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Tuesday 11 April 2017

Steven's story: fear, defiance and escape

Posted in: True Stories
By Jacqui Stanford - 21st June 2012

On a Saturday afternoon at a suburban Auckland library I met Steven Kasiko, a man who escaped Uganda after his name was published in the revolting Rolling Stone newspaper. The newspaper  ran pictures of the nation's "100 top homos" with the words "hang them" attached to the headline.

Steven Kasiko is hoping for a new life in New Zealand
One of the men listed in that publication, gay rights activist David Kato, was indeed killed, bashed to death with a hammer after winning a lawsuit against the newspaper. Police claimed he was murdered over a dispute about payment for 'sexual favours', but his colleagues and gay rights activists are adamant the death was related to the threats and harassment Kato received after the 'hang them' headline was published.

The minister at Kato's funeral added insult by going on an anti-gay tirade, something which exemplifies Uganda as being a country where gay people are, quite simply, hated. A country which has tried to put forward a law to 'kill the gays', and where gay rights activists are openly laughed at and mocked by MPs as they make submissions to Parliament.

It's from this background that 41-year-old Steven Kasiko, a handsome guy with a smile that belies his heart-breaking story, left Uganda for New Zealand more than 18 months ago after his own name was published and he was outed in the Rolling Stone. As he tries to start a new life here, hoping to gain refugee status, he is terrified for his partner of four years, who was arrested after Kasiko's exit from Uganda.

He now has absolutely no idea where he is. No idea at all.

"I don't know what's happened with him," he says softly. "They arrested him and now we don't know where he is. From when they arrested him, up till now, we don't know where he is. Because where they took him, they told me, but they try to move around. And even his family members are not interested in knowing."

He is trying to get on with his life in New Zealand, where he is for the most part going it alone. He is desperate to be part of our community and make friends - and has an overarching hope his partner will be found and one day will be able to join him in a new life here.

"So scary, what has happened with him," he mumbles. "And sometimes it is hard to believe because the way the [Ugandan] politicians talk it's as if nothing is happening," he says, pointing out he knows too well there is much more going on than they let on.

As we sit and chat between stacks of books, Kasiko's eyes betray him with the hurt and sadness flowing behind them.

He speaks softly; even after being in New Zealand for more than 18 months he is still getting used to fact that he is in a country where he can actually speak about his sexuality.

"It's so scary," he says of being a known gay man living in Uganda. "People all the time they are after you. Once they realise you are 'one of them' the people are after you... and in your family, no-one wants to talk to you at all."

The awful Rolling Stone newspaper
After he was outed he received threatening phone calls and so much attention that even just going to work became hard. His family already knew he was gay - his father tried to force him to get married, and when he stood up to his dad he was cast out of the family.

While the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, better known as the "Kill the Gays" Bill, has been shelved for now, Kasiko doesn't think it will remain so for long. "Parliament, they're just sitting on it, we don't know what may happen next."

He blames the colonisation hangover for the hateful outlook of the people in a country where sex between men is still illegal. "The mind-set in Uganda, for most of the people, is hatred ... that is one thing that is hard to do, to change the mind-set of the people so people can live freely," he says. "I don't know what can be done, it's hard, the mind-set of the people is hard to change."

Kasiko is utterly shy when talking about any aspects of his sexuality, like what type of men he likes. But he is clear on what he wants from his life now, in New Zealand:

"At least to enjoy my life where I have no limits, like in Uganda. To be able to walk free with my partner and give him a hug and people won't look at you a different way," he says, laughing happily at the thought of being able to kiss a man and hold his hand in public.

He went to the Big Gay Out this year and was amazed. "It's so different here," he says. "So different. I couldn't believe it. It was my first time seeing something like this in my life, because it couldn't happen in Uganda."

He has also checked out a gay bar, something he enjoyed, "I'd like to go back there," he says.

Kasiko has a working visa and is currently seeking refugee status. In his home country he worked for the Uganda Wetland Conservation Association, and he would love to work in an environmental field once more.

He is grateful that in New Zealand he has the freedom to talk, which he can't do in Uganda. He hopes he can help fight for change from this part of the world. "In Uganda you can't come out, you can't talk about anything. No-one will listen to you. No-one. You become isolated, everyone will distance themselves from you," he explains.

Yet he is still pretty lonely in New Zealand. "I'm still trying to look around for friends," he says. "When I first came, the place I was staying was hard for me, because they were so strict on me. They were mainly Christian, so I found that really hard."

He doesn't want much, really. Just to be with the man he loves in a nation where he is safe to do so; to be able to work in the field he loves; and to have some gay friends. Let's hope New Zealand can grant these simple wishes for a man who has had more than anyone's share of pain for being something we just very simply are: gay.

UPDATE: publication of details of the decision from the Immigration and Protection Tribunal in Kasiko's case has been banned, in line with its strict legal policy.

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Jacqui Stanford - 21st June 2012