Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera is an openly gay woman and gay rights activist in a country with zero tolerance for homosexuality. She is one of an estimated 500,000 homosexual people in Uganda who is marginalized and persecuted for their sexual orientation on a daily basis. This injustice inspired her to create Bombastic, a new 72-page magazine that features a collection of stories, poems and testimonials from Uganda’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.
Bombastic is distributed free nationwide and seeks to give a voice to the hundreds of thousands of Ugandans who live in fear of persecution. Nabagesera came up with the idea in 2013 after repeatedly seeing the media used to expose and intimidate LGBTI people. She received over 500 story contributions through Facebook and secured funding through crowdsourcing to publish the magazine.
Thanks to an eight-person editorial team and the support of over 130 volunteers, 15,000 copies of the magazine’s inaugural issue were printed in December 2014 and distributed to Ugandan citizens, government officials, media and more. The initiative has become a huge success, with the magazine’s website crashing regularly from too much traffic and their two telephone lines being inundated with supportive calls.
Not surprisingly, many of the submissions come from individuals using pseudonyms. In 2009, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was introduced to broaden criminalization of same-sex relationships in Uganda and introduce the death penalty for cases of ‘aggravated homosexuality’, including same-sex activities by a repeat offender or authority figure. In 2013, the bill was passed by the Ugandan Parliament with the death penalty replaced by life imprisonment. In February 2014, President Museveni signed the bill into law but by August it had been ruled invalid by the Constitutional Court of Uganda.
Despite the overturned law, Ugandan policy makers are still set on imposing criminal sanctions against homosexuality. The newest proposed law, the Prohibition of Promotion of Unnatural Sexual Practices Bill, is expected to impose even harsher penalties for the promotion of same sex activities and would prohibit all funding for human rights organizations that support LGBTI rights.
According to Nabagesera, the magazine will allow her fellow LGBTI Ugandans to “share our lived realities in the hope that they will inspire many people who have been filled with hate from politicians and religious leaders seeking political power and cheap popularity”. In her Editor’s Note, she also stresses that “in the past, our freedom of assembly and associations to empower ourselves were trampled upon by government officials who abused their power but that will not stop us from fighting for our rights regardless.”
This effort is a critical step in changing public attitudes from within the country. The repressive anti-homosexuality legislation has already garnered international media attention and resulted in slashed aid funding to Uganda and yet, politicians continue to fight for new harsh laws. Clearly, improving the rights of the country’s LGBTI people needs to be, in large part, a locally-driven process by courageous individuals like Nabagesera and other gay rights activists.