Living in a nation that proudly criminalizes LGBT identity would be enough to make most people stay in the closet — but LGBT activists in Uganda refuse to be silenced or ignored. In fact, they’re downright Bombastic.
Led by prominent human rights defender and out lesbian Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, LGBT activists in Uganda released the second edition of Bombastic magazine today, on the International Day of Transgender Visibility.
Fittingly, the cover of the latest edition, which is available in print for free throughout Uganda and online at the outlet’s attendant website, Kuchu Times, features a photo of a transgender man binding his breasts. Billed as “an anthology of stories, poems, and testimonies,” the full-color, 72-page Bombastic looks to serve as “a beacon of hope and a symbol of our resilience,” according to a press release from the publisher, Kuchu Times Media Group.
The word "kuchu" is Ugandan slang for "gay," and activists have long been working to reclaim the term, much as some U.S. activists have reclaimed the once-defamatory word "queer." Included with each copy of Bombastic is the award-winning documentary Call Me Kuchu, which documents the life and untimely death of David Kato, often described as the first out gay man in Uganda. Several of the members of Bombastic's editorial team knew Kato personally and can be seen in the film mourning his death and fighting back against religious demonstrators who interrupted his 2011 funeral in Kampala.
Launched in December 2014, Bombastic is Uganda’s first and only publication created by and for the beleaguered LGBTI community in the East African nation. Its slogan — “our voices, our stories, our lives” — speaks to the importance its editorial team places on elevating the first-hand experiences and struggles of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex Ugandans living at home and abroad, rather than seeing those stories told through a lens of Western, predominantly white journalists. The first edition of the magazine has been downloaded more than 2 million times, according to Kuchu Times Media Group.
“This publication is a humble call to all Ugandans to understand our plight and not judge us based on the misconceptions told to them,” Nabagesera said in a statement accompanying the latest edition. “We are not calling on Ugandans to become LGBTI nor are we asking for special treatment, we are simply calling on our fellow society to recognize that we are part and parcel of the Ugandan society and any unfair treatment towards us simply because of who we love is an injustice to the whole society.”
Beginning in 2013, Nabagesera was one of a dozen LGBTI Ugandans who worked with The Advocate to compile a photo essay that shared firsthand stories from these diverse individuals. Although the article received several awards — including a 2014 GLAAD Award for Oustanding Digital Journalism, Multimedia — editors with this publication took the story offline after Ugandan tabloid Red Pepper plagiarized the story wholesale, splashing a headline on the front page reading "Uganda's Top Gays Speak: How We Became Homos."
With Nabagesera's permission, The Advocate has republished her portion of that award-winning project. Hear from the fearless activist in her own words what it was like growing up gay in Uganda here.