The African Feminist Forum: Kasha Nabagesera

28 Aug

To continue with my series of recognising African feminists​, today I would like to acknowledge Kasha Nabagesera.

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera (also known as Jacqueline Kasha) is a Ugandan LGBT rights activist. Kasha is the founder and executive director of the LGBT rights organisation Freedom & Roam Uganda (FARUG) and 2011 recipient of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.


Her biography according to Wikipedia states the following:

Kasha attended several schools, often being expelled because of her sexual orientation, or because she wrote love letters to other girls. She attended Gayaza Junior School, Maryhill High School, Mariam High School, and Namasagali College. Following High School, she enrolled at Nkumba University where she obtained an Accounting degree and her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. She then followed that with a Diploma in Information Technology and a Certificate in Marketing from the New Vision Group in Kampala in 2004. In 2005 she enrolled at Human Rights Education Associates, a global human rights education and training centre based in Massachusetts for distance learners. She obtained a certificate in 2006 from the Johannesburg Media School for Journalism so that she could learn how to deal with media in a hostile work environment. She later trained activists at this school for activism from many African countries including Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda and others. In 2008 she became a trainer of trainees, obtaining a certificate from Frontline Human Rights Defenders in Dublin, Ireland.
Known as “Bombastic” to her many friends, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera excelled in school in athletics and took home more than six awards for her achievements in the 100m, 200m and 400m relays as well as the high jump and long jump. She was also involved in drama classes and was often assigned boys parts while in High School.
In addition to suspensions and expulsions from schools for openly living as a lesbian, Kasha was also caned (beaten with a cane or rod) beginning at the age of seven, and repeated many times in school for expressing her love for other girls. She was also the attempted victim of something called corrective rape, by male students at her school, the attempted undressing by male students to ascertain if she was, in fact, a girl and not a boy pretending to be a girl, and she was forced to dress in “gender appropriate” girls clothes and report to the administration at University who forbid her to wear baseball caps and any other clothing deemed suitable for boys. And the punitive measures continued unabated. She was also humiliated by a poster pinned on walls at the University proclaiming her as WANTED, displaying her picture and treating her like a common criminal, because of her same-sex attraction.
To humiliate her even more, freshman orientation included a briefing on Kasha to warn incoming freshman from associating with her or they might face expulsion. She was forced to sign a memorandum of understanding with university officials that she would refrain from being within one hundred meters of the girl’s hostel and was forbidden housing within the university premises or dormitories. This barbaric and dehumanizing behaviour was justified by school officials as a precaution to prevent Kasha from influencing other young ladies and “turning them lesbian.”


Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera never “came out of the closet” because she was never “in a closet” in the first place. She always lived openly as a lesbian because she simply didn’t know it was illegal, and didn’t understand that it would, in her words, “later turn out to be a big deal.” “Every time I got picked on or punished for being a lesbian I thought they were just using it as an excuse to bully me. It’s only when I was suspended at (the) University that I took interest in finding out why my sexuality was a big deal for others and that’s when I found out that it was illegal to be gay. I did research and found out not only in Uganda, and other parts of Africa but all over the world, and that was my turning point.”
The threats and beatings were terrible and unrelenting. Kasha’s mother kept telling her she was just being stubborn and that she would outgrow it. When Kasha was nearly expelled from the University, Kasha’s mother told a meeting of staff and faculty that “Kasha was sick” and “her sickness didn’t have a cure so they should leave her to finish the final semester and they wouldn’t have to deal with her anymore.” It was hard to hear her mother say these things they both knew were untrue, but it got her through those final months and Kasha credits her mother’s action to defuse the tense situation, and in the process, saving her education.
When she was finally finished with the University, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera and some friends founded Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG) in 2003 after witnessing and experiencing the harassment, discrimination and violence Ugandan women face because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. This pioneering organization became a first of its kind in Uganda to fight for LGBT sexual orientation and gender identity rights. Kasha led the organization for ten years, stepping down as Executive Director of Freedom and Roam Uganda the 4th of July, 2013 after ten years of leadership.
Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera is a community-builder who loves her work and being able to give some measure of redress to the many members of the LGBT community who feel lost, rejected and alone. She also likes to give hope to her many brothers and sisters in Uganda and elsewhere but acknowledges that it is hard right now. She loves to meet people and share common experiences that unite us, and learn from other unique lives. She speaks of her “lovely family from around the world” that she has been privileged to meet and learn from.
Kasha says that “it’s very important that we are who we are, especially looking back in history at how our race has been undermined, we need to stand up and be counted. Our black pride should never be allowed to be discounted again because of our skin colour. It is important that we work and achieve greatness for ourselves instead of waiting for others to do that for us. We cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand and feel sorry for ourselves, we need to stand with our heads high and proud for trying our best to make this world a better place for justice and equality, freedom and liberation.”
She is considered to be the ‘founding mother’ of the Ugandan LGBT civil rights movement. In 1999, when she was 19 years old, she publicly campaigned to end to homophobia in Uganda, a country where homosexuality is against the law.
In 2010, Ugandan newspaper Rolling Stone published names and photo of individuals it claimed to be gay, with the headline “Hang Them”. Among the names were Kasha and her colleague David Kato. The pair eventually sued the tabloid, and in doing so set a benchmark for human rights in Uganda. Nabagesera explains the precedence as an attempt to protect “privacy and the safety we all have against incitements to violence.”
Kato was later killed following the legal battle with the publication. Nabagasera has continued the fight for gay rights in Uganda. Under the auspice of FARUG, she has fought to decriminalise homosexuality in Uganda by circumventing the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill; a bill which mandates stiff sentences ranging from prison sentences to the death penalty. Furthermore, the bill mandates that citizens who do not expose gay and lesbians to the authorities, face up to 3 years in jail.

In 2010, Nabagesera opened the only Ugandan bar for LGBT people; named Sappho Islands, the bar was situated in a suburb of Kampala. It closed in 2011.
Not one to sit still, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera is now concentrating her efforts on advocacy and lobbying on behalf of Africa at the United Nations, the African Commission and European Union. She is currently working on the Project Planning, Administration, Advocacy and Leadership (PAL) project and a special program called Reclaiming the Media, to present the other side of the LGBT community to Ugandans and repeal Uganda’s recently enacted anti-homosexuality law.
Kasha receives hundreds of requests from Uganda’s LGBT citizens who are frightened and in hiding because of their government’s recent enactment of anti-homosexuality laws that criminalise their identity, impose harsh prison terms and even punish their friends, families and employers for failing to turn them into authorities. It has created an unbelievably oppressive crisis for Uganda’s LGBT community. Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera and her partner, JLW, make their home in Kampala, Uganda, and spend time together watching movies and playing board games. They have a pet German Shepherd named “Arzu Don Pedro” who will be three years old in June. They go out with friends to party when they can and Kasha tries to cook for friends on Sundays. She loves children and babysits her nieces and nephews when she can. She looks forward to one day starting her own family.
Kasha is the only founding member of the LGBT movement from the 90s still living in Uganda.

Kasha’s leadership in the face of extremist adversity has been recognized by many around the world including “Velvetpark Magazine,” the world’s leading queer women’s magazine, described her as a “Braveheart” and voted her the most inspiring queer woman in the world in 2010. In 2011, she was listed in celebration of 100 years of International Women’s Day. That same year she was a guest speaker at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy. Kasha was also listed among the 50 most inspiring Feminist Women in Africa in 2011​ and received the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2011.
In November 2011 she was recognized​ with the Rafto Prize in Bergen, Norway, along with Sexual Minorities Uganda, an umbrella organization she co-founded in 2004. She was honoured with the Honorary Award of the “QX Magazine” in Stockholm, Sweden in February 2013, the James Joyce Award from the University College of Dublin in April 2013, the Sean McBride Award from Amnesty International Dublin, the Civil Courage Award from Berlin 2013, the International Activist of the Year Award for the GALAS (Gay and Lesbian Awards, organised by the National Lesbian and Gay Federation of Ireland), the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award 2013, Kasha has always referred to the Ugandan new anti-homosexuality Law as a Nuremberg law.
In May 2011, it was announced that Nabagesera would be awarded the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. She is the first gay rights activist to do so. According to Michelle Kagari of Amnesty International, the award “recognises [Nabagesera’s] tremendous courage in the face of discrimination and violence against LGBT people in Uganda. Her passion to promote equality and her tireless work to end a despicable climate of fear is an inspiration to LGBT activists the world over..”

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