By Clare Obradovich
Call Me Kuchu, a film that documents Ugandan gay rights activism in 2011 as a new bill in legislature threatens to make “aggressive homosexuality” punishable by death, was one of the conference highlights. The film by Malika Zouhali-Worrall and Katharine Fairfax Wright opens with an introduction to David Kato, a vocal activist in the struggle for LGBTQ (called Kuchu in Uganda) rights and “the first gay man to be open in Uganda.” By interweaving scenes of activist efforts by Kato and his fellows as Ugandan newspapers viciously out Kuchus and American evangelical ministers preach about the abomination of homosexuality, the film addresses the far-reaching power of state-sanctioned homophobia as well as the necessity to resist it. The film covers both the overturning of the bill and the brutal murder of David Kato.
We watched this narrative unfold with the vivid knowledge that a similar bill resurfaced and was passed into Ugandan law this winter (death penalty was dropped). After the film, Jessica Stern, director of programs for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, began the discussion by acknowledging the strong emotions present in the room and asking that we begin to share our reactions. There were several comments on the heartbreaking reality of the death of Kato and on the pain and violence that results from homophobia within the Ugandan context of this film. The role of religion and religious leaders was questioned. Initial remarks reflected both a sincere empathy as well as a sentiment of distance. Participants expressed outrage and sadness at what is happening in Uganda. Several attendees asserted that we should look to share our knowledge and experience of gay rights work with activists in Uganda. Stern and other participants gently troubled these notions by remarking that the sophistication and effectiveness of queer rights activism in Uganda possibly outstrips that of queer rights activism in the United States.
The conversation shifted. Questions surfaced regarding how the film acts as a window into the fear and violence faced daily by LGBTQ individuals in many parts of the United States. Are the events of the film so incomprehensible? Or are they particularly horrific because they are familiar? We reflected on the courageous activism documented in the film and acknowledged that Call Me Kuchu is a film as inspiring as it is heartwrenching. The film was praised for its role in promoting intergenerational and global dialogue and serving as an eloquent comment that gay rights are human rights.
Clare Obradovich is a science student at Seattle Central