Kuchus in Uganda: Double Lives

"I know I can be beaten, I know I can be raped, I know I can be killed. But I am not going to leave. We are stronger as a community." — Kasha. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Uganda, 2014.

"This battle is not just about the gays: We need to fight for the rights of others also. And let us fight not because we will win today, but for future generations." — John. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Uganda, 2014.

"I grew up not knowing that gay people existed, being tortured and very confused. At least now people know it is real, and they are talking about it. It shows that something is changing." — Andrew. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Uganda, 2014.

"I don't think we've given Uganda a chance to change. I still have hope that humanity will save itself." — Cleo. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Uganda, 2014.

"This bill will not change people. The government will not change people. But talking to people one-on-one, letting them see you are just like them...that will change people." — Frank. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Uganda, 2014.

"When I was growing up I didn't know many LGBT persons, so finding myself was a battle. ... There's been a lot of change, and now the rate of informed youths is so much higher. They know they aren't alone." — Brian. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Uganda, 2014.

"I used to worry about having to leave the country, but now I want to fight for my home. If it helps, I will stand in front of Parliament and tell them I'm gay." — Sandra. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Uganda, 2014.

"This bill means going backwards, it means going back in the closet, it means going underground. And it affects everybody." — Moses. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Uganda, 2014.

"I was born gay, and I was born a Muslim. I know there's a reason God created me like this. I have the guts to be both." — Akram. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Uganda, 2014.

"I want to say to the lawmakers, 'If you had a child like me, what would you do? Would you throw me away because of who I am?'" — Beyonce. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Uganda, 2014.

Ever since Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a bill criminalizing homosexual activity, the country’s LGBT population has been under siege. The law calls for sentences ranging from 14 years to life for charges of “aggravated homosexuality.” The law also criminalizes any allies of the LGBT community; anyone from public health workers to landlords to taxi drivers could be tried and imprisoned for “promotion.”

The law has meant that even photographs of the LGBT community have become dangerous to them. Ugandan tabloids like Red Pepper and Hello regularly publish photos, names and personal information of homosexual activists and citizens on their front pages, outing many and exposing all of them to abuse, including death threats. Some of the photos are pulled from social media sites, but many come from interviews with foreign news outlets.

These double-exposure portraits feature some of the most visible members of the LGBT rights movement—people who are defiantly public about their sexual identities and determined not to go underground. Even so, I wanted to convey that even the most prominent activists have to keep a part of themselves hidden to stay safe. This is what it means to be gay and illegal in Uganda.

I spent two weeks in Uganda in January, shortly after Parliament had passed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill when it was still unclear whether or not Museveni was going to sign it into law. The bill had passed under suspicious circumstances, without the quorum required by the Ugandan Constitution, and the president issued a series of statements condemning the MPs involved. Activists were cautiously optimistic, and they were angry. So they intensified their efforts to demystify homosexuality, racing against a signature they hoped would never come. They wanted their faces to be seen, to educate the outside world and to change perceptions in their own neighborhoods, workplaces and families.