Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera

(2015, Uganda)

...for her courage and persistence, despite violence and intimidation, in working for the right of LGBTI people to a life free from prejudice and persecution.

About

Fighting for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in Uganda, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera is one of the most courageous and outspoken human rights activists in Africa. Operating within a hostile and repressive environment, Nabagesera has shed light on human rights violations, and has successfully used the judicial system to advance LGBTI rights. She has overcome threats to campaign against repressive laws and uses a range of creative and innovative tools to continue breaking myths and stereotypes surrounding LGBTI people in Uganda and elsewhere.

Contact Details

Website FARUG
Twitter: @Far_Uganda

Website Kuchu Times
Twitter: @KuchuTimes
https://twitter.com/KuchuTimes

Twitter: @KashaJacqueline

Biography

From accountant to activist

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera was born in 1980 and studied to become an accountant. Having openly lived as a lesbian all her life, she was nearly expelled from university in 2002 for her sexual identity. This incident motivated her to become a human rights activist, and after taking courses in human rights law and interning with a South African LGBTI organisation, Nabagesera founded the NGO Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG) in 2003. FARUG advocates and lobbies for policy change of discriminatory laws, researches and documents human rights abuses, shares information to sensitise the LGBTI community and entire population about issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, and engages in grassroots organising to empower and mobilise the LGBTI community to assert their rights and lead healthy lives. After 10 years of leadership, Nabagesera stepped down as Executive Director of FARUG in 2013, focusing her efforts on community building and advocacy.

Litigating and campaigning to realise human rights

Nabagesera is one of the few activists in Uganda who has engaged in the judicial process to advance the rights of the LGBTI community. When a Ugandan tabloid published the names and photos of (alleged) gay and lesbian people, she was one of three individuals who took the newspaper to court and won. When in 2012 the Minister of Ethics shut down a workshop involving several LGBTI organisations claiming that such a gathering was illegal, Nabagesera was among those who sued the minister for violating their freedom of assembly. These court actions are slowly helping to shift public opinion in Uganda towards the notion that LGBTI people have constitutionally guaranteed rights.

Nabagesera has also lobbied and campaigned against several unjust laws. She is a member of the Steering Committee of the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, which includes more than 60 Ugandan human rights organisations that came together to work to stop the draconian anti-homosexuality law. She was one of the ten petitioners who challenged the bill passed in February 2014, which imposed further measures to criminalise homosexuality and trample upon LGBTI rights. This successful legal challenge saw the Anti-Homosexuality Act being annulled by the Constitutional Court of Uganda in August 2014 on a technicality. Additionally, Nabagesera is working in coalition with sex workers, HIV/AIDS victims and women to challenge provisions in the HIV/AIDS Control and Prevention Act 2014 that stigmatises the LGBTI community.

Despite being arrested, attacked and subjected to harassment, Nabagesera persists with her advocacy. As a result of harsh reprisals, most Ugandan LGBTI activists have been killed or have fled, leaving Nabagesera as one of very few prominent members of the Ugandan LGBTI movement still living in the country. Nabagesera was responsible for developing a ‘security team’ that is able to respond rapidly to human rights abuses and arbitrary arrests of LGBTI persons, and provide legal support and solidarity to victims.

Breaking myths and countering homophobia

Kasha Nabagesera and FARUG have initiated a number of campaigns designed to alter negative perceptions of LGBTI people. The 2011 Hate no More campaign reached out to the mass media in Uganda with the aim of fighting homophobia and stopping misconceptions and myths about same-sex relationships. The Break the Chains campaign used newsletters to unearth the real life experiences of LGBTI women in 2007. In 2014, Nabagsera created the Kuchu Times, a platform that uses television, radio and print material to inform people on LGBTI issues. As part of the Kuchu Times, the Bombastic magazine, launched in 2014 and funded through crowdsourcing, shares accounts of the lives of LGBTI Ugandans. It has been downloaded more than 2 million times. Nabagesera also continues to organise the annual Pride Uganda celebration and reacted to the increased fear within the LGBTI community by throwing an open birthday party attended by 200 people in 2014. Additionally, Nabagesera endeavours to sensitise the wider Ugandan population on LGBTI persons and their rights by distributing pamphlets in police stations, discotheques, arcades and shopping complexes across the country.

Regional and international advocacy

Besides working in Uganda, Nabagesera has also frequently used regional and international mechanisms to hold the Ugandan government to account for its failure to meet its human rights obligations. She has frequently testified on the situation of LGBTI persons at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in The Gambia. She has also taken up the cause of LGBTI people regionally, engaging with government ministries and the media across Africa. In addition, Nabagesera is a member of the Coalition of African Lesbians and lobbies the African Commission on LGBTI issues.

Honours

Kasha Nabagesera received the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2011 and the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award in 2013. In June 2015, she was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine’s European edition.

Speeches

30 November 2015

The celebrated Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe once said that we cannot trample upon the humanity of others without devaluing our own. I believe in the possibility of a world where we can see ourselves—and each other—simply as fellow human beings. A world where we respect and understand each other, where we work together to break structures that hinder our personal freedoms and rights to live happy, peaceful and sustainable lives.

We still have a long way to go before we get to this world we desire. LGBTI persons in many parts of the world continue to be confronted with threats, intimidation and discrimination, and activists working to promote respect for human rights seem to be confronted with consistently shrinking spaces. What do we, as people, do in such a situation? As individuals and as a society, we all share the same desire to live peacefully and be fundamentally free.

It’s the time to reaffirm and adhere to our basic character and uphold the essence of all the international instruments that were drawn up with the intention of reminding us of how we are supposed to peacefully coexist as human beings. In all our individual capacities, we have a duty to live and let live, and we must boldly confront oppression in all its manifestations. This is what my colleagues and I have tried to do in Uganda.

It is why I founded the NGO Freedom and Roam Uganda–FARUG–in 2003, to counter homophobia in my country and sensitise our people on the issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. Our campaigns used different mediums to touch every segment of society – for example, the 2011 Hate no More campaign – reached out to the mass media in Uganda with the aim of eliminating misconceptions and shattering myths about same-sex relationships.

The Break the Chains campaign used newsletters served to unearth the real life experiences of LGBTI women. After stepping down as head of FARUG in 2014, I launched the Kuchu Times, a platform that uses television, radio, Internet and print material to inform people on LGBTI issues. Within this platform lies the Bombastic magazine, launched in 2014 and funded through crowdsourcing, which shares accounts of the lives of LGBTI Ugandans. This magazine aims to convey a simple truth – that we are all more similar than we are different. Bombastic has been downloaded more than 2 million times. Believing fervently that public spaces should be enjoyed by all, we continue to organise the Pride Uganda festival every year, to reaffirm the simple message enshrined in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

As individual efforts to promote respect for human rights and make it a reality for all can never be enough; your support and solidarity to our cause is welcome. In Uganda over time, we have managed to strengthen our visibility as LGBTI persons, hoping to create a space safe for everyone. The challenges are still prevalent but we have come too far to give up. At the continental level, our fight has seen a growing trend of people organising and rising up against the suppressing hand of the authorities. This is a trend we can all hope will remain unextinguished until there is acknowledgment of all human rights as indivisible, interdependent and inalienable; from LGBTI rights to all other sexual, reproductive and health rights, from the rights of migrants and refugees and all other rights.

Throughout my life, and in spite of all the violence and threats I have been subject to, I have never shied away from using the rule of law and the judiciary to hold human rights violators to account and give a measure of redress to victims. Court verdicts have been helpful in making inroads within public opinion and slowly entrench the notion that LGBTI people also have inviolable rights guaranteed by the Ugandan Constitution.

Yet, time and experience has proven to me that the more allies we bring into our struggle and the greater strength of numbers we can mobilise, the closer we move towards the awakening of people’s consciousness required to bring about lasting and tangible change. To this end, I have engaged in a number of coalitions to advance and realise human rights in Uganda, including the women’s movement, Coalition of African Lesbians and the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law – which includes more than 60 Ugandan human rights organisations. Last year, I joined my nine brave fellow petitioners to challenge the Anti-Homosexuality Act passed in February 2014, which imposed further sanctions to criminalise homosexuality and trample upon LGBTI rights. Our petition saw this law being annulled by the Constitutional Court of Uganda in August 2014 on a technicality.

Even though the specter of this draconian and unjust law being reintroduced continues to hang over us, I am confident from our experience that my colleagues and I are ready to meet the challenge. In the meantime, I continue to build alliances and broaden our movement for justice for all; I am presently working with HIV/AIDS victims and women’s groups to challenge provisions in the HIV/AIDS Control and Prevention Act 2014 that stigmatise the LGBTI community. Believing that our struggle is global in scope, I work at the international level with the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, at the regional level with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in The Gambia, and nationally with government ministries. Martin Luther King said that faith is about taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase ... and that it is only in the darkness that we see the stars.

My friends, history shows us that seemingly insurmountable challenges to equality – the institution of slavery, the denial of women’s suffrage, colonial rule and apartheid – have been contested, challenged and repudiated. I believe that through court judgments, through advocacy and through sensitising our people on the full meaning of fundamental human rights, we shall overcome. And that the day is not far when discrimination against people based on who they love will also be left behind in the wastebasket of history.

I want you to know that this Award gives courage, strength and vindication to all Ugandans working for universal human rights against all odds. I humbly accept it, on behalf of all those who have given their life for the cause of advancing LGBTI rights in Uganda and around the world, particularly my friend and colleague David Kato, who was murdered in 2011 while working for a better world for us all. The change we seek can only be achieved through tolerance, understanding, a shift in mindset, and a breaking of all barriers to equality. I invite you all to join me and be a part of this change. Thank you.

  Pictures
 Videos

TED Talk: Advocating for Uganda's LGBT - risk and resilience

August 2014

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera on anti-homosexuality bill – True Heroes Films

September 2015

Video portrait by the Martin Ennals Award

2011

Q&A at Nuremberg International Human Rights Film Festival (partially in German)

October 2013

Speech for Amnesty International

August 2011
International Council Meeting, Amnesty International

Speech at Oslo Freedom Forum

May 2010

Interviews

Out in Africa: Can Uganda’s gay-rights activists stop the government from enacting another homophobic law? – Cover story in Time Magazine, European issue, June 2015. Available here

Gay Ugandans hope new magazine will rewrite wrongs by tackling homophobia – The Guardian, February 2015. Available here.

“De vill skära halsen av mig” –Ottar, Sweden, September 2015.Available here (in Swedish).

Uganda gay activist Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera hailed – BBC News, May 2011, when she received the Martin Ennals Award. Available here.

Meet the Ugandan Lesbian Fighting for LGBT Equality – The Advocate, June 2015 (republished from 2013). Available here.

Interview as member of the Václav Havel Jury of the One World Human Rights Documentary Film Festival

March 2013

Publications

Magazines

Bombastic magazine – December 2014. Edited by Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera. Online edition available here.

Contact

Right Livelihood Award Foundation

Head office:
Stockholmsvägen 23
122 62 Enskede
Sweden

Phone: +46 (0)8 70 20 340
Fax: +46 (0)8 70 20 338

Geneva office:
Maison de la Paix
Chemin Eugène-Rigot 2, Building 5
1202 Geneva
Switzerland

Phone: +41 (0)22 555 09 55

E-mail: