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Family rejection, threats follow anti-gay Ugandan law

Clare Byarugaba in Los Angeles (Photo by Joe Kohen courtesy of The Daily Beast)
Clare Byarugaba in Los Angeles (Photo by Joe Kohen courtesy of The Daily Beast)

The passage and signing of Uganda’s anti-gay law have caused immediate turmoil in the lives of the country’s LGBT people, even though it has not officially taken effect, Ugandan activist Clare Byarugaba told a gathering in Los Angeles earlier this month.

“As a lesbian living in Uganda, it has been very difficult,” Byarugaba told the Women in the World luncheon, organized by celebrity editor Tina Brown. “My mom said, ‘I’m going to hand you in to police.’ What that means is corrective rape. That I can’t see my family anymore. I have received so many death threats. And now I’m facing seven years to life imprisonment simply because of the work I’m doing -— and because of my sexual orientation.”

An account of her speech appeared in Brown’s The Daily Beast, of which she is editor-in-chief:

After Byarugaba was involuntarily outed by a Ugandan tabloid “witch hunt” earlier this year, she had to take a week off from work to cope with the personal fallout. “Coming out was supposed to be my journey,” she said. “Unfortunately the media did it for me when I was not ready.” She has seen friends lose their jobs and get assaulted by the police. “A transgender friend, a mob attacked her and undressed her in public,” Byarugaba said. “I know people who have tried to commit suicide. People call me on a daily basis and say, ‘Give me five reasons why I shouldn’t kill myself.’”

The ban is politics, plain and simple—the result of “U.S. anti-gay extremists” such as Evangelical pastor Scott Lively “coming to Uganda and saying ‘the gays are after your children,’” which inspired the president to seize on the issue, Byarugaba said.

“This is a dictator using the LGBT community as a scapegoat,” added Roger Ross Williams, director of the acclaimed documentary God Loves Uganda, who joined Byarugaba onstage. The goal is “to distract the public from the real issues, corruption and survival,” and turn them against “a vulnerable population on which they can take out their frustration.”

Asked how she would continue to fight injustice, Byarugaba argued that visibility was a weapon of its own.

“It’s very important for us to be visible,” she said. “A parliamentarian who voted for this—the president even—should know that Clare is a lesbian and that he is voting against her. And so we will continue to fight.”

For more information about other speakers at the luncheon, read the full article,  “At Women in the World, the Reality of Uganda’s Brutal Gay Ban.”

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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 info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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