Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera

Awarded 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.

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera is a Ugandan activist advocating for the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community in a region hostile towards sexual minorities. Having lived an open life as a lesbian, she has promoted changes to the repressive legislation and campaigned against LGBT+ social stigmatisation. 

Nabagesera is one of the few activists in Uganda who has engaged in judicial processes to advance the rights of the LGBT+ 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 LGBT+ 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 realisation that LGBT+ people have constitutionally guaranteed rights.

Due to extreme hatred and discrimination, many Ugandan LGBT+ activists have been killed. The majority of those who survived have fled the country. Nabagesera is among the few prominent members of the Ugandan LGBT+ movement who have decided to stay. Despite being arrested, attacked and subjected to harassment, Nabagesera persists in advocating for equal rights.

The day is not far when discrimination against people based on who they love will also be left behind in the wastebasket of history.

Kasha Nabagesera, 2015 Laureate

Biography

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera is one of the most courageous and outspoken human rights activists in Uganda fighting for the rights of LGBT+ peoples. Operating within a hostile and repressive environment, Nabagesera has shed light on human rights violations and has successfully used the judicial system to advance LGBT+ rights. She has overcome threats to campaign against criminalising laws and has utilised a range of creative and innovative tools to break myths and stereotypes surrounding LGBT+ people in Uganda and elsewhere.

Sexual minorities in Africa

Homosexuality is illegal in most countries of the African continent, with 38 out of the 54 African nations imposing draconian laws left behind from colonialism. Uganda is among those criminalising sexual minorities. Its hardening stance against the LGBT+ community frequently attracts international attention. The year 2014 was a turning point in Ugandan LGBT+ history: the “Kill the gays” bill, which initially included the death penalty for same-sex acts, was passed by parliament establishing, instead, life imprisonment. It was in effect only for 6 months until being nullified by the Constitutional Court in a procedural argument. The decision brought hope to the LGBT+ community about advancing equal human rights. However, it wasn’t long before a new Sexual Offences Bill was presented in 2015. 

The pending legislation, promoted by conservative political and religious leaders would exacerbate the situation of the LGBT+ community already facing a homophobic and intolerant environment. Beyond the legal frame, sexual and gender minorities are subject to daily violence from verbal aggressions to “corrective rapes.” 

From accountant to activist

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera has lived openly as a lesbian all her life. In 2002, when studying to become an accountant, she was nearly expelled from university for her sexual identity. This incident motivated her to become a human rights activist. After taking courses in human rights law and interning with a South African LGBT+ organisation, Nabagesera founded the NGO Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG) in 2003. FARUG lobbies for policy change of discriminatory laws, registers human rights abuses and educates the Ugandan population about sexual orientation and gender identity. It also engages in grassroots organising to empower and mobilise the LGBT+ community to assert their rights and lead healthy lives.

Nabagesera and FARUG have initiated several campaigns to fight negative perceptions of LGBT+ people. The 2011 Hate no More campaign reached out to Ugandan media to fight homophobia and stop misconceptions and myths about same-sex relationships. The Break the Chains campaign in 2007 used newsletters to show the real-life experiences of LGBT+ women. Eventually, after 10 years of leadership, Nabagesera stepped down as Executive Director of FARUG in 2013, focusing her efforts on community building and advocacy.

Nabagesera has 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 stop the draconian anti-homosexuality law of 2014. She was one of ten petitioners who challenged that bill. It was this legal challenge that led to the Anti-Homosexuality Act being annulled by the Constitutional Court of Uganda in August 2014 on a technicality. Additionally, Nabagesera has worked in cooperation with sex workers, HIV/AIDS victims and women to challenge stigmatising legislation. 

She also developed a “security team” that can respond rapidly to human rights abuses and arbitrary arrests of LGBT+ people and provide legal support and solidarity to victims.

Breaking myths and countering homophobia

In 2014, Nabagsera created Kuchu Times, a platform using television, radio and print material to spread information about LGBT+ issues. As part of Kuchu Times, the Bombastic Magazine, launched in 2014 and funded through crowdsourcing, shares accounts of the lives of LGBT+ Ugandans. It has been downloaded more than 2 million times. Nabagesera has also contributed to the annual Pride Uganda celebration and decided to combat the increased fear within the LGBT+ community by throwing an open birthday party attended by 200 people in 2014. Additionally, Nabagesera endeavours to educate the wider Ugandan population on LGBT+ persons and their rights by distributing pamphlets in police stations, clubs and shopping centres across the country.

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

Laureate news
Culture and Education