Where Being Gay Is a Life-and-Death Struggle

Published: June 13, 2013

As you listen to Ugandan politicians and preachers rant against homosexuality in the documentary “Call Me Kuchu,” a chilling sense of reliving the past sets in. “Kuchu” is a synonym for “queer” in Uganda. It is commonplace in many African countries nowadays for homosexuality to be denounced as an un-African disease imported from abroad. But as this movie shows, in rallies and workshops conducted by visiting American evangelicals like Lou Engle and Scott Lively, virulent homophobia is the real import.

The same antigay rhetoric heard in the United States during the ascendancy of Anita Bryant and the evangelical right — but much harsher — is spewed by Ugandan zealots campaigning for the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, first introduced in 2009 and still pending. If the bill is passed by Uganda’s Parliament, homosexuals will face life imprisonment, and anyone who knows of the existence of a homosexual but fails to report it within 24 hours will face three years in prison. Those punishments lead the list of draconian proposals.

Directed by Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall, this is a scary but inspiring film with real heroes and villains. Leading the list of heroes is David Kato, a fearless activist and prime mover in Uganda’s gay rights movement. Uganda’s first openly gay man, he was bludgeoned to death in January 2011 at 46. In a brief biography at the beginning of the film, he tells of his coming out during the six years he lived in South Africa, where a more tolerant atmosphere prevails.

Other valiant souls include his closest friend, Naome, a lesbian activist, and Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, who has been expelled from the Anglican Church of Uganda for his defense of gay rights. The film’s most upsetting scene is a clash between antigay and gay activists at Mr. Kato’s funeral.

The villains include David Bahati, a member of Parliament who in 2009 introduced legislation proposing the death penalty for a “serial offender” of the “offense of homosexuality,” and Giles Muhame, the managing editor of Rolling Stone, a popular tabloid unconnected with the American magazine of the same name. Under the headline “Hang Them,” it published the pictures, names and addresses of 100 men and women thought to be gay.

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