My Journey to Acceptance and Advocacy for LGBTI Rights in Uganda

Posted October 30, 2016 from Uganda

My first encounter with same sex relationships was in my first year of high school. On my first day in school it was freely talked about among peers. We looked at lesbians as outcast rebellious sexual people. How one should avoid being swayed into lesbianism was discussed, which was around the time girls from higher classes sought out their partners, it was a whole other level of courtship. Here I was, thirteenand naïve about sex, catholic, in an all girls school, how was it possible to couple up here I wondered?

I was not new to heterosexual relationships because young as we were; children were coupling up in my last year of primary school which was a mixed sex school. So seeing this behavior in a same sex school just felt wrong to me, something new. But it all became clear in the days to come. There were expulsions and suspensions of girls involved in same sex relationships, naming and shaming at school assemblies, students and teachers became party to a worldwide bullying culture. I think it brought some of us joy and satisfaction putting these individuals down, helping them reform so we thought, it was part of a process .I hated and could not fathom the idea of same sex relations. Imagine me being catholic and crucifying gay people but imagine me being born again and crucifying same sex relations, terrifying thought reminiscing. Was God really proud of my actions back then?! Bible thumpers they call them these days.

I have not been kind to gay people in the past I will admit. In the past I would easily hide behind bible verses for my justifications. It is very easy to pass judgment on things we do not try to understand.

I was born in an era so pure and untouched of Homosexuality, taboo sex education or anything sex talk. How I evolved to where I am mentally when it comes to LGBTI rights and my liberal thoughts will shock people that were once close to me. My personal experience in a community so closed off to sex education later on acceptance of lesbians, gay, bisexual or intersex relationships is a story of hope, empowerment, acceptance and love.

I am constantly assured of the power education has in changing mindsets; to weed out the belief in the ‘brainwash mentality’ that is so easily an excuse for acceptance of ‘LGBTI behavior’ in my country. People believe that if one speaks up for sexual minorities, they have been paid so much money, enough money to compromise their morals and beliefs. I can therefore not advocate for equality for sexual minorities because I believe it is someone’s right to be with the person they chose regardless of their sexual orientation.

In my country if you understand and are in support of gay people you are one of them, I have been called a homosexual to my face and abused when I stand up to people that do not approve of my opinions on sexuality. Some words hurt like hell, but I have often put myself in the shoes a sexual minority in Uganda or anywhere in the world walks in. I always remember how we treated lesbians in high school and I am more than embarrassed. I wonder how the culture is lately but knowing the society I am in, nothing has changed in these schools, am sure young gay people are still judged and crucified and made to miss school because of who they choose to love. I wish I knew then what I know now, I could have made life more bearable for a girl in a very judgmental environment. A space so pre destined for soul crushing towards sexual minorities. Imagine being different in an extremely traditional society, with each step you walk there are eyes that look at you with a sting, all these kill thoughts aimed towards you. How is it possible not to breakdown everyday from judgment?!

Same sex relationships in Uganda are illegal and largely not accepted by most of the population. Although the Constitutional Court nullified the Anti-Homosexuality Act on procedural grounds in 2014, there are concerns that a similar bill or similar repressive measures could become law. Given widespread homophobia and transphobia, the NGO bill could, if signed into law, provide a legal basis for restricting advocacy on the rights of LGBT people on the grounds that such work violates the “dignity of all Ugandans.” Same-sex conduct remains punishable with life imprisonment under Uganda’s colonial-era law prohibiting “carnal knowledge against the order of nature.” Police subject some men arrested on homosexuality charges to forced anal exams, a discredited method of seeking “proof” of homosexual conduct that amounts to torture. There has been no hearing in the appeal of a July 2014 High Court ruling upholding the government’s forced closure of a 2012 LGBT rights workshop on the grounds that participants were “promoting” or “inciting” same-sex acts. In August, Ugandan LGBT activists held a pride rally with minimal police presence. [link]. The reality is that gay people in Uganda are still at risk, risk of violence form a majority hateful uneducated people. But it cannot be ignored how far Ugandans, myself inclusive have come to accept LGBTI people.

I now know LGBTI people are like you and I. They should not be defined by who they choose to love and should not be looked at as just sexual people.

Uganda has become more inclusive towards LGBTI People for example by including them in health proposals and plans. There is an expanding space for LGBTI people like the Gay bar right in the city centre. There isattitude change about LGBTI people in Uganda, this is a step up from where we were about four years ago.

So do I dream that Uganda will be more accepting towards LGBTI people? Absolutely! I hope sooner than later because we are slowly losing really valuable minds to the Diaspora because they leave the country due to discrimination at workplaces or in daily lives, losing our family members because we cannot accept who they are. But more than anything I hope for a people that is hungry for knowledge without segmentation because it will not only open their minds to acceptance of LGBTI people in Uganda but it will leave them really lighthearted because we are all just people looking for love and to be accepted as we are regardless of our sexual orientation

This story was submitted in response to Toward Global LGBT Rights.

Comments 1

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Tamarack Verrall
Oct 30, 2016
Oct 30, 2016

Dear Tash,

By writing so openly and with such detail you have shone a very bright light on the shady misunderstandings and unfair and often cruel treatment that young lesbians and GLBT youth are subjected to, in your country and in so many others. I can appreciate that the work you are doing as an ally takes great courage. It is so highly likely that many will find solace and protection because of your public actions. Many of us working for freedom and respect have been aware of the dangers for LGBT people in your country, but the news does not get reported. Your article here does a great service in showing the origins and instigators of the bullying culture in schools, the very good news of a sense of societal movement toward acceptance, and the especially welcome news of your journey to strong ally. Bravo and thank you.

In sisterhood,