The Ugandan government has decided to cancel a week of LGBTQ+ Pride events in the country for the second year in a row. On August 16, the country’s State Minister of Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo, shut down a Pride gala that was scheduled to take place in Kampala. He accused organizers of staging a gathering aimed at recruitment and promotion of homosexuality. Police officers were set up at the hotel and other venues where Pride events had been scheduled to arrest all participants.
“It’s true I ordered the police to stop and shut down all the gay pride events. No gay gathering and promotion can be allowed in Uganda. We can’t tolerate it at all,” said Lokodo. “We know they are trying to recruit and promote homosexuality secretly. But it’s worse to attempt to stand and exhibit it in public arena. This is totally unacceptable. Never in Uganda.”
Moreover, homosexuality is illegal in Uganda under colonial-era laws and is currently punishable by imprisonment. However, in 2014, attempts to introduce a bill to make some homosexual acts punishable by death was ruled as being unconstitutional. The next year, Ugandan police allowed for Pride celebrations.
Nonetheless, Frank Mugisha, the Executive Directive of Sexual Minorities Uganda (Smug), a network of LGBTI organizations in Uganda, stated that “We are utterly appalled by the minister’s actions. The government crackdown on our events is abuse of our freedom of assembly and association. We have a right granted by the Ugandan constitution.” In addition, Maria Burnett, Associate Director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, commented that “Uganda’s LGBTI movement has made great strides in the demand for rights and remains strong. Lokodo’s threats won’t tarnish that. He has repeatedly disregarded for his mandate fighting corruption while maintaining an absurd obsession with people’s private lives.”
Furthermore, Emilian Kayima, a police spokesperson in Uganda, said organizers had failed to ask for permission for their Pride celebrations. But Kayima added that “Even if they wrote, it’s criminal to be gay in Uganda. How can we allow and preside over a function involving a crime?”
In response, Frank Mugisha contested this claim, reporting that his organization told the police about their intention to hold Pride celebrations, and even scheduled a meeting with Minister Simon Lokodo to explain the event’s importance. “[Pride] gives LGBT people a moment of happiness and peace denied us the rest of the year. It offers a reprieve from lives spent hiding and avoiding suspicion, a chance for people to be themselves and celebrate each other,” said Mugisha.
To expand, Mugisha traces back Uganda’s homophobia to myths spread by the Evangelical Christian presence in the country. “Before evangelicals came here, Ugandans did not equate homosexuality with such words as “promotion,” “exhibition” and “recruiting.” Now it’s said we’re trying to “recruit” an army of homosexuals or supposedly asking children to become homosexual “to take over the heterosexuals;” “exhibitions” constitute any organized events, such as Pride, workshops and meetings, and “promotion” any form of advocacy,” stated Mugisha.
With that said, Mugisha is looking for the support of the international community to help LGBTQ+ people in Uganda. For instance, he argued that “We need the British government, the EU and the US to keep talking to the Ugandan government. We need the persecution of LGBT people to be on the agenda of the Commonwealth heads of government meeting next year. And we urge the EU to appoint a special representative on LGBT rights. The fact that we have been forced to cancel Pride Uganda is one more sign of our growing invisibility.” He went on to say that while many foreign embassies have been helpful, Uganda has seen less support ever since the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014 was overturned. As well, he noted that many LGBTQ+ Ugandans have been denied visas to Western countries on the grounds that they would try returning to Uganda because of the country’s persecution of LGBTQ+ citizens.