The Kuchu Beehive: How activists are using coalitions to promote LGBTI rights in Uganda

Published: August 2, 2010

… Despite a penal code that criminalizes homosexual acts with penalties of upwards of 10 years of imprisonment, Uganda has witnessed an astounding flowering of kuchu organizations in recent years. Each cluster is structured differently: some exist primarily as online discussion fora while others run legal aid clinics or provide health services to sexual minorities. Some meet in bars and members’ living rooms while others maintain offices with laptop computers and Wi-Fi internet connections. Taken together, they represent a richly diverse community and a potent symbol of how far Uganda’s LGBTI movement has come in a short time period. "We are out talking," says Kasha Jacqueline, the executive director of Freedom and Roam Uganda  (FARUG), an association dedicated to empowering lesbian women. Some activists note that one reason that kuchus are able to speak out is that Ugandan law allows only for the arrest of homosexual acts, not for LGBTI identities. "We want to talk about these things. It’s our resilience that is making all of this happen."

Uganda’s embryonic LGBTI movement could hardly have been prepared, however, for the onslaught of activity that would result from the introduction of an Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Ugandan Parliament last year…

Whatever else it did, the bill provided the nebulous LGBTI movement in Uganda with a common enemy, and the myriad organizations that were just beginning to take shape recognized the need to come together to kill the bill. "When the bill was introduced, there was a need to reach out to other human rights groups, not to take a back seat" says Mugisha. Kalende explains that, "Everyone got on the telephone and called the head of an organization they knew asking them to join the coalition and sign our first press statement condemning the bill. In just a week, we had registered 21 organizations, including those we thought would never support LGBT rights." Thus was born the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, or simply, "the Coalition." In addition to fighting the bill, the Coalition aims to strengthen the capacity of LGBTI organizations throughout the country.

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