Saturday, 19 February 2011

Prossy Kakooza: Kato "a hero and an inspiration"

David Kato
By Prossy Kakooza

It is three years and six months since I came to Britain from Uganda to ask for asylum because of my sexuality. Yet it feels like yesterday – especially with the recent news coming from my home country, which has brought back a lot of bad memories.

Hearing about the murder of the Ugandan gay rights campaigner David Kato was heartbreaking. I first heard of him when I was a young lesbian just coming to terms with who I was. Every single day there was a new threat to his life, but he stood tall and unwavering in the face of opposition. So many unknown gay people were disappearing one minute and turning up dead the next in mysterious circumstances; Kato was one of the few people who dared to ask why it happened. Before he died, he had just won a case stopping all major homophobic newspapers from "naming and shaming" gay people in Uganda. For me he was a hero, because he was my voice.

Following that news, it was very sad for me to hear that a lesbian from Uganda, known for legal reasons only as BN, was at Yarl's Wood awaiting deportation, on the grounds that the Home Office did not believe she was gay. Fortunately she has been granted a temporary reprieve. I can relate to this and know how hard it is to get asylum in the UK.

A lot happened to me in Uganda before I came to seek refuge here. I was imprisoned for being gay. I was also gang-raped, badly burned and beaten in a police station.

I managed to escape with the help of a family member. Naively, when I reached England I sighed in relief, thinking it was the end of my suffering and that I was going to be protected straight away – it never occurred to me that I was about to embark on the longest and toughest fight of my life. The asylum system is ruthless and can be very brutal.

When I arrived here I was in a bad way. Aside from the internal pain I sustained from the rape, the burns were at that stage where they become boils filled with fluids – when they burst it is the most excruciating pain. They were all over my legs and thighs. I went to an NHS walk-in centre and they were so shocked they refused to touch me. They called the police who, after hearing how I got my injuries, took me to a rape referral centre. I was not prepared for what happened next. After you have been badly violated, the last thing you want is prying hands, bright lights and people checking you over, even if I now know it had to be done.

I got a doctor's letter confirming that I had been raped, and that my injuries corresponded with what I was saying. The police took forensic photos as well. Despite all this, I was refused asylum: I was told that the Home Office agreed that I was gay and could not deny I was attacked because of the medical report, but that I had to go back and relocate to another part of Uganda. I had to go to court a number of times and was asked to give details of my rape – despite having medical reports available. It was like experiencing the attack over and over again. It was only after conducting a public campaign, with the help of some very kindhearted British people and others around the world who signed my online petition, that I managed to get asylum.

So when I heard about BN at Yarl's Wood, my heart went out to her. The simple fact that her name appears in newspapers alongside the word "gay" is enough to put her in danger. If anyone saw the recent images of Kato in his coffin, then – I hate to say it – that is the same fate that awaits BN if she is sent back to Uganda.

It would be a bittersweet twist to BN's story if Kato's death has at least some impact on Home Office decisions in this area, forcing them to acknowledge the reality of what awaits her if she is taken back. Even in death, Kato may still have the power to help his LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) compatriots. I hope he rests in peace. He was a hero and an inspiration to me.
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