Tale of Uganda pride: rainbow colors, worries, arrest

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

Photographer Rachel Adams wrote a fascinating description of her experience photographing, covering and being arrested at the first Uganda Pride event on Aug. 4, which ended with a police raid. For her long, evocative account, read “Gay Pride Uganda” on her blog. Some excerpts are below.

Her first days in Kampala:

Lean-to shacks line every inch of road, motorbike taxis buzz non-stop through the tiniest gaps in traffic and for every yard of decent footpath there is a pothole twice the size. It is the end of July and I am here to cover Uganda’s first ever Gay Pride. … On my second day in the East African city I try hard to make some kind of visual sense of the place, but I struggle to find anything beautiful to photograph.

She meets with some activists from the group Youth on Rock Foundation:

When we get to the one room shack they all share they tell me about their lives – Morgan lost his job as a teacher after coming out, Bad Black, a trans woman, was kicked out of school and has contracted HIV from one of her sex work clients. Later that evening they take me to their local bar, owned by a professional boxer. They feel safe there and say it’s one of only a handful of places in the city they can use, and just as importantly, afford. Their friend Jackie joins us after her basketball match, and tells me she lost her scholarship from university after they found out she was gay. Now unemployed and unable to finish her education, she says she feels hopeless and lost.

She contacts the organizers of the pride events:

I go to the Freedom to Roam Uganda office (a well-established lesbian organisation running the Pride event) to get my Pride ticket. Hidden behind metal gates on the outskirts of Kampala, it is a safe place for people like Stosh, who was not only correctively raped as a teenager, but also hounded out of her community and forced to live in hiding because she is gay. … As Pride weekend approaches, I hear conflicting information from everyone – that police know about the event, that they don’t, that it will be safe, that it won’t…

Simon Lokodo
Simon Lokodo

She interviews anti-gay Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo:

I ask if he thinks people are born gay or if they become homosexual, and he says ‘What I know [is] that born or become [sic] it is a perversion. I know it is an ailment. It is a sickness. It is not a status to be applauded. I am told that if a child is in a mother’s womb and there are situations that are negative that person will come out with a negative attitude towards that gender.’

Having heard enough I switch off the dictaphone and he asks me what my opinion is. I say that I think that people should be allowed to live freely, to which he replies ‘So you think that if people want to go round killing each other they should be allowed to? You know if you are one of those people I would take you straight to the airport.’ I don’t tell him I’m gay because I don’t want to miss Pride the next day.

She attends the pride parade near the beach in Entebbe:

Jamaican LGBT activist Maurice Tomlinson marches in Ugandan pride parade on Aug. 4. (Photo by David Robinson)
Jamaican LGBT activist Maurice Tomlinson marches in Ugandan pride parade on Aug. 4. (Photo by David Robinson)

Gradually the parade gathers momentum and before long all I can see are faces ecstatic with what I can only assume is a feeling of freedom. Dancing becomes wilder and jubilant shrieks reach a crescendo. The scene is one of blissful childlike joy on a background of natural beauty, rainbow colours flitting around in gleeful high visibility. Finally I’ve found the beauty I’ve been wanting to photograph. As the parade makes its way round the gardens a few onlookers gather and soon a group of small children is following the parade, holding hands with some of the participants, unaware of the event’s historical significance.

She is arrested:

Suddenly Morgan approaches me and takes me to the top of the hill. ‘The police are here,’ he whispers. I look around. There are a few men in combats and a white truck stationed near the path. … A man in a white t-shirt and baseball cap comes up to me. He asks what I’m doing there. I say ‘Nothing,’ and carry on eating. He asks me who I am, where I’m from. He keeps on questioning me, enough for me to ask him who he is. He gets out some ID from his pocket and flashes it in my face like a TV cop. I notice an official-looking symbol and the name Ivan. …  He tells me he is arresting me so I ask why. No response. …… Ivan never gives a reason. I ask to see his ID again and he refuses to show it. We all ask several times, and he refuses. Despite arguing and trying to persuade this man for about half an hour, he won’t back down. At one point he pushes me in frustration. A female police officer arrives, and when the group tries to hold me back, she hits them with her baton. She bustles me off, and I ask her why I’m being arrested. ‘Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda,’ she whispers conspiratorially.

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 pride event before the police arrived. (Photo by David Robinson)

Along with many other detainees, she is questioned, then released:

Kasha and Frank arrive at the desk and tell me not to say anything, that I haven’t done anything wrong, and that they can’t arrest me. …  Kasha entertains the officers with some breakdancing. They know her by name. Then out of nowhere a buff man with a cockney accent taps me on the shoulder and says with authority ‘Rachel, I’m Simon. British military. Are you ok?’ I say I’m fine, and he says ‘I’ve come to get you out of here.’ My photocopy and my ticket are handed round to a few different people and amidst the confusion I ask him who he is. ‘Don’t worry, someone made a call and pulled in a few favours. British military, that’s all you need to know.’ It becomes apparent that Ivan is a soldier, not a police officer, and that someone from the military phoned Simon to get me out of there before the British Consul could be informed. They don’t know that Frank has already phoned them, and that Clare has called the Inspector General, who has told the station to let everyone go.

Looking ahead:

The fact that four days of Pride events took place is a huge achievement and an admirable show of bravery for all those involved, but widespread evangelical and institutionalised homophobia informs society to the point that many LGBTI people in Uganda live in constant fear of persecution. A few days after Pride, as I watch pictures being posted and gushing comments of ‘We did it!’ I feel a sense of relief that the aftermath of the event is on the whole positive. … I’m thrilled to read that next year, the march will start from the police station. I hope I can go.

Rachel Adams is a photographer currently based in Cairo. She describes herself as “inspired by the colour and composition of everyday life, informed by my academic background in languages and cultural studies, and enthused by exciting and unusual people, events and places. I speak English, Portuguese and French fluently, Spanish and German and I am learning Egyptian Arabic.”  She can be reached at [email protected].

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor/publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]


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  1.  Sigmund Freud  in a now-famous letter to an American mother in 1935, wrote:
    “Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc.). It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime, and cruelty too….
    In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder Psyhological AssociationCouncil of Representatives followed in 1975. Thereafter other major mental health organizations followed and it was finally declassified by the World Health Organization in 1990. Consequently, while some still believe homosexuality is a mental disorder, the current research and clinical literature demonstrate that same-sex sexual and romantic attractions, feelings, and behaviors are normal and positive variations of human sexuality, reflecting the official positions of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Assoc.
    I blog for lesbians on stories4hotbloodedlesbians. com

  2. We need information and scientific world opinion to combat homophobia and the idea that LGBTI people are NOT born this way. Neither Religion (Exodus Ministries failed) nor Science can change a person’s homosexuality. Keep this information and use it when necessary.

    Royal College of Psychiatrists (UK)
    The Royal College of Psychiatrists believes strongly in evidence-based treatment. There is no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Furthermore, so-called treatments of homosexuality create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination flourish.”

    Indian Psychiatric Society
    In their editorial they mentioned:
“The argument that homosexuality is a stable phenomenon is based on the consistency of same-sex attractions, the failure of attempts to change and the lack of success with treatments to alter orientation.“ http://orinam.net/content/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/IndianJPsychiatry5411-3939187_105631.pdf
    “Research also demonstrated that people with homosexual orientation did not have objective psychological dysfunction or impairments in judgement, stability and vocational capabilities. Psychiatric, psychoanalytic, medical and mental health professionals now consider homosexuality as a normal variation of human sexuality.”
    Psychological Society of South Africa
    They said:
“Research and clinical experience further concludes that for most people sexual orientation is not “a choice” or “voluntary.” Further, there is no reliable evidence that sexual orientation is subject to redirection, “conversion” or any significant influence from efforts by psychological or other interventions….Research and clinical experience concludes that homosexual or bisexual orientations are naturally occurring minority variations of normal human sexuality. They are also documented widely throughout nature.“
    Chinese Psychological Association
    “China’s psychiatric association is removing homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses in a new diagnostic manual due out this year, the group’s vice president said today.The 8,000-member association has concluded that homosexuality is not a perversion, the vice president, Dr. Chen Yanfang, said. “Many homosexuals lead perfectly normal lives,” he said.” The change comes after five years of study by the association, Dr. Chen said. He said its evidence included a study published in 1999 that followed the daily lives of 51 Chinese gays and lesbians for one year.”
    Hong Kong College of Psychiatrists
    “The Hong Kong College of Psychiatrists opines that homosexuality is not a psychiatric disorder. The Hong Kong College of Psychiatrists adheres firmly to the practice of scientifically proven and evidence-based treatment. Psychiatric treatments have to be provided according to well established principles and practice available at the time. There is, at present, no sound scientific and clinical evidence supporting the benefits of attempts to alter sexual orientation.”
    Australian Psychological Society
    They said on their website:
“Psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals agree that homosexuality is not an illness, mental disorder or emotional problem. The Australian Psychological Society acknowledges the lack of scientific evidence for the usefulness of conversion therapy, and notes that it can in fact be harmful for the individual. “
    American Medical Association
    The AMA in its policy statement on Health Care Needs of Gay Men and Lesbians in the United States reads:
“most of the emotional disturbance experienced by gay men and lesbians around their sexual identity is not based on physiological causes but rather is due more to a sense of alienation in an unaccepting environment. For this reason, aversion therapy (a behavioral or medical intervention which pairs unwanted behavior, in this case, homosexual behavior, with unpleasant sensations or aversive consequences) is no longer recommended for gay men and lesbians. Through psychotherapy, gay men and lesbians can become comfortable with their sexual orientation and understand the societal response to it.“
    Also they wrote:
“Our AMA opposes, the use of “reparative” or “conversion” therapy that is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation.“

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