5 Questions with Ugandan Trans Activist Julius Kaggwa

The tireless advocate talks about his efforts to expand civil rights in Africa, and how Philadelphia's LGBT Equality Bill may support his cause.

The 12th annual Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference kicks off today with a solid three-day lineup of panels, workshops, keynotes and even parties that are meant to promote transgender health and wellness. Several go-getters from Philly’s trans community will be hosting activities throughout the week, but the conference is also playing host to activists and educators from around the world. One of those speakers from afar is trans LGBTI activist Julius Kaggwa, the program director for Support Initiative for People with atypical sex Development (SIPD), an intersex support group that is fighting to stop Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which you may also know as the “Kill the Gays” bill.

Kaggwa has been fighting for years to encourage reps from the United States to support his cause. In fact, when I caught up with him this week, he had just arrived in Philadelphia after traveling up and down the West Coast to, as he explained in our conversation, engage with American religious communities that are based there. Continue reading to see why that is his target of choice, and how Philly’s just-signed LGBT Equality Bill may help further his fight for LGBTI protections all the way over in Uganda.

G Philly: What have you been doing since you arrived in America?
Julius Kaggwa: I’ve been doing some work with Amercian Jewish World Service, who sponsored my trip along with the Mazzoni Center and UHAI. We’ve been talking to partners about the state of LGBTI rights in Uganda, trying to raise consciousness and support for this issue, trying to see how to get more allies and partners engaged. We have been speaking with Jewish and Christian people of faith here in the United States, because [anti-LGBTI] extremist evangelicals from the United States create the issues we have in Uganda. It’s important that we get faith-based voices in favor of the rights of LGBTI individuals.

What will you be discussing at the conference?
I’m going to discuss the South African perspective on intersex and gender non-conforming health and rights to give people an idea about how we are mobilizing and what kind of best practices we are applying to further the rights of these people in Uganda, the East African region and most of the Sub-Sahara African region. I will talk about how the [Anti-Homosexuality] bill before the government’s Parliament in Uganda is affecting this building and organizing.

Why is it important that you bring this message to Philadelphia?
When we talk about the anti-gay bill, the impression one gets is that it is only targeting gay people, but it’s important for them to understand how it targets gender non-conforming people, too. It is important that the Philadelphia trans community understands how it affects the organizing we are trying to do for intersexed and gender non-conforming people in Uganda and all over the world.

Have you heard about Philadelphia’s LGBT Equality Bill that extends many rights and protections to our trans community?
Yes, I have. If we could only come as close as that back home . We’re not saying that people would understand, but if only we could get the freedom for people to be who they are, if we could at least get that much — for people to be free to express themselves the way they are. Because, let’s face it: Being intersexed and trans is not a crime. It does not involve harming anybody else.

Will Philly’s bill play a role in your fight for civil liberties in Uganda?
Yes, we will refer to it, but we will contextualize it because we do not want to give the impression that we are indeed importing anything from the West. Instead, we will refer to it as another progressive step — in addition to many other countries adhering to international human rights instruments to accord gender non-conforming people and other sexual minorities the right they deserve to be themselves. What I know is that my colleagues and I will be happy to read the Philadelphia bill (because we have only heard about it) before we make reference to it.

The Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference is going on now through Sat., June 15. For information on Julius Kaggwa’s sessions and a full schedule of events, go here. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required at check-in.

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