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UGANDA: How I Became an LGBTI Advocate in a Country Where Homosexuality Is Illegal

Patricia Lindrio
Posted November 3, 2016 from Uganda

In her school days, Patricia

Lindrio learned that it was OK to shame and bully people for their sexuality. She has since rejected that message in favor of love and acceptance.

“Witnessing people close to me walk in shame and hunger for acceptance motivated me to try to understand.

I was born in an era in Uganda when there was no such thing as sex education. Even talking about sex was taboo. Today my liberal views on sexuality and the fact that I am now an advocate for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people will shock people that were once close to me.

I first encountered same-sex relationships my first year of high school. They were freely talked about among my peers. We looked at lesbians as outcast, rebellious, sexual people. We discussed how one should avoid being swayed into lesbianism when girls from higher classes sought out partners.

I was thirteen, Catholic, and naïve about sex, though I was not new to heterosexual relationships. Young as we were, boys and girls were coupling up in my last year of primary school. But now in an all-girls school, seeing this behavior just felt wrong to me. I hated and could not fathom the idea of same-sex relations.

That year, our school expelled or suspended girls involved in same-sex relationships. Students and teachers alike named and shamed girls at school assemblies, joining a worldwide bullying culture. I think it brought some of us joy and satisfaction putting these individuals down and helping them “reform”, as we thought we were doing.

Remembering who I was then terrifies me. I was Catholic, and later born-again Christian, and I was crucifying gay people. I would hide behind Bible verses to justify my actions. Was God really proud of me back then?

It is very easy to pass judgment on things we do not try to understand.

My views began to change when a friend told me about her struggle for self-acceptance and how being closeted was eating her up. Then, I watched the same thing happen to a family member. I chose understanding over judgment. I read about LGBTI people. Witnessing people close to me walk in shame and hunger for acceptance touched me and motivated me to try to understand.

Today, I advocate for equality for sexual minorities because I believe it is every person’s right to be with the person they choose, regardless of their sexual orientation. My acceptance of same-sex relationships after growing up in a community so closed off to sex education is a story of hope, empowerment, acceptance, and love.

Given my own evolution, I am constantly assured of the power education has in changing mindsets. When I remember how we treated lesbians in high school, I am more than embarrassed. I wish I knew then what I know now. I could have made life more bearable for girls in a very judgmental, soul-crushing environment.

I wonder how the culture in high school is today, but knowing the society I am in, I believe little has changed. I am sure young gay people are still judged and persecuted and made to miss school because of who they choose to love.

In my country, people believe that if you speak up for sexual minorities, you must have been paid money to compromise your morals and beliefs. And if you understand and are in support of gay people, you must be gay too. I have been called a homosexual to my face and been abused when I stand up to people who do not approve of my opinions on sexuality. Some words hurt like hell, but I try to put myself in the shoes of a person who is a sexual minority in Uganda, or anywhere else in the world.

In Uganda, same-sex relationships are illegal.In 2013, legislation was introduced that would punish homosexuality—already against the law—with severe sentences, including the death penalty. A modified version of this Anti-Homosexuality Act, which reduced the death penalty to life in prison, passed through Parliament, despite condemnation from around the world. Although the courts nullified the Anti-Homosexuality Act in 2014, Human Rights Watch reports that “same-sex conduct remains punishable with life imprisonment under Uganda’s colonial-era law prohibiting ‘carnal knowledge against the order of nature.’”Earlier this year a new NGO Bill was signed into law that hinders nongovernmental organizations advocating for and providing services to LGBTI people.

The reality is that the rights and safety of gay people in Uganda are still at risk. But it cannot be ignored that many Ugandans, myself included, have begun to accept LGBTI people.

Recently LGBTI people have been included in some health proposals and plans. There are also more spaces being created for LGBTI people, like the gay bar that opened up right in Kampala’s city center. Just four years ago, people did not want to associate with gay people at all or even shake their hands. I am now seeing some of these attitudes changing.Something is shifting, but not fast enough.

We are losing valuable minds to the diaspora because so many LGBTI people leave the country due to discrimination at their workplaces or in their daily lives. We are also losing our LGBTI family members because we cannot accept who they are.

I dream that Uganda will be more accepting towards LGBTI people. More than anything, I hope our people become hungry for knowledge. After all, we are all just people looking for love and to be accepted as we are, regardless of our sexual orientations.

Comments 8

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KaylaNachtsheim
Nov 05, 2016
Nov 05, 2016

Thank you so much for sharing this Patricia! Progress in this area is slow, and it's so important to stick with it and do what you have done to challenge your own beliefs and connect with people who have personally experienced this kind of discrimination. Thank you for sharing your story and for standing strong when people say and do things that really hurt. We are here for you!

Tamarack Verrall
Nov 08, 2016
Nov 08, 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 so many LGBT 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,

Tam

Julie Collura
Nov 11, 2016
Nov 11, 2016

Bravo Patsy! You know I love Uganda and I also hope your beautiful country will accept all of it's citizens. Thank you for your work. Education and love will trump ignorance and hate.

Much love,

Julie

Nidhi Pandey
Nov 18, 2016
Nov 18, 2016

I absolutely cherished your honesty. 

Immaculate Amoit
Nov 24, 2016
Nov 24, 2016

wow, Patricia. i like your honesty, I live in Kenya and I remember a lawyer who was gay and was very active in fighting for gay rights was roughed up and beaten badly in Uganda. It must be a struggle but keep pushing be resilient. Don't you worry with time having a different sexual orientation will be accepted. I have a a friend who is gay and is proud of her spouse. They don't live in fear and in shame anymore because they are proud of who they are. All you need is courage just like you have opened up that means things are bound to change because if everyone stood up for LGBTI rights even government will consider their sexual oreintation as a human rights issue.

Go girl

Love

danadabbous
Nov 24, 2016
Nov 24, 2016

It is great that you shared this Tash! I believe very strongly in the sentence you said " power education has in changing mindsets". If you continue to use the power of education and knowledge to advocate LGBT rights I think you can surely make a difference in Uganda. I wish you all the luck! 

Best, -Dana 

Colleen Abdoulah
Nov 28, 2016
Nov 28, 2016

Tash, thank you for your honest and open account of your personal process and how you moved from closed minded judgment to openness, acceptance and love. And how you used your deeper understanding to move into action. You demonstrate great courage and tenacity as you too experience anger and hatred and judgment while working on behalf of our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community. Prejudice against anyone is a travesty and we must not tolerate it. I know what you write about because after decades of heterosexual relationships I feel deeply in love with with a beautifully spiritual loving women who is now my spouse. It took years for us to come together after meeting because of my own personal judgments and old religious beliefs. Neither of us have endured the kind of hatred and punishment others have and it breaks my heart to hear how so many are treated simply for who they love. I believe we will all be held accountable in this life for one thing: HOW we loved, NOT Who we loved. You love well Tash. Keep it up.  Many Blessings,

Colleen 

helen.ng
Dec 11, 2016
Dec 11, 2016

Hello Tash,

Thank you sharing your story with us. It's so great to hear about how you were able to grow as a person, and how that involved your beliefs. Your honesty about your previous and current mentalities surrounding LGBT issues is courageous. Keep up your work and I look forward to hearing more about your future endeavours!

With kindest regards,

Helen Ng