Japan has developed a more favorable view of sexual minorities in recent years, but activist Mameta Endo wants to raise awareness of the issue further by encouraging people to take in a documentary that captures the hatred, harassment, and risk of prison time such people face in Uganda.
Parliamentarians in the East African country passed an anti-homosexuality bill in December 2013 that was signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni last February. Being homosexual is now a crime that carries a minimum sentence of two years in prison and a maximum of life behind bars, said Endo, who helped translate the script of the documentary “Call Me Kuchu.”
The film, to be screened Saturday in Tokyo as part of the Amnesty Film Festival at Yakult Hall, features David Kato, a Ugandan gay rights activist who fought the bill’s passage.
Kato was murdered in 2011, over an apparent personal disagreement. But human rights groups have called for an impartial probe into his death.
“What’s happening in Uganda may seem something so far away, but when I watched the film, I thought there was something I could do about the problems faced by sexual minorities,” said Endo, 27.
Endo fights to improve the rights of sexual minorities and helped bring about the film’s Japanese screening.
Endo was shocked to learn that the Ugandan law also punishes individuals, companies, media organizations and nongovernmental organizations that support legal protection for homosexuals. By screening the film, he hopes to deepen Japanese understanding of the issues faced by sexual minorities.
Homosexuals face death in some countries, including Iran, Sudan and Saudi Arabia, Endo said.
Endo, a transsexual who was born female but identifies as male at heart, became involved in the project after a friend asked him to help translate the script from English into Japanese.
“I immediately agreed, although I was not too confident of my English skills,” Endo said, adding he just wanted to help.
He and three other people, finished translating the film in February 2013. It has since been shown at universities and film festivals in Japan, including at the University of Tsukuba in Tsukuba in 2013, as well as Kwansei Gakuin University in Hyogo Prefecture and Aomori International LGBT Film Festival, both in 2014.
Although there are no laws in Japan that ban sexual minorities, Endo feels it’s a good opportunity to screen the film here, where he thinks the mood is right for people to understand the issues raised by the film.
“The perception of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) in Japan has changed greatly in the last five years or so,” because he feels the problems experienced by LGBTs are more widely understood.
“When I first started doing activities to support LGBTs about a decade ago, the subject was something that was made fun of,” Endo said. “The subject of LGBT was thought to be ‘too sexual’ to talk about, and people did not talk about it openly during the daytime,” Endo said.
However, Endo said, as the situation surrounding LGBTs has changed around the world, and people now see same-sex marriages even in TV news programs, educational institutions and Japanese society “have gradually changed. Now the subject comes up in conversation more and more freely.”
When Endo gave lectures about LGBTs at schools some five years ago, few members of the audience showed any interest in the subject. But more recently, Endo says educators and those in the media are likely more interested.
As LGBT children have problems fitting into schools due to their sexuality, Endo says it’s important that teachers get more involved.
I am “happy to see that there are more adults who would listen to the children’s (unheard) voices,” Endo said.
Endo also said it is shocking to see how certain media in Uganda discriminate against sexual minorities.
The documentary depicts how the Ugandan newspaper Rolling Stone published a front-page article in 2010 with the headline “100 Pictures of Uganda’s Top Homos Leak,” which listed the names, addresses and photos of 100 homosexuals. The paper also alleged that homosexuals aimed to recruit Ugandan children.
The publication attracted international attention and criticism from human rights organizations including Amnesty International and the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.
According to gay rights activists, many Ugandans have been attacked since the publication, including Kato, the protagonist of the documentary, who won a libel suit he filed against the publisher.
“When the translators, including myself, saw the scene of Kato’s funeral together, we were all speechless. We almost forgot that this was a documentary. It was so shocking that the situation seemed almost unreal, like some kind of drama,” Endo said.
But the film isn’t just about the “troubles and hardships that LGBTs face,” Endo said, adding it also shows the positive and fun side of their lives.
“I really like the way the documentary depicts the happy everyday lives of LGBT people, such as how they enjoy partying and cooking together. I want people to see that part of the film, too,” Endo said.
“Call me Kuchu” will be screened on Jan. 24 at 13:30 as part of the Amnesty Film Festival, held on Jan. 24 and 25 at Yakult Hall in Shinbashi, Tokyo. Tickets are sold at the door but readers are advised to confirm availability. For more information, call Amnesty International Japan at 03-3518-6777.
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