The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Uganda has celebrated the country’s biggest same-sex festival despite media threats, police arrests and ostracisation from their families.
Homosexuality is illegal in many countries in Africa, so gay pride parades are a rare celebration. Uganda is one of the few countries in Africa where the LGBT community is striving to achieve recognition and acceptance within the wider society despite the stigma that’s generally associated with homosexuality.
“We feel and we think this is a step moving forward, and it is about trying to show the wider community that violence, discrimination, harassment, stigma against LGBT people is bad.” This is according to a gay rights activist Moses Kimbugwe who participated in the parade. “So we are here to send a message to the wider population that we do exist and we want rights like any other Ugandan.”
The week-long celebration included an array of activities such as exhibitions, music, dance, drama, talent shows, competitive activities, cultural performances and sports. The main event was the parade, a solidarity march with LGBT individuals, organisations, friends and family members. Despite attempting to foster unity and support, these events were held away from the public eye to avoid harassment. Although this can be seen as a sign that the LGBT community are taking bold steps by publicising their cause – they hope to change Uganda from the inside out.
The climax of the celebration was held on the shores of Lake Victoria, in Entebbe, a few miles from the capital Kampala and this location was only revealed on private online networks. The organisers were cautious and keeping this out of the public eye since same sex relationships are still illegal in Uganda and homophobia continues to grow extensively. However, they hope to gain acceptance within the population and not have to be discreet about their sexual orientation.
KUCHU Times, an LGBT media organisation with its origins in Uganda and membership throughout East Africa, covered the event extensively. Media field officer for this publication, Ambrose Barigye, quoted in an international publisher, admits “Most of the times the Ugandan media has reported negatively about the Ugandan LGBT movement… we had a need to reclaim the media and tell our own stories. … so we call it Reclaiming the Media Project. … we will tell the world this is who we are, these are the real stories. Nobody should be coming and telling the wrong story about us.”
The local media in Uganda has been accused of profiling and even outing people in same sex relationships. In 2005 names of about 200 homosexuals were splashed on the dailies. Some were subjected to violence, jail time and in some horrendous cases, even death. Out of such fear many sought asylum in other countries while others still live in fear or practice homosexuality in secret.
Though Uganda has overturned the draconian anti-homosexuality law which called for life imprisonment for gay people, the LGBT community still face lengthy jail sentences if convicted. Homosexuality continues to be a taboo in this country and in most of Africa’s socially conservative countries, with religious groups often framing it as a corruptive western tradition.
Words by Maren Okoth
Picture by torbakhopper