My first night at a sometimes kuchu bar

From my fieldnotes (Kampala, 2015).

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On ██████ nights there is a sometimes Kuchu (gay) bar in Kampala.

But before I left the compound I told ██████ that I was going out for observations. She reacted with “I know that place. It’s for the homosexuals. They go boy-boy and girl-girl.” She also (jokingly) suggested I go “boy-boy” to fit in. She said that she has gone to the bar to test for HIV as a health worker, adding:

“It was scary. We were quite scared. I think many of them were drunk. We only went once because they had funds for most at risk populations. When we got there we “weren’t allowed to go inside.” Because “there might be ‘high profile’ people — like people in government. So we had to do the testing and counseling in the parking lot across from the bar.”

She scrunched up her face when she talked about “them being drunk” and her feeling unsafe. She also said that it was on a ██████ night. However, the Kuchu bar happens on ██████. Although she had only been once — she assumed it was just a gay bar all day every day — which isn’t the case.

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When I got there, I met ██████ who is an activist from ██████. He told me that if you’re LGBT and can contribute to the family in Africa then the family is usually more okay with your sexuality.

“If say look at your brother, yes he is gay but he is bringing in more money than you are — you are not as stigmatized as much.” He also said that he feels that in Kenya the families are more accepting than in Uganda.

The club had maybe 100 people at it. People described it as “empty” although the dance hall filled up later. ██████████████████████████████. There is a back area which is “where people have sex” ██████ told me. Most of the dancing would be considered really sexual (in a western context.) And there was a lot of suggestive anal sex in the dance moves. There were several people there trying to take my phone when they danced with me. And ██████ told me that he had his phone taken there one time.

██████ is another activist I met. She is transgender. She told me about the language used to describe trans people she doesn’t like. “Gender non-conforming suggests a binary.”

She said that the youth are a “work in progress” when I asked if she felt young people were more accepting. She didn’t think that they were necessarily more accepting but they view the world differently. Their views are not as solidified as much as the older generation. The old generation has “already made up their mind.”

She told me about how President Obama’s team consulted with them about what to say in his speech today. They wanted to choose the words carefully to not come across as a westerner dictating what to do. She said she felt that he chose the words carefully and successfully — and didn’t come off too strong. She said it’s bad that he is a westerner talking about these issues though — that hurts the reception of the message — but it helps that he has African heritage.

I asked her about the differences between the LGBT scene in Kampala and Nairobi because ████████████. She said “there is more decorum in Nairobi.” She told me that in Kenya there was an instance in which school children were kicked out of school because they were suspected of being gay. She said in Kenya the reaction was along the lines of ‘no these kids deserve an education; maybe we don’t accept homosexuality but every child deserves and education.’ “In Uganda they would have been like ‘no kick them out’ and ‘lets find more gays and kick them out.’ She said in Uganda people just make the issue really political and don’t have the “decorum” that is in Kenya. She hinted at Kenyans being more educated and having more educated discussions around the topic — while Ugandans have discussions that are based on falsehoods treated as fact.

She also talked about problems “we have as activists.” She said that “as activists we are very selfish. And that we don’t know how to contextualize what we are fighting for. We all want people to care about our certain issues but not everyone is going to care because they think it doesn’t relate to them. ███████████████████ ███████████ █████████ █████████. She said with that she is hoping to contextualize transgender issues — to show people that being transgender also is being a women, being an african, being a person of color. She repeated the idea that “LGBT issues don’t exist in a vacuum” and that people are struggling to recognize that. She said when people talk about economic issues and how it hurts the economy when we are homophobic that helps contextualize the struggle. She hopes with her activism to create more awareness in that way.

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I got home pretty late. Even the lights of Kampala City were dimming — and the view from the compound made the city barely look like a city at all.
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