I typically hate the adage “it could always be worse,” because I’ve never found it to be comforting. Why should I feel any better about someone else convincingly worse off than me? Now I’m sulking over both my situation and those suffering even more than I am.
But, after watching the haunting new documentary Call Me Kuchu, I couldn’t help but breath a sigh of relief that I’m not subjected to as harsh conditions as my gay brothers in sisters are in different parts of the Diaspora. I won’t be skipping down the block about the prejudices leveled against me as a gay Black man in this country anytime soon, but one can’t help but be grateful to live in a nation further along on the road of equality.
The award-winning documentary provides a first-hand account of the homophobia pervading Uganda along with efforts led by activist David Kato, who identifies as the first gay man living in the country, to help end it. Joining Kato are his closet friend and lesbian, Naome; Stosh, who was raped at a young age, forced to have an abortion at five months, and now lives in fear that she will be murdered for being gay; Longjones, an LGBT counselor who initially shied away from revealing his sexual orientation but felt compelled to speak out in the wake of Kato’s murder. Together, they fight for equality under SMUG or Sexual Minorities Uganda.
Also in the fight for fairness for gays is Bishop Senyojo. A religious man not bound by Biblical literalism and holding a PhD in human sexuality, Senyojo opens a kuchu counseling center and safe house. For his efforts, he is expelled from the Anglican Church of Uganda.
We learn that “Kuchu” is a synonym for “queer” and for nearly 90 minutes filmmakers Malika Zouhali-Worrall and Katherine Fairfax Wright paint a frightening picture of what life is like for any “kuchu” living in the East African nation. Yet, we’re offered a more complex view of Uganda than normally offered.
The film begins with a jubilee for two men who have been in a relationship for nine years. As one of documentary’s participants points out, the union is not an obufumbo, or marriage, but it is a loving union worthy of recognition and celebration. Still, fearing the rule of law that prohibits such a love, it’s noted how all parties involved opted for “formal attire” out of concerns of their safety.
The subject love swiftly shifts to hate as we hear the calls of Ugandan pastors slam homosexuality as a “gloom of shame” that places the nation knee-deep in sin. Instantly, I know that I’ve heard this story before. It’s ironic to hear these clergymen dismiss homosexuality as “sins of the West” when their disgust of gay people comes directly from white Christian missionaries and their Black pastoral pets who flocked to the nation to promote their ideology.
One white evangelist is quoted saying “America is losing its way” and that “Uganda has become our ground zero.” What they mean is since their bastardized account of Christianity is no longer the flavor de jour stateside they’ve decided to travel abroad to find new suckers. So in turn they peddle that “gay people are perverted parasites trying to sucker your children into the lifestyle.” And after years of traveling back and forth “promoting the love of Christ,” hostility towards gay people resonates in 95% of Ugandans.
Homophobia isn’t just good for the business of bullheaded bigots guised as Christian missionaries. As Kato points out, it’s a booming business for the Ugandan media outlet Rolling Stone. The publication, which is a cross between Media Take Out and Fox News, routinely sold stories of gay people as treasonous “homo generals” organizing attacks against the local government and their fellow Ugandans. Worse, the paper regularly published exposes of known homosexuals – spurring vigilantism among its readers, who want to do physical harm to those revealed to be gay. It is sensationalism and bias in its most primitive and despicable forms.
Kato takes Rolling Stone to court to stop the paper from publishing the names and photos of perceived gay Ugandans. Weeks after he wins his landmark case, Kato is beaten over the head with a hammer. Not even at his funeral can his life be given respect from certain groups, leaving one of his friends to shout out in distress “Enough is enough for goodness sakes!” Heartbreaking.
It’s frustrating to see these people suffer, especially when you know it’s Americans responsible for creating the hateful climate. Given it remains unclear how homophobia will end here, there’s no telling how it will in Uganda. If nothing else, Call Me Kuchu reminds that everywhere gays are challenging the hatred and making steps toward changing the situation.