Savannah Cox's Winning Essay

Justice for All: Valentine Kalende

The sultry African sun causes beads of sweat to drip down your forehead, just like everyone else. Your feet tread the summer soil, just like everyone else. But unlike everyone else, to the government you bear a mark. This mark is not discernable to the naked eye, yet if exposed, it could cost you your career, your home, and potentially your life. And so, like so many others with this mark, you live in fear of being “discovered,” and worse, you deny yourself the right to live and love passionately and publicly. You are gay and you live in Uganda. You are not, however, Valentine Kalende.

Ms. Kalende is one of the few “out” and open LGBT activists in Uganda, a country plagued with anti-homosexual legislation and where in 2010 a bill was nearly passed that would make certain homosexual acts criminal offenses punishable by death. While homosexuality has always been illegal in Uganda, the movement against it has not always been so blatantly and widely barbaric. Despite being exorcised by a local pastor and recommended to a “gay change” clinic by family and friends when younger, Kalende remained resolute in the legitimacy of her sexuality. And more recently, when gay “leak lists” have run in local newspapers underneath headlines reading “Hang Them,” and have resulted in lost jobs and murders, she perseveres. In 2008, Kalende, too, lost her job as a journalist (as well as her security) in a similar leak.

Yet in spite of the risks involved, she has not lost her hope, courage, or drive as one of the key LGBT activists in Uganda and, for that matter, the entire continent. Championing her cause abroad, Val has even made State Department-funded speaking tours throughout the United States. In raising awareness of the travesties being committed in her native land, and by advocating the cause, and struggle, for the LGBT rights movement, Kalende gives a voice and a name to all of those who are, and for good reason, too frightened to do so themselves.

Although Uganda’s homophobia has deeply Christian roots, Kalende, remarkably enough, has not renounced her faith. Rather, that is precisely where she finds her strength. That is perhaps the most inspiring thing about her, and by applying her stirring example to our own struggles, be them quotidian or cardinal, we discover a larger truth: that which largely causes and compounds a problem is also that which can ignite the flame toward its solution. In her blog, Kalende states that her body “represents […] Christ’s,” and that her abuse, regardless of form, “[symbolizes] resilience in the face of oppression.” Even when injured, His voice still called out for others’ salvation. And like her Savior, whose name others have used to justify their crimes, she too is a voice that demands justice for all, not just some. Val Kalende, then, is not merely a woman I greatly admire, but a paragon of grace, courage, and steadfast strength in the most dangerous of times.