The toxic public discussion that surrounded the widely criticized Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014, which made gay sex and same-sex marriage punishable by life in prison, forced many LGBTQ Ugandans to flee the East African nation.
Ugandan LGBTQ rights activist and out lesbian Jacqueline Kasha Nabagesera saw first-hand how this increasingly dangerous environment was being inflamed by the local media. “Newspapers went from exposing LGBTQ people once every month to naming and shaming on almost a daily basis," Nabagesera tells NewNowNext. "I’d had enough of complaining about the media and decided to do something about it."
As a way to combat negative media portraying queer Ugandans as sexual deviants, predators, and a threat to the "traditional African family," Nabagesera set about creating a platform where LGBTQ people could share the reality of being out in Uganda.
Bombastic founder Jacqueline Kasha Nabagesera.
“I started to think, Why don’t we give our side of the story? [Now] we’re trying to change the narrative with Bombastic magazine,” she says.
Published in late 2014, the first—and free—issue of Bombastic magazine contained real-life stories of being queer in Uganda, including an interview with a transgender man living with HIV, a first-person account of what it’s like growing up gay in a small Ugandan village, and an article exploring the intersection of religious freedom and human rights.
On a shoestring budget, Nabagesera and her small team distributed 20,000 copies of the inaugural issue around Uganda, reaching sections of society that had never seen a positive representation of LGBTQ people.
Despite the Ugandan constitution guaranteeing the right to freedom of expression, publishing Bombastic is considered illegal because of its LGBTQ themes. But after receiving over 500 submissions from members of the community, Nabagesera realized that just one issue of the magazine would not be enough.
“I thought Bombastic was going to be a one-off because it started from a place of anger—it was a reaction against the anti-gay movement. But I was overwhelmed with the responses. Everyone was like, Thank God someone is now willing to do something about these lies in the media.”
Publishing the second issue in 2015 was no small task; Nabagesera turned to crowdfunding in order to pay the higher-than-normal printing costs, due to the legal risks that the printer would take on. Within 24 hours of launching her Indiegogo campaign, she passed her initial target and ended up raising more than $8,300, enabling the vital resource to continue publishing.
Operating from an office in the backyard of Nabagesera's home in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, Bombastic was able to mobilize the country’s queer community, and over 300 volunteers distributed the magazine. “We got calls from parents who didn’t know anything about transgender issues and were saying, ‘I think my child is transgender,’ and wanted more information. The response was amazing.”
As can be expected in a nation where male and female homosexual activity is illegal, the backlash was severe. Nabagesera received homophobic phone calls from members of the public, verbal attacks from churches who were shocked that the magazine was published, and even Ugandan Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity Simon Lokodo threatened to sue and arrest her.
Lokodo, well-know for his extreme anti-LGBTQ views, continues to target Nabagesera and Bombastic today. “Our fourth edition, published [last] March, was confiscated by the Ministry. They went on media and threatened everyone who had a copy of our magazine around the country, saying they were going to arrest [them].”
Volunteers still travel to different districts around Uganda, speaking with organizations about distributing the magazine. After any meeting, they must immediately flee the area to avoid security incidents. Furthermore, due to the difficulties many Ugandans face when trying to pick up a print copy of Bombastic, each issue of the magazine is uploaded to the Kuchu Times website, the first African media collective focusing on LGBTQ issues in Uganda, which Nabagesera also founded. Shortly after it was established, she realized that Kuchu Times could be far more than just a platform to read Bombastic, and introduced an online radio, TV channel, and news section in 2014.
“Volunteers from different countries in Africa send us articles about the events that are happening in their countries. Now we are publishing our fifth edition of Bombastic, and we’ve grown from a project that started in my backyard to a much bigger media platform,” Nabagesera says.
“The next edition is due out later this year and will focus on issues around immigration and refugees, since we have a lot of our LGBTQ community members who are stuck in the Nairobi and Kakuma refugee camps.”
Even as calls to ban and burn physical copies of Bombastic continue, Nabagesera sees a silver lining.
“It’s making people very curious about our magazine. So people go online and look for it, even if they don't have hard copies. The threats won’t make us stop. We have to tell these stories.”