This year the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics (IGLA) Board, in conjunction with a fellow swimmer Nate Freeman, is proud to bring five LGBT Ugandan swimmers to IGLA 2016 in Edmonton, Canada. The idea is to give the Ugandans an opportunity to interact with other LGBT athletes from around the world and to speak about LGBT issues in their home country. Several of the swimmers are LGBT rights activists.
The Uganda Kuchus Aquatic Team (UKAT) was founded in 2016 as an effort to increase opportunities for LGBT athletes in Kampala and provide a safe space where anyone can learn how to swim competitively regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The team has been inspired by the chance for some of its members to attend the IGLA championship in Edmonton, Canada to be held August 8-14, 2016. This opportunity has been made possible by generous support from the IGLA Board who pledged up to $6,000, Edmonton’s Making Waves Aquatic Club who has waived the registration fees and secured housing, DC Aquatic Club (DCAC) who is serving as a pass-through on donations raised, generous donations from members of the Liquid Assets New England Swimming (LANES), and from the aid of additional swim teams across the US and Canada—especially DCAC, Tsunami, and TNYA. The five swimmers who will attend the championship were granted visas by the Canadian government, who has demonstrated an openness and commitment to supporting LGBT rights across the world. MP Randy Boissonnault, from Edmonton, was especially helpful in recommending that the swimmers be allowed to attend the competition.
The five UKAT swimmers, who will compete in Edmonton, include Diane Bakuraira, who is an administrative officer at Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), one of the longest running Ugandan organizations that focuses on LGBT rights. Diane swam with the Ugandan national team when she was younger, but as a gender non-conforming person she (who also uses the pronoun he) was increasingly denied opportunities to compete.
Clare Byarugaba has spoken out against the government’s stance on LGBT issues. She was a co-coordinator of the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, a group that was instrumental in overturning the Anti-Homosexuality Act, a law that was passed in 2014 that provided life sentences for homosexuality and criminalized any activism around this issue. Clare currently works with Chapter Four Uganda, a legal organization that protects civil liberties. She has visited Canada previously as an activist and is eager to travel there as an athlete as well.
Both Sadat Kinene and Phiona Katiiti, who goes by the name Adebayo, are physical trainers. They have both worked at health clubs and as educators at schools and became friends through this work. Adebayo is also an active footballer and was named Mr. Pride Uganda in 2015. They are both excited to add competitive swimming to their list of activities and achievements.
The newest member of the team, Deb Muganzi, works with Icebreakers Uganda, another well-established activist group for LGBT people. She is a singer and musician, performing with the Talented Ugandan Kuchus, an LGBT band that is popular in Kampala (“kuchu” is the slang word commonly used by members of Uganda’s LGBT community to describe themselves). Deb is thrilled to be in the pool and can’t wait to meet everyone in Canada.
The team is coached by Delores Martinez, an internationally certified swim instructor who is originally from Colorado and has been living in Uganda with her daughter Bella for many years. Delores will not accompany UKAT to Canada, but will stay in Kampala to work with the growing number of swimmers that the team has attracted since its initial practices several months ago.
The team was coordinated by Nate Freeman, a human rights lawyer and activist from the United States who has been in Uganda since January 2016 working with the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF). In 2015, Nate founded the Out in Africa Ride organization and rode his bicycle from Cairo to Cape Town to raise money for LGBT groups, including HRAPF, along the route. He’s excited to support the athletic community in Kampala and hopes that the chance to send a Ugandan team to the IGLA championships this year will be the first of many more opportunities for LGBT athletes in Uganda.
If you are interested in supporting this initiative, you can make a tax-deductible contribution to DCAC via the PayPal link below. DCAC will send the funds to IGLA which will help defray the costs of airfare and meals. Please contact the DCAC Treasurer (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have questions.
For some background on HRAPF and challenges facing LGBT athletes in Uganda, check out this article by DCAC’s own Kevin Majoros.
We hope you can support this worthy initiative!