For assaulted LGBT, Uganda medical care must be anonymous

An anonymous hospital, an anonymous doctor, an anonymous embassy official — all are needed to find medical care for a Ugandan who was assaulted because she is a transgender woman.

Mich two days after she was beaten, on left, and four days afterward, at right. (Photos courtesy of Andy Kopsa)
Mich two days after she was beaten, on left, and four days afterward, at right. (Photos courtesy of Andy Kopsa)

In their article “A Day In Kampala,” journalist Andy Kopsa and human rights activist Clare Byarugaba tell the harrowing story of Mich, beaten recently at Kampala bar by a man who was outraged at her attire and her existence.

The tale begins in Byarugaba’s car, heading “to a hospital we can’t talk about” because treating  a transgender woman is unpopular and therefore risky …

“to see a doctor we can’t mention” for the same reason …

“to treat a person who – still – in Uganda doesn’t exist” officially.

They had been directed to that hospital by a cooperative embassy staffer who needed to remain anonymous and who was worried that the presence of a journalist could put the “entire network and relationship with the hospital in jeopardy.”

Kopsa says, “I had to swear not mention the hospital, doctor or foreign agency involved. This is how a transsexual who is brutally assaulted in a hate crime gets medical attention in Uganda if they are lucky.”

As for the man who beat Mich, attempts to bring him to justice are frustrated by witnesses’ refusal to testify:

No one will speak about the beating when we arrive at the bar.  The security guard tells us he only speaks Rwandese  The group isn’t buying this line from him.

“He doesn’t speak Lugandan? He doesn’t speak English?  He doesn’t even speak Swahili?,” says Beyonce [a friend of Mich and founder of  Transgender Equality Uganda]. “He’s lying.”  Chances are she is right.

The owner of the bar where Mich was beaten says none of the staff on duty that night still works for him.

Clare and Mich outside the bar where Mich was beaten (Photo courtesy of Andy Kapsa)
Clare and Mich outside the bar where Mich was beaten (Photo courtesy of Andy Kapsa)

“This is what it is like to be an LGBT person  in Uganda,” Byarugaba says. ” You cannot underestimate someone pointing at you or taunting you in any situation, you have to read between the lines and realize it as a potential threat to your life, and you have to ensure your safety.”

Yet none of them want to leave Uganda, Kopsa says. “Despite the reincarnation of the infamous Bahati Bill (aka: “Kill the Gays” bill) through proposed amendments to the penal code (Sec. 145) and [Ethics Minister Simon] Lokodo’s crusade against “pro gay” NGOs and breaking up LGBT workshops – they stay because they have to stay.

Byarugaba adds:

This is our fight as Ugandans, this is our country, we can’t run away because of what we go through, ass advocates, we have to help bring about change, a change that was set into motion because an activist one day said ‘enough is enough, we need to break the silence’

For more information, read the full article here: “A Day In Kampala.”

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.


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