What the international community can do to support LGBTQ Ugandans
Less than 24 hours after an LGBTQIA+ sexual freedom solidarity delegation I was honored to be part of finished in Kampala this spring, the homophobic heat intensified. The “Sexual Offenses Bill” that criminalizes consensual same sex acts, was approved by the Ugandan Parliament on May 3, 2021.
Now the dust has settled, what can the international community do?
Uganda’s homophobic laws are near duplicates of British colonial legislation; one of the British empire’s most notorious exports. The “Public Nuisance Act”, the “Rogue and Vagabond Act”, the “Anti Pornography Act” and the “Anti Miniskirt Act” are all inspired by Thatcher’s deadly Section 28 law that prohibited “the promotion of homosexuality in public institutions” in the U.K. and still digs its claws in tightly throughout life in Uganda today.
Whilst the “Sexual Offenses Bill” criminalizes “LGBTQIA propaganda,” it cannot stop LGBT+ movements safeguarding communities on the ground. For the last five years Shawn has been training as a community caregiver and pioneered a unique nature-based self-help project in Uganda called ‘FAMACE’ to support queer individuals to heal from trauma. Using Farming, Art, Mindset change, Advocacy, Collaboration and Ethical human-centered design to improve well-being and promote sustainable livelihoods.
Contrary to the 2012 BBC documentary “Uganda — the worst place in the world to be gay,” for Shawn, Uganda is“the best place in the world to be queer, I tell you, the story here in Uganda is beautiful.”
“What would solidarity from the UK activists look like, Shawn?” I ask. “An honest call on your government to end and ban the use of colonial laws in former colonial states is the only way.”
Create a roadmap to freedom
Five years ago Shawn was part of the Pride Kampala organizing team. In the months running up to Pride, brutal police raids on LGBTQI+ spaces resulted in the arrests of 16 human rights defenders, followed by mass assaults on 200 people attending the Pride show. One member of the LGBT community nearly lost his life when he jumped from a four-story building to escape from police.
After that night it would be easy to assume everyone would go underground, but it only made them fight harder. Shawn continues,“When movements started receiving international aid funding, entrenched cycles of dependency spiralled. Ultimately, we have forgotten that the land beneath us connects us all, the signposts that catalyse community transformation. We need to begin here, right now, in beginning our own queer village.”
Choose visibility: Mobilize the Kuchus!
Morgan was there too that night. In 2010 he started Youth on Rock Foundation “so we can be rocks with unshakable perseverance, because as a society we have to ‘Mobilise the Kuchus!’”The organization grew like wildfire and gained international attention. Their house doors are regularly knocked on by people seeking sanctuary.
After the “Anti Homosexuality Act” and the savagery provoked through mass media outings, Edgar and his friends started Kuchu Times, an online platform providing a voice for Africa’s LGBTQIA+ community.
Kasia, another founding member, thought“let’s give it back!’ We made the magazine glossy and incorporated local languages and included referral pathways of local support groups. We opened gates for people to emerge themselves. It’s everywhere now, they cannot burn it just like they cannot burn us. You have to do it all with a lot of PASSION POLITICS.”
Hajjara Ssanyu Batte is Director of “Lady Mermaids Empowerment Center,” the largest sex workers and feminist network in Uganda. Hajjara recently infamously walked the streets naked carrying the coffin of one of her murdered friends. Now she sits in front of me beaming in the most incredible rainbow diamante sparkling heels.
What’s your most memorable protest I ask?
“I have many. Recently, alongside our male allies in high heels, we protested outside the Uganda Human Rights Commission everyday for two weeks. I proudly wore my miniskirt because it’s our bodies, we can do what we want with our bodies, it not only affects us but our mothers, grandmothers, sons and daughters.”
Since then, Lady Mermaid’s protests have helped overturned the “Pornography Act.” The tide is turning.
Become a love generator
By digesting the bitter tinctures of life, they have metabolized poisons into medicines to establish sacred connections between each and every one of us.
As I was leaving, Shawn reached for my hand. “Please come back and see us at ‘Lavender Acres,’ the name of our trans-led permaculture community. By then I will have finished training a new generation of bee-keepers and will have plenty of queer sweet honey for you.”
Now back home, the real work begins. Lady Phyll, executive director of Kaleidoscope Trust, a U.K.-based charity working to uphold the human rights of LGBT+ people across the world, and co-founder and executive director of UK Black Pride, Europe’s largest Pride celebration for LGBTQI+ people of color, reminds us “the activists in Uganda and around the world, who are fighting tooth and nail against homophobia and violence, deserve our unreserved and unequivocal support — and right now.”