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…
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:
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.