LGBT rights activists are warily making plans to celebrate Pride this year despite the raids and arrests that foiled the country’s last two Pride events.
Activists disagree about whether Uganda has made progress in its treatment of its LGBT citizens and whether the chances of a successful Pride have improved.
LGBT Ugandans Plan First Pride Since Brutal 2016 Crackdown
Isaac Mugisha, co-ordinator of Pride Uganda, is determined and optimistic that Ugandan LGBTs will hold a Pride event in Kampala later this year, without it being shut down by the authorities.
If the event does go ahead, it will be the first Pride held successfully in the East African country since 2015.
In 2016, as reported by The Daily Beast, Uganda Pride events were the subject of a brutal crackdown by police. Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), his colleagues, and others were arrested and detained. In the chaos, one gay man fell four stories and suffered horrendous injuries.
The 2017 event was also “crushed,” as Mugisha wrote in The Guardian, with Simon Lokodo, the minister of state for Ethics and Integrity, threatening Pride-goers with “arrest, even violence.”
Lokodo has made the repression and persecution of the country’s LGBT population a personal crusade.
Late last week, Lokodo was reported to have been in a coma after suffering a stroke. Other reports said the stroke was minor and doctors had worked “around the clock” to prevent it from becoming a major stroke. Lokodo, later reports indicated, had been discharged from the Uganda Heart Institute.
Speaking to The Daily Beast in New York, where he was attending the first of two fundraising events for All Out, the internationally focused LGBT equality organization, Isaac Mugisha said that in recent months in Uganda “cases of people being arrested, put in police cells, and tortured have been greatly reduced.”
The man seriously injured in the 2016 Pride police raid had, after many surgeries, recovered, come out, and was now an activist, said Mugisha. “His story has become an inspirational one, and it’s so great to see him so confident.”
The objectives of the next few months, Mugisha said, were to build bridges with “straight allies,” to continue discussions with police so the Pride events can go ahead un-raided, and to seek public statements from both government and police that they support the Uganda Pride events.
For Mugisha, who is also advocacy and communications director of Spectrum Uganda, the chief stumbling block and enemy is Lokodo, but his is an increasingly isolated anti-LGBT voice and influence, said Mugisha.
Straight-friendly venues in Kampala support LGBTs, and Mugisha said he wanted to encourage more to welcome LGBTs and defend their right to gather there.
“The momentum is now so different to 2015. Then just a handful of LGBTs gathered. Now we are looking at hundreds of people wanting to gather for a Pride event.”
Frank Mugisha (no relation) echoed Isaac’s positive view. “Things are not looking so bad so far, and learning from last year our idea is to start planning early for Pride 2018,” he said in an email to The Daily Beast.
Activists had been providing training around understanding LGBT human rights to institutions like the police, as well as judges and state lawyers, in Kampala, Eastern Uganda, and Northern Uganda, Frank Mugisha added.
“Our visibility is still very important to us, and we are hoping to have Pride this year, and a much bigger event.”
However, he added: “There is still fear that Pride 2018 may be stopped, raided by police or [Lokodo]. Even with the efforts to sensitize states’ institutions and lawmakers there is still so much discrimination and violations of LGBT persons going on here.”
Other campaigners strike a similar note of caution. Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), told The Daily Beast in an email: “From my perspective, I do not think any progress has been made, particularly in LGBT organizing. To the contrary, the situation seems to be worsening since 2016.”
In a space of less than two years, Jjuuko said, six LGBT events had been raided by the state with four of them being prematurely closed as a result: as well as two Pride events in 2016 and the 2017 Pride event, the 2017 Queer Kampala International Film Festival, a 2017 gala, and most recently (on Feb. 28) an HIV outreach event had all been shut down, Jjuuko said.
“All these show a retrogression in the respect of LGBT persons’ civic space,” said Jjuuko. “Meetings have been had with members of the police and the Minister of Ethics and Integrity [Lokodo] on the matter, and they [particularly the minister] seem more determined than ever to fight what they term as the ‘promotion’ and ‘exhibition’ of homosexuality. I am therefore not very optimistic that the 2018 Pride celebrations will happen without incident.”
For more information, read the full article in The Daily Beast.
Quick history of Uganda Pride from this blog:
- 2012 — Photos: Police raid Uganda pride celebration
- 2013 — Uganda Pride: So far, so peaceful
- 2014 — Kuchus’ Day Out: a time to celebrate despite anti-gay law
- 2014 — Uganda: Party-style Pride after victory in court
- 2014 — Uganda: Why celebrating Pride matters so much
- 2016 — Police lockdown at Ugandan pride event
- 2016 — Police block Uganda’s fifth annual Pride Parade
- 2017 —Under threat, activists cancel Pride Uganda 2017