What’s life like for LGBTQ people in Uganda?
Authorities in Uganda have been using the Covid-19 pandemic as another opportunity to persecute LGBTQ people, arresting gay men for allegedly disobeying social distancing requirements.
The Guardian reports a recent example where a shelter for LGBTQ people was raided by police.
The police gathered together the men who lived at the shelter and presented them to journalists who had been brought along to observe the raid – the journalists took photos of the men.
“After the ‘photoshoot’, they tied us like slaves and marched us through a trading centre full of homophobic people…” recalls Ronald Ssenyonga – one of the men arrested in the raid. “Some people slapped us. Others hit us with stones or whatever they could find. They shouted and condemned us.”
A video of the raid went round on social media. In it, Haji Abdul Kiyimba, mayor of the town council where the shelter is located, demands the young men tell him their parents’ phone numbers while whipping them.
Human Rights Watch says Uganda is using the cover of coronavirus to marginalise and target gay people. “At the root of the arrests is homophobia.”
Kill The Gays
In recent years, Uganda has been a fairly horrific place to be if you’re queer. It was five years ago that the government tried to introduce a bill that was described as Kill The Gays. That legislation failed on a technicality, but there’s now a renewed push to introduce laws that will make homosexual acts punishable by death.
In 2014, a court found that the Kill The Gays bill was unconstitutional.
“We are putting our act together. Just give us a bit of time…” said James Nsaba Buturo – one of the MPs pushing for the new legislation. “We need a law that defends and protects our values.”
Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda – a largely conservative Christian country. The current punishment is life imprisonment. According to reporting by the Guardian, hate crimes against queer people – including physical and sexual assault, blackmail and extortion – are common in Uganda, but most victims are too fearful to go to the police. Tabloid newspapers routinely “out” people believed to be gay.
Existing laws are also used to discriminate against LGBTQ people, making it harder for them to get a job or promotion, rent housing or access health and education services. Many flee to neighbouring countries where discrimination – though still acute – is less severe.
After initially indicating it might support the move, the government has backed away from supporting any change to the law after major aid donors expressed their concerns. However, some government ministers – such as Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s state minister for ethics and integrity – are publicly backing the bill on the grounds that targets the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality.
Why is it illegal to be gay in Uganda?
The criminalisation of same-sex sexual activity is a hang-over from British colonial rule, however – following independence – that criminalisation was enshrined in Uganda’s penal code in 1950.
The maximum penalty for same-sex sexual activity is life imprisonment.
There are no protections against discrimination based on sexuality, and there is no legal recognition of same-sex couples.
A 2005 amendment to the constitution strengthened the position against recognition of same-sex couples by explicitly prohibiting same-sex marriage.
How you can help LGBTQ people in Uganda
Find ways to help publicise the stories and experiences of LGBTQ people in Uganda.
Use your networks to raise awareness of the challenges faced by LGBTQ people in Uganda.
Lobby your political representatives to raise concerns regarding Uganda’s criminalisation of same-sex sexual activities through any available diplomatic channels.