Gerald Kaunda, was born on 26th January 1994 in Kampala- his father was an NRA soldier and his mother is a professional teacher. Gerald was raised in Fort Portal; due to financial constraints, the twenty three year old dropped out of Makerere University after only one semester.
On 5th August 2016, Uganda Police officers commanded by the DPC of Kabalagala police Station Mr. Mugerwa raided Club Venom, where the several people had convened to witness the Mr and Ms Pride 2016 beauty pageant. Activists were arrested, trans persons shamed and insulted and the entire community was left shaken by the incident. However, one individual, Gerald Kaunda came close to losing his life after jumping off the fourth floor of the building- the closeted young gay man feared what would happen if his family found out about his sexuality.
He has since been undergoing treatment after terribly injuring his spine and exclusively spoke to Kuchu Times about dealing with the trauma from the incident and how it changes his life.
Gerald says,like any other person who has questioned his attraction to people of his sex, he started reading extensively about sexuality and finally got a few answers during his advanced level divinity class when they were taught about sexual deviations and quoted various verses from the Old Testament condemning same- sex acts. He says that at this point, these teachings made him realize that what he was going through dated way back to the olden times.
In 2015, Gerald was introduced to a bar that was a safe haven for Kuchus- he says he started to socialise here and made quite a number of friends. , “It was great meeting many LGBTI people in a single space like that, here I met different people. It was nice meeting people like myself and slowly, I became openly gay within the community. I also familiarized myself with organisations that work with the community and what they do,” Gerald recalls.
He also started connecting with several activists and people who were actively involved in the movement on social media. It was because of this that he was always updated about the events that were happening within the community- events he however rarely attended.
“I would see pictures on Facebook and sometimes newspapers of community members celebrating pride or attending other events but I was always cared to go because I was staying with my uncle who is an army officer and anything that would expose my sexuality was clearly going to cause me trouble,” he says.
A friend however convinced him to to attend the Mr and Miss Pride pageant. Excited about the much hyped event,m the two set off for what they anticipated would be a fun filled night.
Gerald was positive and told her that all would be fine. After a whole day of preparations for the event, at 8pm, Gerald and friends left for Kabalagala where the event was to be held. These arrived after the event had already begun and started enjoying the night like other guests, begun sharing drinks.
Little did he know that his life was about to become a roller coaster of emotions and happenings. A few minutes after 10pm, Gerald says he was shocked to see uniformed police men armed with guns interrupt the event.
At this point, he rushed to his friend and asked him what they were going to do to get out of this situation without being outed. They ran to the stairs but police had sealed it off; the entrance to the toilets had also been locked .
Gerald recalls thinking that his life was quickly coming to an end- he pictured his family finding out that he had been at a gay event and that did not seem like an option he could take.
He thought the police would arrest and parade all participants before the media and with frightening outcome imprinted in his mind, thoughts of suicide crept in. He confesses to having had a one track mind- finding a way to leave the scene. Seeing an escape opportunity at the open balcony, Gerald decided to jump and run.
“All that went through my mind was how my uncle would react if he even remotely connected me to being gay. He is a no nonsense person and I was not going to risk his wrath,” Gerald explains his thought train.
When Gerald fell off the building, he broke his spine and became unconscious. The tabloids broke the story and what he had feared came to pass- his uncle wanted to beat him and told his mother to make sure he never sees her son again.
“When my uncle gave my mother the newspaper that had published the story, she read it and asked me if this was true. I told her that he had just been invited to a party by a friend but didn’t know what it was all about,” Gerald reveals.
After the near fatal fall, he was taken to Mulago hospital. Dr Frank Mugisha and Pepe Onziema from Sexual Minorities Uganda intervened and transferred him to a facility where he received adequate medical care.
Gerald then underwent a spine operation since the fall had left him paralyzed; he was unable to move or stand and was confined to a wheel chair. His mother remained by his side, and although she had reservations, she chose to support and nurse her son.
“I remember when they told my mum what it would cost to have me operated, she cried saying that she is a poor single mother who couldn’t afford all this but Pepe and Frank comforted and stood with us during this really hard situation,” Gerald recalls.
Besides the spine injury, Gerald experienced other complications like forgetfulness, fatigue and use of a catheter for several months. “What I realized is that an injured spine an never heal, and sometimes the pain comes back. Up to this day, my lower body hasn’t fully regained its sensory functionality and one of my legs is still partially paralysed.
Gerald says there has been an upside to all this- he gathered enough confidence to come put and is no longer ashamed of his sexuality.
“Th e incident gave me more confidence because I didn’t have anything to hide anymore, whatever I was hiding came out in the open and after-all, I can’t change my feelings,”Gerald boldly states.
Gerald advises young gay people struggling in the closet like him to love who they are. He also encourages them to come out and fight for their rights because no one will come out to fight for them.
“Take examples of old activists like Frank, Kasha or Pepe, they are also growing old, the freedom we are enjoying now, its them who fought for it, so we must continue what they started if the next generation is going to enjoy the fruits that we see today,”Gerald says with renewed resolve.