Cleopatra Kambugu Kentaro
HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST
To love is free, but for Ugandan human rights advocate and trans-woman Cleopatra Kambugu Kentaro, it costs everything. In a 2016 award-winning feature-length documentary titled The Pearl of Africa, Kentaro is centered alongside her lover as she shares an intimate journey beyond binary restrictions to discover her identity. “In Uganda, there’s no language for trans people as existing beyond a binary, so as a child I didn’t have words to express my gender,” she told Huck Magazine. “I knew that I didn’t fit into the box of ‘gay boy,’ but I didn’t know how to define myself. It was male or female, heterosexual or straight. What I felt went against African norms of modern boyhood and manhood.”
Before becoming Africa’s first openly trans star, she faced an onslaught of challenges, including being forced to flee to Kenya from her native country after Uganda outlawed homosexuality. Though her biggest dream has yet to come true (“To be able to live in a world that’s not judgmental,” she once told Out), she remains active as a grants administrator at the East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative (UHAI EASHRI) to support the sexuality, health and human rights of minorities. “I want to be the first accepted trans woman in Uganda. For that to happen, Africa needs to openly talk about gender and sexuality, what it means to be an African woman or man. And, uncomfortable as you may find it, we need to talk about sex,” she said.