Imagine growing up in a society where just being yourself could result in rejection, violence and even death. It sounds like the plot of a film, or the premise of a particularly harrowing dystopian novel. However, for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or even just questioning Ugandans, this is a reality that they have to face every day of their lives.
Call Me Kuchu. Photo: callmekuchu.com
Uganda is one of 76 countries in which homosexuality is illegal. The crime currently carries the penalty of imprisonment if proven, with LGBT Ugandans living in daily fear of attacks and discrimination. Although homosexuality has been a crime in Uganda since the onset of colonialism, hostility has increased significantly in recent years. This has been influenced, among other factors, by Evangelical American preachers such as Scott Lively, who travelled to Uganda in 2009 to preach about the “evils” of homosexuality.
The dangers faced by LGBT Rights activists in Uganda have been receiving increasing publicity in recent years, partly inspired by the murder of prominent campaigner David Kato in January 2011. Kato, the advocacy and litigation officer for Sexual Minorities Uganda, was killed in his own home, just three weeks after winning a court settlement against a local newspaper for publishing the addresses of local LGBT people and invoking violence against them.
His death came two years after the introduction of a bill into the Ugandan parliament proposing the death penalty for transgender, homosexual and bisexual citizens, or those merely suspected of being so. If the bill comes to pass, not only will LGBT Ugandans face capital punishment, but anyone who knows a homosexual and fails to report them within 24 hours will face up to three years in prison. The bill has so far been defeated twice, but was introduced again in November 2012.
Fortunately, on 13 December, partly due to local and international outcry, the Ugandan Parliament was adjourned. However, it is due to restart discussions of the bill in the upcoming weeks, and the possibility of its passing is still a cause of major concern for human rights activists the world over. Therefore, it is essential that this extra time is used effectively in order to ensure that the bill does not go through.
For further information on this issue and on measures that can be taken to aid the efforts of Ugandan activists, you can visit the website of SMUG, Uganda’s leading organisation for the protection of sexual minorities, at sexualminoritiesuganda.net. Information can also be found on action.amnesty.org.uk, and callmekuchu.com, the website for a recent documentary about the lives of LGBT activists in Uganda.