“I can now breathe” by Isaiah Kintu
I was born on the 25th March 1999 in the wrong body. I was named Isabella Nakintu. At the age of nine, everything indicated that I am a boy in a girl’s body. But since the culture demanded that I should be a girl, I had very limited support from my family. It became an intense personal problem. Later, I considered suicide as a solution but, as a Christian, the thought of taking my own life was overwhelming. Any attempts against the will of my parents were met with extreme violence, cultural rituals, flogging, and rejection.
At the age of 15, I made a difficult decision to go my own way; and street life gave me more comfort. This hard-knock life greeted me with crime, drugs, and prostitution and, by 2017; I had contracted HIV. I remember being arrested by the police in 2018 and the police had to undress me to ascertain my sex. Some were calling me a girl and others a boy. One police officer raped me in the night in the name of giving protective custody. Without any relatives interested in my plight, it took months before I was given a police bond, which I jumped. In the police statement I had made, I had clearly indicated that I am transgender, which was an automatic case of self-incrimination. I became a fugitive from our gruesome laws.
A fellow street mate hinted to me that there is a welcoming church which can help me hide away from the police and my family (by 2019, my family wished my death and attempts were being made to kill me by rat poison because of my gender and sexual orientation). After months of searching, I was finally connected to a Friends’ group. My friend said it was a church, but it was actually a Quaker Friends Meeting. They pray differently and at first I thought they were strange. But that didn’t really matter – they welcomed me as I am. They accepted me and never judged me or even asked me questions. This is the place where I belonged, this was the very first time I wasn’t trying to be something different. It was me and I felt the comfort of changing my name from Isabella Nakintu to Isaiah Kintu.
The events of late 2019 again changed things around. A Minister in Uganda announced the re-tabling of the “Kill the Gays” law. This meant that we had to go into more confined hiding in safe houses. The media are strictly controlled in Uganda and are ordered not to mention or report any state-sponsored homophobia, though somehow once in a while such news makes it to the international media. However, when a government minister makes a statement and introduces a law to kill gay people, the local people in rural villages and elsewhere understand this to mean they can take up arms, stones, machetes, sticks, etc. to beat and kill any suspected LGBTQI in mob justice (lynching).
After hiding in safe houses for weeks and losing one of our friends in a mob justice attack, more than 60 of us were safely helped to flee from Uganda to a safe harbor. Though I am happy for now, my expected final destination will be …. where I can get a job and start working, go back to school, and rebuild my life.
I wish to thank all the Quakers in the U.S. who are organized under the Friends Ugandan Safe Transport Fund, who funded my escape and those of my friends. You are miracle workers, and you saved our lives. Now we can breathe. Thanks AGAIN & AGAIN!
If you are able to financially support the work of Friends Ugandan Safe Transport Fund so that we can help us fund more people like Isaiah who need to get out of Uganda because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, please go to our DONATE page. Thank you!