Where Being Gay Is a Life-and-Death Struggle

Fighting Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill in ‘Call Me Kuchu’

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.

There are a few rays of light in the film. Mr. Kato, for all his seriousness as an activist, is playful and upbeat, and in scenes in which he and his friends are together in safe places, their high spirits are unquenchable. The documentary also notes a victory that was won three weeks before his death, in Uganda’s High Court, which ruled that Rolling Stone had threatened the “fundamental rights and freedoms” of gay people and violated their constitutional right to privacy. Because of international pressure, Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, has warned that passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill could isolate the country. To those pursuing antigay legislation, he has urged caution and moderation.

Call Me Kuchu

Opens on Friday in Manhattan.

Written and directed by Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall; director of photography, Ms. Fairfax Wright; edited by Ms. Fairfax Wright; music by Jon Mandabach; produced by Ms. Zouhali-Worrall; released by Cinedigm. At the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 27 minutes. This film is not rated.

by Stephen Holden
Source – The New York Times