Ugandan LGBT+ activist urges the world to speak out against brutal homophobic regime: ‘Evil thrives when good people keep quiet’

·4-min read

Uganda’s LGBT+ community is among the most persecuted on earth. A new advocacy group, Pride Uganda, is fighting for change.

In January 2021, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni declared that homosexuals are “deviants”, while denying the simple truth of their reality.

“They are not killed,” he claimed, “they are not harangued, they are not persecuted.”

Museveni spoke in the throes of the worst political violence Uganda has seen in decades, in the run-up to a presidential election where he and others leveraged homophobia to win votes. At one rally, Museveni claimed foreign LGBT+ groups had funded protests (actually over the arrest of his rival) that ended in police violence and the deaths of 50 people.

Contrary to Museveni’s claims, LGBT+ people are routinely targeted by police, government crackdowns and a corrupt judiciary, the newly-launched advocacy group Pride Uganda says.

As recently as this month, the Ugandan parliament passed a bill further criminalising same-sex relations with the threat of jail time (Uganda’s penal code already outlawed gay sex). It has been described as a backdoor reintroduction of an Anti-Homosexuality Bill signed into law in 2014, known as the “Kill the Gays bill” on account of the death sentence it carried. Fortunately, the bill was struck down by courts, but the threat has lingered.

The situation is bleak but the community continues to fight for survival, and Pride Uganda is working to support activists who are on the ground protecting LGBT+ lives, educating communities and advocating for change.

David Kato Uganda funeral
Members of the Ugandan gay community carry a picture of murdered gay activist David Kato during his funeral near Mataba, on January 28, 2011. (Photo by MARC HOFER/AFP via Getty Images)

One such activist, who must remain anonymous for fear of persecution, explained to PinkNews how his group are teaching others to “fight for their rights” and “be confident” despite it all.

“A lot of them do not know how to navigate life,” he said, noting that queer people are routinely denied access to basic services such as education.

“One of the things that we do is to reach out to them, empower them and remind them that as an individual, as a human being, you have a right to live.”

In practical terms, this means LGBT+ people in Uganda are given mentoring and access to legal counsel. Those who need economic support are also given business advice, and helped on their way to setting up their own small businesses – no small feat amid the pandemic.

It’s “risky” work, he says, “but somebody has to do it. People have lost their lives, people are losing their lives”.

Right now things feel as though they are “getting out of hand”, the activist said.

Waves of violence feel “seasonal”, he explained, adding: “There are periods where it gets so intense… everyday you leave your home and you aren’t certain if you’re going to make it back.”

There are regular reports of raids on LGBT+ people in Uganda, including one in 2019 that saw 16 arrested on suspicion of gay sex, and another in 2020 that saw authorities pounce on a homeless shelter, arresting and torturing 20 queer youth under the guise of COVID-related charges. Among the most feared fates is to end up in the back of a “drone”, a number plate-less van with tinted windows, driven by armed officials who “whisk you off, and you disappear”.

Around 23 LGBT+ people in Uganda were whipped by officials before being chained and walked to the police station, disturbing footage shows. (Screen capture via YouTube)
In a 2020 raid, Ugandan men were whipped by officials before being chained and walked to the police station. (Screen capture via YouTube)

Hate comes “from all angles”, the activist added. “You don’t know who is who. You have to be very cautious.”

He and others doing this important work must be careful not to turn heads, but are keen to share their stories to draw attention to the situation.

“The more we get people to know about the situation on the ground, maybe things will change,” he said. “The LGBT community will receive access to help, they’ll be welcomed, the system will change, the police will change.”

For this to ever happen, it’s crucial that people and nations around the world speak up, he said.

“There’s a saying, evil thrives when good people keep quiet.”

Click here to read more about Pride Uganda and to donate.