unconditionally as she said, she wouldn’t care what anyone else said. She’d support me, no matter what.

“Why do you have to play Moses?” she’d said to me when I told her about joining the board of the Queer African Youth Network and shared my plans for organizing in Nigeria. “Why do you always have to be the one championing  everything? I didn’t ask for this.” What I didn’t understand until last night, when I received the news of David’s murder, was that my mother wasn’t just afraid of what people would say about her; she was afraid of what people would do, to me.

After hearing about David’s brutal murder — his head bashed in with a hammer in his own home — I keep hearing her voice in my head. Her words are on loop, piercing my morale in different places. I’m still trying to come to terms with all of this.

I visit home once a year, and each time I do, I return with funny stories about feeling oppressed: being forced to wear dresses and loud earrings, suffering through silly kitchen table conversations about wives who don’t know how to prepare egwusi soup for their husbands, and of course being asked over and over again when I’m going to get married. The anecdotes are relatable enough; a girl from a small town in Maine or Kansas could report similar injustices over Thanksgiving dinner. I realize that I’ve only ever recounted these stories with humor because it’s too painful to talk about the fear I have of what might happen if I don’t smile through it all. As a result, what my friends routinely fail to grasp is the severity of the repercussions should this ‘small town girl’ refuse to conform. There are terrible consequences for being who you are and they’re way worse than being uninvited to next year’s Thanksgiving dinner.

I don’t get to just “do me” at home in a fit of individualist rebellion. I’d be risking way more than just societal acceptance, and even way more than just my life; by writing and speaking as much as I do, I’m already risking the safety and livelihood of my parents and my sister (who reside in Nigeria and depend on their social network for a variety of resources), and anyone else who stands by me.

So, what now? Do I cower at the thought of being murdered during a visit home? Shut down my blog and abandon all hope for fear? Do I give up on reuniting with my family for longer than two weeks at a time every couple of years, dreading that in the interim, someone will discover who I am and bring shame (or worse) to my family? Can I hide behind glass and watch from a distance as people all around me are dying, when my voice and visibility can at least offer support and affirmation that they are beautiful as they are and do not deserve the cruelties under which they are suffering…

I turn to a quote from a press release from the ILGA for inspiration:

[David said] ‘I can’t run away and leave the people I am protecting. People might die, but me, I will be the last one to run out of here’. “David Kato did not run, and he died. We cannot leave his work undone” Gloria Careaga stressed.

No doubt David’s brave words will resonate with activists and community organizers all over the world. His words along with Gloria’s call to action are enough to get me out of my rut, even though I am still sad, and still afraid. The truth is that even though, like so many other activists, I’m still trying to figure out my place in all of this, one thing is absolutely certain: I must do something. We must do something. We must NEVER abandon hope for fear.

Dear David, in honor of the sacrifice you’ve made for all of us, I will do my part to support the movement you helped propel forward by daring to be bold enough for those who do not have the privilege to be so bold. I will continue to push through my fear to be visible to those who need to see me, to speak to those who need to hear me, to support those who I can directly. In honor of your work and all the others who have died before (and will continue to die) after you, I will NEVER stop speaking. I will never stop fighting. Your death will NOT be in vain.

To My African Diaspora, whether or not you are part of the LGBTQ community or not, it is your responsibility to stand in solidarity with the human rights organizations that are fighting against the injustices being committed against LGBTQ Africans every day. Do NOT join the ranks of the “Aww”-givers, who sit cross-legged on their sofas as they watch the daily news. Africans are Africans, period. Those are YOUR people that are dying. We are ONE community. We MUST stand together in the face of all this injustice and we must speak out and support each other, from wherever we are, in whatever capacity we can. WE are the only people that can rescue Africa from this mess. The future of our Africa is in our hands.

And finally, to activists, concerned citizens, allies, friends, etc. Please consider making a donation to The Queer African Youth Network. Here is a Donation Link. Signing petitions against ‘corrective rape’ online won’t change much. But your dollars supporting an organization that is coalition building in countries around Africa and providing resources to LGBTQ Africans worldwide just might…

NEW PROJECT: Interview Series Featuring LGBT Human Rights Leaders around the World

For Immediate Release:

Spectra Speaks, founding director of QWOC+ Boston and award-winning LGBT activist, is interested in interviewing LGBT POC leaders in the US and human rights activists around the world as part of the QWOC Talk Project.

If you’re an LGBT activist/leader based in the US, who is part of the (or works closely with) the LGBT people of community, or a human rights activist working to further the fight for LGBT equality and acceptance in any part of the world, you are invited to participate in this interview series.

The project launches in February, and in solidarity with Black History Month, will feature interviews from Black LGBT Leaders across the country (from New England to the West Coast) and the globe (spanning various parts of Africa and Europe).

Note from Spectra:

“Too often, we lose momentum in movements due to lack of mentorship and access to the wealth of knowledge held collectively by our leadership. I’m interested in speaking with individuals who are working in various capacities to improve the livelihood of their communities because I believe that through these people, we can all learn something, even if it is that we — as leaders — are not alone in the struggle for acceptance and eventually, equality.

So whether or not you’re featured in your local newspaper, part of 501c3 organization or proudly unaffiliated, creating change legally or socially, speaking out via Op-Eds or through your craft as an artist, remember that you are an important part of the LGBT movement. You ARE an important asset to all of us, and I’d be honored to hear from you.”

Please submit some preliminary information HERE and you will receive an email if you’re profile aligns with the mission of this project. This could take anywhere from 1-3 weeks depending on interest and interview schedules, which will be conducted via phone, in-person (depending on location), email, or Skype.

Spread the word.

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