Kasha Nabagesera: The face of Uganda's LGBT movement

Updated 10:19 PM ET, Mon March 6, 2017

(CNN)In Uganda, where homosexual acts are punishable by prison sentences, being openly gay requires an astounding amount of courage.

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera is not only incredibly open about her sexuality, she's made fighting for the rights of Uganda's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community her life's work.
And it hasn't been easy.
Call the 36-year-old's phone and you'll likely be screened by an automated system. Usually, Nabagesera will only answer if she knows the number.
It's a necessary tactic to shield her from daily harassment and serious threats.
The activist says she has repeatedly been evicted from rented homes because her neighbors don't condone her sexuality and, due to fear of being attacked, she doesn't use public transport or walk the streets alone.
But to continue her fight against homophobia in Uganda, Nabgesera says it's a price worth paying.

Growing up gay in Uganda

When she was 13 years old, Nabagesera started writing love letters to girls.
"That's when reality kicked in and the word 'lesbian' started (having) a meaning to me," she tells CNN.
Nabagesera spent most of her school years trying to avoid suspensions and expulsions.
In the subsequent years, Nabagesera says she received countless suspensions and expulsions from various schools as her sexual orientation became increasingly apparent.
But it was while she was studying accounting at Nkumba University that she started to feel particularly targeted.
"I was made to sign a memorandum of understanding with the university administration that I would start dressing like a 'proper' woman and I had to report every day to show them that," Nabagesera says.
She says she was forbidden from wearing baseball caps and any other clothes that were considered to be for boys.
But the humiliation didn't stop there.
"I wasn't (able) to go within 100 meters (110 yards) of the female students' hostels (dormitory rooms)."
Nkumba University did not respond to CNN's request for a comment.

Family support

As Nabagesera and the university officials continued to clash, she was almost expelled until her mother intervened.
"I remember my mother telling me, 'Kasha I am going to have to say something you will not like, but I have to do this.'
"We went back inside the principal's office and she told them '(Kasha) is sick and her sickness has no cure. Just let her finish her studies and she will leave.'"
Nabagesera says she was shocked.
"But after the meeting my mom told me she had to do it to save my education because this time they were determined to expel me."
Despite her mother's pretense at the university, Nabagesera says her family, who raised her in Uganda's capital city, Kampala, have provided her with unconditional support.
She says her mother -- who was one of the country's first computer programmers -- and her father, an economist at the Bank of Uganda, created a very liberal home environment.
"I don't think I'd be able to do this work if it wasn't for my family," she says. "My parents always encouraged me ... they just took me for what I was."

Founding Uganda's LGBT movement

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It was these landmark moments during her education that Nabagesera says motivated her to found Uganda's LGBT movement at the age of 19.
"I became interested (in gay rights) and wondered: 'Why is this such a big deal?'
It was only after doing some research that she realized it was illegal to be gay in Uganda. Deciding she had to do something, she began holding meetings in a 'den' with friends to discuss LGBT discrimination.
"I didn't think I did anything wrong, and I still don't."
The African state's anti-gay laws can be traced back to its time as a British colony between 1894 and 1962, with homosexuality having been made officially made illegal in Uganda 1902. It carried a life sentence of imprisonment until 1930.
While it is illegal in Uganda to have sex with someone of the same gender, being a lesbian is not in itself a crime. In 2007 a judge ruled that "one has to commit an act prohibited under Section 145 in order to be regarded as a criminal."

Rising homophobia in Africa

Homosexuality is illegal in 38 African countries and, in recent years, legal rights for LGBT people across the continent have been diminishing, according to Amnesty International.
"I've realized there's a lack of informat