Pride and Prejudice

The struggle for queer rights in Uganda

01 March 2020
In 2014, the Ugandan government passed a law making homosexuality a capital offence, but withdrew it following an international outcry and economic sanctions. The legislation has been dubbed as “Kill the Gays bill.”
Benedicte Dersus/SIPA Press
In 2014, the Ugandan government passed a law making homosexuality a capital offence, but withdrew it following an international outcry and economic sanctions. The legislation has been dubbed as “Kill the Gays bill.”
Benedicte Dersus/SIPA Press

The building on the outskirts of Kampala that houses Icebreakers Uganda, a non-profit working for sexual minorities, was bustling with activity when I visited in July last year. Programme managers sat hunched over their laptops writing grant applications. A group meeting was in progress in the living-room-turned-meeting-room. Other activists slouched on the red couch at the entrance, waiting for the next meeting.

For an uninformed local seeing it from the outside, the building would seem as unremarkable as any other. But behind the jet-black, unmarked iron gates were the offices of at least four queer-rights organisations. They included Kampala’s first LGBTQ+ clinic, where a doctor visited thrice a week for consultation, as well as a safe house for at-risk queer Ugandans. Other groups in the compound were Rainbow Mirrors, the Extend Life Initiative and Visual Echoes for Human Rights Advocacy. These groups aim to plug the gap created by the absence of state-sponsored programmes for the welfare of queer people, and provide anything from crucial healthcare services, including life-saving drugs for HIV-positive queer people, to economic-empowerment schemes.

While official data is unavailable, through my conversations with activists I gathered that there are nearly a hundred queer-rights groups in Uganda. In 2003, three lesbian women founded Freedom and Roam Uganda, the country’s first queer organisation. Other notable groups, such as Sexual Minorities Uganda, IBU and FemAlliance, grew out of FARUG. They function in stifling environments and under constant fear of persecution.

Prathap Nair is an independent journalist who lives in Stuttgart, Germany.

Keywords: Queer community Uganda discrimination
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