Earlier this year homosexuality was made illegal by Uganda’s government. Elena May-Jones talks to LSi about the impact this is having upon the LGBT community in Uganda and what can be done to support them.
On February 24th 2014, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda passed the anti-homosexuality law. Human rights campaigners have called it the worst legislation of its kind in the world. It is now illegal to engage in any ‘homosexual activities’, or to support gay rights. Specifics of the law include life imprisonment for ‘serial offences’ and ‘aggravated’ homosexuality: having sex with a minor, someone with disabilities or someone HIV positive. Merely touching a person ‘with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality’ can lead to a jail term, and any behaviour perceived as being in any way ‘homosexual’ risks grave punishment. The law was passed despite denouncements from heads of states across the world, and despite the vocal cries of outrage and dismay of a huge international body of people. This legislation was not pieced together in the shadowy corners of Uganda’s parliament: its progression has been well documented, and it was finally passed last month under the enraged glare of millions.
The implications of this law are ominous, and human rights groups’ fears that the already virulent homophobia would grow even more toxic if the law was passed are already being realised: many have fled the country or have gone into hiding. People fear leaving their houses in case they are arrested.
Even before it was passed, homophobia in Uganda was vicious and widespread. Anti-homosexuality laws have been a part of Uganda’s constitution since the colonial period, but only in recent years has the vilification of the LGBTQ community become so venomous and acute. Contributing to this surge in homophobia was the growing influence of American fundamental evangelists in Uganda whose preaching on the unnatural and ungodly nature of homosexuality was falling on increasingly receptive ears. As progressive steps for gay rights were being made across the world, this group shifted its focus to African countries with large Christian majorities. The hatred they stirred up was given further fuel by the president who proclaimed that the West was trying to spread positive homosexual propaganda in his country in a new wave of ‘social imperialism’. This law, he says, will reverse this troubling trend.
Rainbow Health Foundation Mbarra (RHFM) is a gay rights group in Uganda founded by Dismus Kevin. They work to provide health care and a safe place for LGBTQ people in the area, and formed in response to the increasingly hostile and homophobic attitudes they were facing every day in Uganda. LUU Amnesty Society was involved in fundraising for the charity last term; we held a film screening of the incredible Call me Kuchu, and invited guest speakers. The night was a great success and we raised £205 from donations alone. But when the anti-homosexual legislation became law last month, RHFM disappeared from the internet. Just days later, Dismus made front page news. ‘How We Became Homos- Top Ugandan Gays Speak out’. His name, age and photo accompanied the spread. In 2010, gay activist David Kato had been ‘outted’ in a similar fashion. He was later murdered in his own home.
Gavin Kelleher, fundraising secretary for Amnesty Society, managed to get in contact with Dismus. While we were immensely relieved to get a response of any kind, what he had to say was devastating. ‘When I saw myself on the front page, I wanted the world to open up and consume me right there…I have nowhere to run to’. He explained that he has had to leave his home, his work and has lost friends. RHFM is now classified as an illegal organisation; the group has disbanded and its members are now in hiding. He wants desperately to live a life where he does not have to hide his sexuality. ‘My freedom has been taken away from me, because living in constant fear is not living at all’.
We want to help. Our aim is to raise enough money so as to pay for the safe relocation of a LGBTQ person deemed particularly at risk. All donations will go directly towards making a critical difference to the life of an individual victim of persecution. On Wednesday 26th March, we are hosting a night at Full Circle. Our Harambee will bring to you an eclectic mix of entertainment, with live music and spoken word, incredible raffle prizes and a silent art auction, food provided by Leftovers and Junk Food Project, and finally the incredible drag king Ingunn. We hope you will join us for this spectacular night of fun, frivolity and merriment in aid of the Ugandan LGBTQ community. Doors open at 7pm until midnight. We hope to see you there.