Kuchu Pride: Full Interview
Interview by Ross Horsley
14th March 2019
RH: This is Ross Horsley recording for the West Yorkshire Queer Stories project on the 14th of March 2019. I’m here with Kuchu Pride. Would you like to just introduce yourself as well?
KP: Hi, I’m Kuchu Pride, a lesbian originally from Uganda. I’m 33 and… my pronouns are her/she and… I live in Leeds.
RH: Thank you for that. Would you be able to tell us a little bit about your journey from Uganda to Leeds?
KP: I came as a minor, originally seeking political asylum, so… there wasn’t much, I just arrived in the UK and I’ve lived here for the past 16 years.
RH: Which part of Leeds do you live in?
KP: Now I live in Lower Woodley.
RH: And what do you think of living in Leeds?
KP: I’ve lived in different places in the UK, and finally I think I found I can call somewhere home, and that is Leeds.
RH: What is it about Leeds that makes you feel like it’s home?
KP: I think I’ve never been able to feel very comfortable in different places, but I found a community, especially in Leeds, there are people like [?], the Rainbow Junction – it’s lovely to… it’s a city where you can be who you are and – it was rather hard, the first time, to adjust into, for example, like the going on the gay scene, that is hard, on the scene, but the few people you find that are lovely. For example, they moved me, it’s like we are a family, honestly. So, we’ve been involved in this battle of helping like other asylum seekers, to visit and I’ve got great support as well through the asylum system but I couldn’t be imagine – I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. To me, these people have made Leeds home. That wherever I am, I just know, okay, I have to go home, and that new home is Leeds.
RH: You mentioned Rainbow Junction – can you tell us a little be more about what that is?
KP: That is a café [unclear: possibly “a community café”] at All Hallows Church that helps people in the community. They volunteer there, they can go help with the cooking, and people get some food, they get a hot meal. And food to take home. They prevent food waste.
RH: And what sorts of people go there?
KP: All sorts of people go there, because those who use the, people who need who are homeless, who need a warm place to sit and a meal, people who need support in the community, and those who are supporting the café. Y’know, they don’t need support, but they know the importance of the café, that it needs to go on.
RH: Do you know anything about who set it up?
KP: Actually, no, I just know Emily who runs it. Emily Kerrigan.
RH: So, how would you describe the community that you feel you fit into here in Leeds?
KP: How would I describe it? I think a bunch of very loyal, fierce, loving people and um – they move me, because it isn’t the – I’ve lived around and to me I never got that; I never got to fit in the community. But for people to embrace you and mutually, to know if you need anything because it’s, it became a bunch of like family. They became family, wherever you are, you just know that, I will call her and she will help me with this, so that is… yeah, I think that makes me stuck in Leeds! [laughs] Stuck quite well.
RH: Can you think of any particular occasions where you’ve given some support to somebody, or they’ve supported you in something?
KP: Hmmm, I supported somebody… It’s easier to pick when I support somebody [laughs] No, um, I think a lot – okay I’ll go back to why I love Leeds most. There comes a time – was it last year, May? – when a friend of mine was detained, was an asylum seeker, and they were wrongly detained, they were at the Home Office. And, what amazed me most, I had to just call on those people, and I was amazed at how much help they offered, how much backing, they got a petition going, they got calling on their MPs, they got councillors on the case – and I was beyond moved, that to me it became more than home, because it became a unit, saying you cannot attack us; you cannot remove one of ours. So, to me it more than moved me, it showed me that you belong somewhere, because these people embrace you, wholly. And they did that, and I was like, ‘okay’, and yes, brilliantly, successfully we managed to get her out of detention. So, to me, there was the support – they helped me as much as I helped them to help a friend.
RH: You’re a member of African Rainbow Family now. Can you tell us a little bit about that organisation?
KP: African Rainbow Family support asylum seekers and refugees. I usually say it’s easier to ask what they don’t do. And they help from the beginning; they help you integrate when you get your status, and they help – they provide you a community, because being an LGBT asylum seeker can be very isolating – or a refugee – for example, we meet here at Mesmac every once a month. And… you get to discuss, in case you have a problem, because some people have a language barrier, others tend to have no lawyers, your lawyers ditch you at the last minute, and – for example, some in detention, they need that help, with the organisation, basically it’s a link, it’s also it’s called the African Rainbow Family – it is a family, because they become the only family you have.
RH: What sort of size is the group at the moment?
KP: Our group as a whole, it is big, cos there’s Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, and people from everywhere. I think you come and join the nearest close to you, so I think that is a massive group.
RH: You mentioned that it’s quite difficult to sort of join the gay scene in Leeds; what is it about that that makes it feel like that?
KP: [Sigh] Unfortunately, it’s we all have the illusion of freedom, of coming where we’re from everything that okay that thank god the gay scene here’s accepted; then you find the discrimination’s still there. It exists because of your colour, because I remember going in – I think it’s now closed down, it was Bumble, something close to Fibre, Queens Court, there was some small thing there, Mr Nobody then, it’s gone to Mr Nobody then. There was, I think it’s lesbian socialists, there was a group that runs that, lesbian socialism Thursdays, some Thursdays, and every time I’m going in, first time and nobody talked to me ‘til actually like the leader came – Kat, Katia something or Kath – came and talked to me, and that’s when I’m like, you mean I needed a seal of approval? I remember somebody asking me, what are you doing here? And I’m like, d’you think I don’t know where I am? They said, do you know it’s a gay – and I do know, that’s why I’m here. So, to me, I found that very isolating, I’m like, you mean you can’t even hold a conversation with me? Do I need to prove – of all the hassles one goes through, I’m sitting here, you’ve met someone, talk to me. I’m that first, you don’t have to tell me you’re gay or anything, just talk to me. You can have a conversation and that can come later, you don’t have to tell me that, do I know where I am, am I lost?
RH: Did you go back after that experience?
KP: I went back once, with friends, who wanted to get to know, but not really. I think after a couple of times of such treatment I was enough is enough.
RH: Had you spent your teenage years in Leeds, growing up?
KP: No. I was in Newcastle, then London.
RH: Was it difficult being here, and being LGBT?
KP: It is difficult in a way that – it is another kind of difficult, over where you experience the freedom, which you’re not allowed it in this guise, and where you experience the… what can I call it? The discrimination, in a silent way, because it involves a lot of isolation, because the people where you come from, or the people from the African background, are not interested in me, they’re not willing to help you; you are basically lost. You belong, yet you do not belong. You belong to – you belong more where? [pause] And then you don’t have much of a – you don’t have much means to go out or to make friends of the same… so, you just float through, that period, in isolation. So, yeah.
RH: What reasons have other members of the African Rainbow Family got for their coming here to Leeds, is it mainly asylum seeking?
KP: Why that African Rainbow Family came to Leeds?
RH: The people who are members of the group, are their stories quite similar, or are they all their experiences quite different would you say?
KP: I don’t know, I think everybody has a story to tell, and their stories are different, but for me, the main reason as to why I attend this group is the social contacts, more than anything – it’s the feeling of belonging. For one thing or the other, it’s – you only support your friend that is that that one group. There is another – hmm, there used to be a couple, actually, one used to meet here. D’you know Dwayne? Who runs the…?
RH: Yes. Bayard is it?
KP: Bayard Project. But I don’t know much about what’s been happening these days. There is a young lady called Samra, Samra Manger – I don’t know if she’s originally from Uganda, or if her parents are even from Uganda, and she’s one of the greatest people I know who provide all the support with everything, and… they do a people of colour group, where we meet, a person of colour of group where we do meet, from house to house, so that is brilliant. Because it gives you some grounding of [unclear] people where you know you won’t be discriminated, and slowly you get, you get to settle. So, I think that’s why I’ve loved Leeds, because, despite the problems, there is also an underbelly of love somewhere.
RH: What’s it like looking for work and jobs here?
KP: [Sigh & laugh] It isn’t – it is okay, like the only problem for now I’ve found was… too many questions [laughs] and… the questions are okay, I think it’s the process, because I’m trying to look for healthcare work, after getting the refuge- after getting settled I went into the housing, something like, what is it called – supported housing like what you, where you have to get into supported housing means that you can’t get work certain hours, because you have to be able to afford your own housing, which you cannot afford it, because you need to, if you go private you need a guarantor, another guarantor, basically it’s a whole lot of different things that I don’t understand, whereby basically asylum seekers are left of the mercy of the council to house, just to get a lift up, to get into the system, and that can take months, if you’re lucky that is – months if you’re lucky, yes. So it’s a system which just limits you; I’ve found that it’s very limiting [pause]. But you just have to go with the flow. You can’t win, that’s fine.
RH: Members of African Rainbow Family, when you meet to socialise at the group, do you find that there’s opportunities for you to meet and socialise outside of the group as well?
KP: Yes, you have a choice because it’s a matter of people, it’s – they get you together. So, it’s up to you to make the contacts, because I’ve made friends, like for you, you talk, you meet, we just met on Monday. Because it’s a matter of support, to support other people, other friends who are going to court. So, it was supporting somebody, we went together, to court, to support them, together with [name], so it’s – you have different opportunities, if you want to go out, you can say, do you want to go, fancy a drink? It’s so much relieving that isolation. Because that affects people’s mental health. It’s the one thing that literally kills you slowly. So, you aim to help each other, through the whole process.
RH: Do people discuss their sexuality as part of that process?
KP: Some do. But you have to discuss your sexuality because you have to introduce yourself. And, yeah, if someone doesn’t it’s also within their choice. But then how will you get the support, if nobody knows what your – what your problem is? I think that’s kind of the double-edged sword in seeking asylum, nor can you be quiet about your sexuality, cos then nobody, because it’s, people have to support you, people have to know you as you. So if they don’t know you as you, then why are you seeking the support itself? You’re comfortable in who you are.
RH: Have you met people who’ve had to prove their sexuality to the Home Office, for instance?
KP: I think we all have to prove our sexuality to the Home Office; that is the unfair bit. But how you prove is also – I don’t know. But the one thing that helps, actually, if you get to talk about you, people get to know you, because you find that people have lives, people have partners. And, if over two years I’ve come to know you, I’ve known you, we’ve socialised, we’ve lived together, then I can say, ‘yes, I know this person… and this is how they lead their lives and what they’re saying is true’. So, that is one thing. But proving is rather difficult [laughs]. It is rather difficult, excepting[?] people you hang around with, yeah, but unfortunately that’s everybody’s path if you’re seeking asylum.
RH: You mentioned that you’ve finally got a feeling of home living in Leeds – do you still have connections with Uganda?
KP: Unfortunately, no. The only connection I have with Uganda is LGBT asylum seekers here from Uganda. Because there’s another group I attend in London, called Out and Proud African LGBTI, and I happened to find some Ugandan LGBT asylum seekers living here though, and that is as much connection as I need [laughs]
RH: Do you take part in any events, either artistic-type ones or more protest-type ones?
KP: Oh yes, I do take part in protests. Especially like, I attended the protest in, the CHOGM [Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting] protest, for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the Commonwealth. And I protest together with the Peter Tatchell Foundation. And I also attend Prides, for me Pride is a protest: it’s the ability to speak for the voiceless and march for those who can’t march because it’s something hard, people oppressed in other countries that you cannot speak, where they don’t have the freedom. Like I can go walk with my girlfriend, call them, do anything and don’t think about it. But others have to think about it, they have to really try and hide who they are. If when you get here, even when they get here, they just expect – I think the Home Office expects them to just… become like they grew up here, they’re not taking that into consideration, that people have been, it’s been years of them being like that, so you can’t expect them to be like British-born – accept all their freedoms. And then you find people who, even though they’ve been here, they can’t hold hands in public, neither can they kiss in public.
Recently I was with my girlfriend at the National Express station, coach station… and she’s, when we came there were some people from Africa, surrounding us, it was a queue of people and I’m like, ‘I have to go through this, my coach has been called’. Just to kiss her goodbye, she’s like, like what, I don’t give a damn [laughs] you are free! You should be who you are, but it’s such moments that people, they can’t help themselves, that fear comes through. They have to remember where they are. And it’s not something you do intentionally: it’s something that is far more deep. They know even if they have the freedom, like, they will beat us up, and I’m like, are they going to stop your life because you’re scared of being beaten up? One person, I’m like, ‘maybe there’ll be one homophobe who can run to the coach’ [laughs] For me, I’m like, ‘you’re not denying me my goodbye kiss for this, I won’t see you in a couple of weeks’.
So, yeah, that is an unfortunate part of where we’re from. Some things last a lifetime. Some traumas last a lifetime. And, the added stress of being an asylum seeker and the fact that they expect everything to change in a minute – that is the lie they like to tell themselves. Nothing changes automatically.
RH: How long did it take you to go through the asylum process?
KP: It took me a long time, but I’d have to – I applied because of my sexuality, because I didn’t actually know I could apply because of my sexuality, it turned out because I was applying [unclear] my activity is enough to like, okay, they told me, ‘you need a fresh claim’, how do you know you need a fresh claim? I’ve been waiting for this long, you’ve been telling me to wait, wait; how can you tell me that you sent my documents, you know that I did not, that I replied late? So my questioning was like, let me know why you say replied late, give me the, what I replied because I can assure you I did not reply you, so show me exactly where is it I replied and what were you reply, where did you send it? It was after that they just said okay, just send me a fresh claim. I sent in my fresh claim, and I was interviewed, I think it… the process was a year, so yeah, a long process. Because they send me to in January and by December I was granted.
RH: Did you have any support when you were going through that process?
KP: Support, yeah, I had a lot of support from friends. [Unclear] Samra, it included reporting, Samra used to hold my hand, go to the reporting centre, come back, and when it came to the interview, she escorted me to Liverpool. I had support from different groups, like African Rainbow Family. I remember Aaron, when it was [called] ReachOUT, and Jess/Jez[?]. So it’s lovely, it’s a learning process where you just need to think, and at times you’re useless of even thinking of knowing what next step you’re taking; it’s the people around you who support you, because anything can happen. Usually the process doesn’t go well for everyone. They say in a minute you’re going to be detained, so it’s a process where you’re under too much stress.
RH: What did it feel like when you were finally granted asylum?
KP: [pause] What did it feel like? I remember crying… stupidly crying, then stopped, then after saying, it really took this bloody long, you wasted my whole life I was. I feel [relief?] about it, but also I was like, it really didn’t have to be this long, and you didn’t have to pass through a process where you feel violated. Because, I don’t think everybody needs that. We go through some different, very difficult experiences that you bury so deep and – the only reason as to why I had to even, for me to go through the process, was I had to come to terms with those to be able to speak about them and… I had support, I ended up getting psychological support, and PAFRAS [Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers], the organisation, was helping me and mental health stuff they forwarded me on. And it was very difficult, even having to do this statement I just had to go through [unclear], talk, go through another session of help, saying okay now I think you’re ready, you can proceed. And then, so it was very difficult. [Pause] And from the beginning to I think the end, because after pouring your heart out it’s up to somebody else to step in, and they dismiss your life as [unclear] or your pain, so it’s kind of, it’s a very difficult time, where somebody else can just play with your pain.
RH: Do you feel accepted by people who just live here, who haven’t had to go through this?
KP: [pause] Mmm, depends which people. Getting accepted… I think, yeah, I’ve found some lovely people in Leeds, that’s why I call it home. I think to me, they are like my sisters… I do feel accepted because it’s the only community I have.
RH: Do you have any plans for the future?
KP: Go back to study [pause] yeah, and… and have a life: it just feels good. Literally just feels good to finally face, you know, and just say, ‘Oh hi! [laughs] I will see you tomorrow!’ Or something like that, down the street. It’s… it’s different because now you have a chance to dream, you can see a future happening. And, yeah, I hope to marry my girlfriend. And making plans: we’re going to have a baby soon, so there is – I think like becomes different that way because then you can dare to dream, and hope for something, and it’s within reach.
RH: Where would you like to get married?
KP: Mill Hill Chapel [laughs].
RH: Why is that place the special place?
KP: Why is it special? I think it’s special, for me especially it’s the fact that I can literally get married to somebody I love, because I am religious, I’m in a church; I think it’s something that means something to us. It means, I think it’s a round circle, we come full circle to acceptance and embracing who we are, and they’re just parts of us. I think that is the bit we usually leave behind, with the hatred, and that would be something, beautiful. And I think when she was here last I took her there, like, ‘that is the church I want us to get married in’.
RH: What did she make of it?
KP: She was happy, she was like, ‘Really?’ I’m like, ‘yeah, when the time comes we’re gonna just,’ she was like, ‘they’re gonna allow us to get married?’ I’m like, ‘yeah, in that church’. At least that’s what I’m sure of.
RH: So, does she travel from another part of the country to see you?
KP: She travels from London. Hounslow, she travels from London.
RH: How long have you been going out?
KP: Since December. Since December – she’s from my country… And I think the first time I knew I wanted to really date her – she was beautiful, she’s one of those people who really captivates you and you’re like ‘mm-mm, you are from my country’. She reminds me a lot of trauma, but with her I think I found healing… because it’s the ability of working and hearing somebody speak your language anyway, it is okay, and you don’t have to panic and, yeah… I think she’s brought me some serious healing… I love her. I would never date somebody from my country before – before everybody’s far away because I was busy running away from my past
RH: I think that’s a lovely note to end it on. Is there anything you’d like to talk about or say?
RH: That’s brilliant, thank you very much.
KP: You’re welcome.