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Uganda’s LGBTQ community remains a target

Police in May arrested 44 people at Kampala party

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Ugandan refugees, gay news, Washington Blade
LGBTQ activists gather in Kampala, Uganda, before a Pride event in 2015. LGBTQ Ugandans remain a target, despite advocacy efforts. (Photo courtesy of Uganda Pride)

KAMPALA, Uganda — Despite the annulment of the 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act that was meant to criminalize the act of same-sex relations by life imprisonment and even capital punishment in Uganda, members of the LGBTQ community continue to face unwarranted reproof.

Several bills have been proposed in Parliament, such as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, the revised Anti-Homosexuality Bill and just recently bills that would criminalize sex work and gay sex. However, none of these bills saw the light of day thanks to the rigorous fight put down by LGBTQ activists against the government through the Constitutional Court and protests.

Nevertheless, this has not stopped the government and members of the public from cracking down on LGBTQ people.

Who could forget the horrific and traumatic experience that was faced by 44 LGBTQ people at the end of May of this year when police raided a private function that was being held in Kampala that saw the 44 being arrested, assaulted and humiliated by the police, who even went an extra mile of posting their faces on social media and national television.

That petrifying moment is still being relived not only by the 44, but other LGBTQ community members as Iga Isma, executive director of Happy Family Youth Uganda, aptly states.

“In May, police raided a private function that had 44 LGBTQI+ personnel and they were arrested for conducting a gay wedding which was not the case as they were just having a party and since their arrest although they have now been released, they have been receiving a lot of stigma because after they were incarcerated their photos were paraded on social media, national television and it is now difficult for them to move, to get a job or do anything because when they get on the streets people intimidate, harass and assault them so they are facing a lot of challenges. They cannot talk in the community, they cannot buy anything, some of them when they were released from prison actually came back to burned down houses. Their houses were set on fire by some members of the community and others were chased away by their families,” said Isma.

In addition, Isma cited that many members of the LGBTQ community now do not have a sense of belonging as they have been rejected and sidelined by those they deem to be their loved ones.

“In Uganda today, hundreds of LGBTQI+ personnel have no place to call home as they are kicked out by their homophobic and transphobic, conservative communities as well as family members due to stigma and a lot of LGBTQI+ personnel continue to live in the shadows and do not come out due to fear of rejection from their families, colleagues and members of their communities.

However, we as LGBTQI+ organizations are trying to educate members of the community, government and all stakeholders about the LGBTQI+ community because that is the only way we can do away with the repugnant attitude towards the LGBTQI+ community. Though it is difficult due to the homophobic and transphobic communities within our midst, we are trying to change the narrative,” said Isma.

It is now yet to be seen whether or not the new administration, which formed earlier in January under President Yoweri Museveni, who has governed the East African country for the past 35 years, will lift the cumbersome tribulations and aspersions that are continuously being faced by members of the LGBTQ community.

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Africa

Africa reeling from gender-based violence scourge

The pandemic, poverty has exacerbated problem

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Africa, gay news, Washington Blade
(Social media photo from NASA)

PRETORIA, South Africa — The effects of gender-based violence in Africa are now being reverberated throughout the continent and have been exacerbated by the current COVID-19 pandemic.

A country like South Africa, according to Public Works and Administration Minister Ayanda Dlodlo, has the highest rate of gender-based violence in the world, a sentiment which was recently echoed by Police Minister Bheki Cele, who cited that over 1,000 cases of gender-based violence are recorded on a daily basis in South Africa.

However, regardless of South Africa being a hotspot of gender-based violence, it is not the only country on the continent that is witnessing a surge in the cases. Relatively all the countries in Africa are now seeing an increase in the number of gender-based violence cases.

Although cultural and religious norms have been seen as the major contributing facets to the issue of gender-based violence, unemployment and poverty have also been highlighted as among the major reasons of the scourge and as a matter of fact, Africa is regarded as the poorest continent by organizations such as the U.N., the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund with millions surviving on less than $1 per day.

As a result, the anger associated with hunger, unemployment and lack of financial stability is in most cases channeled towards the “weaker gender” as Nicola Rodda, a victim and gender-based violence activist from South Africa who I interviewed aptly states.

“My view of the cause of GBV is that the abuser feels a lack of power in some situation and regains the sense of power through abusing the weaker victim whether be it sexually, physically, emotionally or financially with male on female and male on child violence being the most common but they are not the only forms that occur but the two I have mentioned are the most prevalent,” said Nicola.

With that being said, I also took up the cause by interviewing Knowledge Chuma from Zambia, the founder and chairperson of the Zambia Wushu Kungfu Federation, a non-profit organization that focuses on the issues of gender-based violence and he also shared the same sentiment as Nicola citing poverty and cultural norms as the root cause of GBV in Africa.

“The causes of GBV are deeply rooted in discriminatory cultural beliefs and attitudes that perpetuate inequality and powerlessness, in particular of women and girls. Various actors such as poverty, lack of education, livelihood opportunities, impunity for crimes and abuse also tend to contribute and reinforce the culture of discrimination and violence based on the gender. Such factors are frequently aggravated in terms of conflict and displacement as the rule of law, as societies and families are torn apart,” said Knowledge.

So now that the root cause of gender-based violence has been established one would now ask how then can the continent rid itself from such a heinous act? Rest assured this is the follow-up question I also brought before Knowledge and Nicola which they tackled immaculately and not only that but they both came out with ways a victim of gender-based violence can be able to get assistance from law enforcement agents and how friends and family members can help in the journey to recovery.

“The best way for the continent to tackle gender-based violence is multifactorial. In Africa, we tend to have patriarchal societies in which men hold greater power than women so it is easy for a conflict to degenerate into a situation where a man exerts his power over the woman either physically or sexually. So the solution to that is not just changing patriarchal roles although education can play a large role of understanding gender equality and equal gender rights, however, in the broader context the sense of helplessness and powerlessness created in the abuser can often be the result of poverty, unemployment, feeling powerless in the face of economic or other social pressure so uplifting the continent as a whole in terms of job availability, quality of life, quality of services would help in bringing out gender-based violence in addition to a strong element of education on gender equality and the right of a female or child not to live in fear of their abuser.

Moreover, if one reports a case of gender-based violence to the police and no action is taken then the victim should approach the head of the police and if there is still no action then the victim has to approach the courts directly for perfection and the best way family members and friends can assist a victim of gender-based violence would be to help the victim, remove herself or himself from the circumstances because by and large it is true that an abuser who abuses once will abuse again so the best way is not to allow the victim near the abuser.

In addition, a victim can also approach trauma counsellors that can be accessed through the police or gender-based violence organizations free of charge and also to find further recourse of being able to defend herself or himself be it physically or financially through organizations like Legal Aid or religious organizations because that can protect the victim and provide support for the victim in the longer term from being re-abused either by the original abuser or another person who might perceive him or her vulnerable. Gender-based violence is one of the biggest scourges that is being faced on the African continent,” said Nicola.

Moreover, Knowledge cited that education is the most important factor and also shared some words of wisdom on how friends and family can be able to approach and engage with a victim of gender-based violence that does not show apathy.

“What the African continent must do to avert the issue of GBV is to educate youths and adults about this serious issue. We need to give the youths the arts, sports or academic skills that they might need in future to avoid lack of employment that leads to depression and anxiety because that also contributes to the causes of GBV.

If friends or family are approached by the victim the best way is by responding in a soothing manner such as, I believe you! I am here for you! You can tell me as much or as little as you want! It is not your fault! I am glad you told me! I am glad you came to me! So we need to support them because if we do not it becomes discriminatory,” said Knowledge.

The onus is now upon every African to do their best in lynching off gender-based violence as on a daily basis it leaves someone with a mental or physical challenge and catastrophic challenges for the bereaved.

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Africa

Combating LGBTQ stigma in Africa

Activists share their experiences with the Blade

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Africa, gay news, Washington Blade
(Image public domain)

PRETORIA, South Africa — It is not based on hearsay that most African countries are against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex among others (LGBTQI+) community primarily because of the cultural beliefs that have been bestowed on them for centuries.

One would ask by whom? Who bestowed these cultural beliefs? Well to be honest that is a question that still has many experts scratching their heads. Some have sighted it is the missionaries who were on an escapade in Africa, preaching and teaching the Gospel of what was right and what was wrong.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem to answer the question of stigma wholeheartedly as back in the days, and unfortunately even now, in some African sects if someone gives birth to a person with Albinism or twins stigma automatically follows and at times even death, which is something the missionaries were not in support of but that is another topic for another day that also needs urgent attention today it will be about the LGBTQI+ community.

They are very few countries on the African continent that condone the existence of the LGBTQI+ community, such as South Africa, Mozambique and Angola, among others. However, regardless of it being legalized in those African countries, members of the LGBTQI+ community still continue to receive disparaging comments from the societies they reside in including from family and friends.

In many African communities if you are found to be a member of the LGBTQI+ community, punitive measures are taken which include indoctrination, exorcism and at times even death. To help in understanding why these opprobrious norms are still practiced in Africa I engaged with two LGBTQI+ activists from South Africa, Bruce Walker from Pretoria Pride and Ruth Maseko from Triangle Project and Umndeni.

“We are still staying in a society that takes us as sin or sinners that is why we are always tortured and killed and most of the time before we are killed we are raped because men believe they can make us women by raping us they don’t believe that a woman can love another woman that’s why they always make our lives very difficult,” said Ruth. “As for how we can combat this stigma as a continent? Africa needs more awareness, people need to be educated and taught that there is nothing wrong about same gender love, a man can love a man and a woman can love a woman and in terms of parents who later on find out that their child is gay or a lesbian we need to have parents support groups because some parents end up in shock when they get to figure out that their child is gay or a lesbian so parents need to be sat down with and be educated too.”

In addition, Bruce shared the same sentiment citing various governments throughout the continent need to do more to prevent the stigma that is currently perpetrated towards members of the LGBTQI+ community,

“There are no consequences if someone kills a member of the LGBTQI+ community nothing seems to happen, it is like okay fine it is just a gay person the police seem not to do much about it so we need to raise awareness and educate people that a gay child is just like a straight child there is nothing wrong,” said Bruce. “Us as an organization we try to highlight the injustices against the LGBTQI+ community regardless, we need to stand together as the LGBTQI+ community because if we don’t do that people will continue with these prejudicial acts.”

Nevertheless, communities across the continent are slowly acknowledging the existence of the LGBTQI+ community as more and more people are now coming out of the closet even local celebrities, sports personnel and other influential people are coming out which is kind of having a positive impact on the manner in which members of the LGBTQI+ community are now being perceived but as Ruth and Bruce clearly alluded more still needs to be done to educate and inform people about the matter for the continent to do away with the stigma.

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Africa

Uganda president declines to sign queerphobic bill

Measure sent back to Parliament for review

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Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade
(Public domain photo)

KAMPALA, Uganda — Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has refused to sign the country’s infamous “Sexual Offenses Bill” that Parliament approved in May, on grounds that it details offenses already covered by pre-existing laws. 

“President Museveni has rejected to assent to the Sexual Offenses Bill, saying many provisions are redundant and already provided for in other legislations,” the Daily Monitor reports. “Deputy Speaker of Parliament Anita Among made the communication to the House …”

The bill has been returned to the Parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs for review “to address the redundancies.”

Although this is a positive development for LGBTQ Ugandans and activists, the East African country is embroiled in harsh queerphobic sentiment institutionally. And there still exists a culture that makes it unsafe to live in Uganda as a queer person.

The Los Angeles Blade spoke with Ikechukwu Uzoma, staff attorney for RFK Human Rights, and Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), before Museveni’s announcement about the details of the Sexual Offenses Bill and how its enactment could reshape Uganda’s LGBTQ landscape.

What is the Sexual Offenses Bill?

The Sexual Offenses Bill, which MP Monicah Amoding originally introduced in 2015, “seeks to consolidate laws relating to sexual offenses and provide procedural and evidential requirements during trial of sexual offenses and proposes several measures to check among others, sexual harassment in schools by guardians or teachers.”

The bill would also criminalize same-sex relationships and sex work.

“The laws were passed … reiterating sections of legislation first enforced in the country by British colonial rule,” the Guardian reports. “They condemn same-sex couples who perform acts deemed against the ‘order of nature’ to 10 years’ imprisonment.”

OutRight Action International also notes “same-sex relations have been criminalized in Uganda since British colonial times in sections 145 on ‘unnatural offenses’ and 148 on ‘indecent practices’ of the Penal Code, with a maximum sentence of life in prison foreseen. Clause 11 of the Sexual Offenses Bill further confirms this existing criminalization.”

Parliament passed the bill in May of this year. Questions regarding its legitimacy rose among LGBTQ individuals and activists as Museveni won his sixth presidential term and new MPs were sworn in.

“[When the bill was enacted], that was a time when Parliament was coming to an end, before we went into elections and [installed] a new Parliament,” said Jjuuko. “So when the new Parliament was sworn in, there was a question around what the actual legal status of a bill was that had been passed by Parliament, but not signed by the president.” 

Although the proposed legislation went through an “in limbo” phase and was not fully bonafide, Jjuuko said Ugandans treated the legislation as if it were fully implemented. 

“In Uganda, the law matters, but it also doesn’t. In other words it doesn’t matter what the situation is. With what the law right now is, the persecution of LGBT people will remain,” said Jjuuko.

Jjuuko further mentioned that when politicians have legislative ideas, they campaign for them in Parliament discussions and media appearances, thereby signalling to the country’s population the seriousness of whatever ideas they propose. Additionally, the word “bill” in Luganda, the country’s local language, has the same translation as the word “law.” 

These campaigns, coupled with the lack of a clear distinction between a bill and law in Luganda, create a general culture where the country’s population will behave as if it were an instituted law, regardless of whether it has been signed or not.

In response to what this means for law enforcement officials and how they would treat LGBTQ citizens, Jjuuko said that police officers rely on a new form of LGBTQ persecution: Charging individuals with committing “negligent acts.”

“The police, who should know better, usually charge people with either an existing offense or some new offense,” said Jjuuko. “There’s now a new trend in Uganda [where police officers] charge someone with negligent acts of spreading disease infections, and this comes from provisions in the old penal code which is not even about COVID-19. It just [resurfaced when the pandemic began].” 

Jjuuko also said the police are aware that they’re unable to charge an individual with “carnal knowledge.” They hence resort to charges of participating in intimate acts that can spread disease infections. So, even though general conversations focus on minimizing the spread of COVID-19, the larger picture depicts a commercial campaign to curb LGBTQ rights in Uganda.

This has led to an increase in mass arrests of LGBTQ individuals, with 44 people being arrested as recently as June, and consequently being charged with breaching pandemic restrictions as they pertain to the sizes of public gatherings.

What’s next?

Now that Museveni has refused to assent the bill, it has been returned to Parliament for further review. It will be presented to him again for re-consideration. 

Jjuuko mentioned that if Museveni refuses to assent the bill once again, Parliament can enact it into a law by voting and taking advantage of what they call a “supermajority.”

In the event this happens Uzoma said, “it’s very easy, we [RFK Human Rights] just follow [Jjuuko’s] lead, and do whatever he tells us to do. [However], I think that [the bill being passed] really does change the matrix of decision making and planning.”

Uzoma further mentioned that whatever work RFK Human Rights is currently doing they will continue to do. If the bill is passed, it is inevitable that there will be more arrests and convictions. Therefore, the U.N.-style engagements that RFK Human Rights has had in the past around such detentions would continue.

Uzoma also said that the RFK Human Rights would also probably create a well-structured campaign that not only serves those in Uganda, but also covers the extraterritorial jurisdiction components detailed in the bill that would make it illegal for Ugandans to participate in same-sex relations outside of the country.

Jjuuko is certain his advocacy work will persist. 

“I know for sure that whatever happens, our work will go on. Nothing is going to stop us because I kind of feel like we’ve lived through worse,” said Jjuuko.

Jjuuko is aware of society’s progress with adopting more favorable views of the LGBTQ community and has emphasized that this has also influenced progress for Uganda.

“There’s positive continuous progress [and] they are fighting us because they know that we are winning and making progress. So, [the endless persecutions] are signs that [the government] also realizes something is wrong in their own strategy of making sure that there are no LGBTI people in Uganda,” said Jjuuko.

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