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An Anthem For Uganda’s Oppressed Queer Community

by An Xiao on February 11, 2014

This past December, Uganda’s Parliament passed an Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which would extend criminalization of homosexuality to life in prison and up to seven years for advocacy work. Debated for years, the bill is now in the hands of President Yoweri Museveni as he meets with a team of doctors and scientists to determine if homosexuality is, essentially, nature or nurture. On Monday, supporters of Uganda’s queer community rallied around the hashtag #AHBGlobaldayofAction, and nearly a thousand supporters signed up to attend a Facebook event.

Nkoyooyo Brian, aka Brayo Bryans, is the director of LGBT advocacy group Icebreakers Uganda and production manager of Talented Ugandan Kuchus (TUK), a music and performance group. He re-posted “The Kuchu Anthem” in the video above to his Twitter account as part of the day, who told Hyperallergic that a number of individuals gathered in Uganda to sing “and we had a Twitter blast.” Kuchu in one of the local languages means “queer,” and lyrics like “We are here to stay” and “We’re never going anywhere” make a powerful, musical stand against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

It’s a reflection of the ongoing role of performance, music, and art in addressing the human rights situation of the queer community in the country. In 2012, TUK organized an album launch party at the National Theatre in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, that was abruptly shut down by police, while British producer David Cecil was arrested earlier that year for hosting a play with gay themes. In Los Angeles’s REDCAT Theater, Ugandan American Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine staged a one-man play, “Missionary Position,” after doing research in the country. In many ways, the hashtag and the Global Day of Action allow a more international voice to emerge online and voice public support.

“In every movement that has been successful, music has played a big part” Nkoyooyo (in the Ugandan custom, family names generally come first) explained. He pointed to the role of music and chants in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. “The Ugandan LGBTI movement lacked that and in 2009 I decided to compose two movement songs after the tabling of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. This included “There Is Hope” and “Children of the Rainbow Flag,” which was later adopted as the Kuchu Anthem in 2011.

On Twitter, he also posted a dance remix of another a song his, “My Pride,” which includes the lyrics:

“You may think I’m worthless now. It doesn’t matter anymore. Because your opinions were so yesterday.”

The opinions here may refer to videos like those by Martin Ssempa, an outspoken pastor once described in NPR as “the face of Uganda’s anti-homosexuality movement.” In this regard, media like The Kuchu Anthem serve as an alternative media narrative, where YouTube, Twitter, and Soundcloud offer a platform for voice and advocacy.

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While the hashtag filled up today with voices of prominent activists like Kasha Jacqueline and Frank Mugisha, a number of supporters outside the country included images that incorporated the distinctive red, yellow, and black of the Ugandan flag and the rainbow flag. Here’s one by Hivos that depicted the potential consequences of the bill’s passage:

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And a message of solidarity from neighboring Kenya, where prominent author Binyavanga Wainaina recently came out as gay:

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Social media platforms give voice to artist-activists like Nkoyooyo Brian and international supporters in vital ways, using music and visual language that speak to the Ugandan queer community in a local vernacular but make reference to international queer visual language like the rainbow flag. As Nkoyooyo writes on the Soundcloud release, “it is the dance version and a dedication to all the oppressed. They can never take away your pride.”

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