The situation for LGBT people in Uganda is dire, and potentially stands to get even worse. The documentary “Call Me Kuchu,” following human rights activist David Kato in the last year of his life, highlights some of the dangers, the fears, and the joys of LGBT Ugandans.
“Kuchu,” a term derived from the Swahili word “makuchu,” translates essentially to “queer.” However, most LGBT Ugandans consider the word a banner to unite under, rather than a slur identifying them as victims. Homosexual intercourse is a prosecutable offense in Uganda, and under its proposed Anti-Homosexual bill, could be punishable by death.
As the main source of information on current events for its audience, the influence of media can hardly be overstated—and with multiple groups of American Christian evangelicals pushing Uganda to adopt some of the harshest anti-LGBT laws in the world, the documentary points out clearly how very dangerous propaganda can be.
Some preachers in America still routinely blame LGBT people as a whole for disasters, but in 2010 Ugandan tabloid Rolling Stone (no relation to the American magazine of the same name) published a front-page article titled “100 Pictures of Uganda’s Top Homos Leak”; alongside each photograph was the name and address of the person, and printed next to the article was a banner reading “Hang Them.” A later issue had the headline “Homo Generals Plotted Kampala Terror Attacks,” claiming that the LGBT community had connections with the militant group al-Shabaab.
Activists reported an immediate increase in physical and verbal harassment against those perceived as LGBT, especially the people called out in the articles. David Kato was among them. The Ugandan High Court later ordered the tabloid to cease publishing personal information and shut down, and pay Kato and the case’s other two plaintiffs 1.5 million Ugandan shillings (about $580 USD) plus court costs.
However, the court’s upholding of LGBT citizens’ civil rights didn’t have a positive impact on their day-to-day treatment; Kato told his colleagues that since the court victory, he had been subject to increasing threats and harassment. On January 26, 2011, while “Call Me Kuchu” was still in production, he was beaten to death in his own home.
Even at Kato’s funeral, two days later, the preacher spoke out in condemnation of the LGBT attendees until the microphone was forcefully taken away. Kato’s friend, former Anglican Church of Uganda bishop Christopher Senyonjo—excommunicated for his unapologetic support of the LGBT community and its people—officiated over the funeral instead.
“Call Me Kuchu” is now showing in New York and Los Angeles, and is available for download on iTunes for UK accounts. For more information, visit the website here.