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Uganda: Why celebrating Pride matters so much

Celebrating at Uganda's first pride parade. (Photo courtesy of RachelAdamsPhotography.com)
Celebrating at Uganda’s first pride parade. (Photo courtesy of RachelAdamsPhotography.com)

Ugandan anthropologist and activist Stella Nyanzi explores the meaning of the third annual Pride gathering, planned for Aug. 9 at an undisclosed location Uganda:
A prominent activist in the local LGBTIQ movement in Uganda asked me if our Pride activities show any pride. After all, we are ferried away in buses from the capital city to idyllic resorts far removed from the vast majority of public, we are few in number, some of us hide our faces behind masks, and we are discrete in our plans and proceedings.
“Is this pride, at all?” s/he asked me as s/he was explaining why s/he missed attending the first two annual pride events.
Police in Entebbe, Uganda, arrive at the Aug. 4 pride event, which they dispersed. (Photo by David Robinson)
Police in Entebbe, Uganda, arrive at the August 2012 pride event, which they dispersed. (Photo by David Robinson)

Pride celebrations in Uganda are indeed pride events. The spectacle of the parade bearing multiple rainbow flags, the intricate details in each costume, the loud brazen destabilization by drag-kings and drag-queens, the solidarity and camaraderie, the bold defiant public celebration of diverse human sexualities, the array of fixed and fluid gendered bodies on display, the music and laughter, the food and drinks, the slogans and banners… Given that our pride was conceived in the dark days when our legislature was discussing stricter legal reform to further penalise homosexual Ugandans, it is a great symbol of resistance to heteronormativity. Coming together of LGBTIQ people from rural and urban areas, their allies, family and partners to visibly claim and celebrate their existence is no small feat. The organisation and coordination of every small detail attests to a budding grassroots movement.

And so, we may not have Mardi Gras, but our Pride is pride all the same. We may have small numbers physically present, but each person present represents many who are unable to attend for various reasons. Some of us may be wearing masks to conceal our faces, but that attests to the context we live in. Pride in Uganda is this Saturday 9th August 2014. Buses will start loading at 08:00AM and ferry people to the venue starting at 09:00AM. This year, Pride is free. There is NO payment of entry fees. For public media passes, contact onziema@gmail.com.
Honoring all who fight on, or must flee
Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, speaks at the pride event before the police arrived. (Photo by David Robinson)
Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, speaks at the 2012 pride event before the police arrived. (Photo by David Robinson)

As we prepare for Uganda’s third Pride activities which will be held this Saturday under the name Post-AHA 2014, I raise a shout out to all LGBTIQ who suffered at the hands of homophobic individuals, institutions, systems and societies in this country. I silently stand still to honour our fallen kuchu comrades who were murdered by haters, committed suicide because of the pressure, succumbed to AIDS or other severe illnesses, and died a natural death.
I hail all homosexual and gender non-conforming Ugandans who fled from our motherland as exilees, asylum-seekers, refugees or forced migrants in order to save their lives. I recognise individuals who were deported for this cause. I salute everyone who was forcibly outed in the public press, publicly ridiculed, insulted, attacked, beaten, expelled from school, evicted from housing, fired from employment, denounced by family, arrested, tortured, denied public services, etc because of their non-heteronormativity.
I applaud everyone (activists, allies, supporters, friends, family, professionals, partners) who has ever dared stand for the human rights and wellbeing of LGBTIQ people in this country. I ulululate each scribe, mamarazzi, paparazzi, blogger, writer, orator, performer, artist, scholar, researcher and analyst who ever produced knowledge in the struggle for gay rights. The grassroots queer movement IS because you ARE. Aluta continua!

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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