Ugandan human rights activists and groups are facing pushback from the country's government over plans to open a community center for members of the LGBT community. Simon Lokodo, minister for ethics and integrity, has branded the groups' plans "a criminal act" and pledged to block fundraising and other plans.
“They will have to take it somewhere else. They can’t open a center of LGBT activity here. Homosexuality is not allowed and completely unacceptable in Uganda,” he said. “We don’t and can’t allow it. LGBT activities are already banned and criminalized in this country. So popularising it is only committing a crime.”
Lokodo has made the repression and persecution of the LGBT community in Uganda a personal crusade and has sought to end pride parades in the country with brutal crackdowns. In one such crackdown in 2016, a gay man fell four stories and suffered severe injuries.
“Queer people live in fear of being arrested or getting beaten up or killed. There is no safe space. This is why my team want to open Uganda’s first LGBT community center,” said Petter Wallenberg, director of the group Rainbow Riots. “The center will be a safe space to welcome queer people, encourage and support them. To achieve this, we are currently raising funds to cover the costs.
“We will provide opportunities to learn, relax, socialize and will also give advice on health and safety, which is much needed. It will, in essence, be a support system.”
For Alicia Houston, 22, a campaigner and HIV positive transgender woman in Kampala, a safe space was much needed for the vulnerable community and a chance for creative expression for many whose voices are curbed in the public spheres.
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Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda. In 2014 the parliament passed the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act, which made it legal to imprison people from the LGBT community for “aggravated homosexuality” — defined as someone with HIV engaging in homosexual acts, sex with a minor or repeated offense of homosexuality. It was later deemed invalid by Uganda's constitutional court.
In April 2018, various MPs expressed their wish to bring the act back as, according to them, homosexuality is “un-African.”
Kadaga, who was a leading force behind what was dubbed the ‘Kill the Gays’ bill, told an Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) summit in March that Uganda would withdraw from the union if it endorsed LGBT rights in any way.
But the brutal crackdowns on gay pride parades and witch hunts on LGBT activists has not deterred the community from fighting for their space and rights. Activists believe the arts can help address transphobia and homophobia in the east African nation.
Kowa Tigs, a member of Rainbow Riots, said: “In Uganda, anyone can humiliate you, embarrass you, chase you from his house, school or even home and you know there is nothing you can do about it. There is resentment and hatred towards LGBTI people and they are seen as evil and un-African. We have had team members drop out because they are scared of being exposed. But if we don’t speak out, then who will? Someone has to take a front seat.”