What’s It Like To Be Gay In Uganda?

Uganda is widely considered to be one of the world’s most homophobic countries. From anti-gay legislation to newspaper led witch hunts, Uganda seems to have declared war on its gay citizens. One tabloid headline read “Hang Them” above a photo gallery of outed gay Ugandans.

A number of recent documentaries have explored this issue, and all paint a stark picture. But what is the current day to day reality for gay Ugandans? Is it really as bad as we’ve been led to believe? We met up with gay Ugandan travel agent Michael Kajubi to find out.

In 2014 the Ugandan government imposed the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Act. What impact has this legislation had? 

Well, this at first didn’t go well with all Ugandans, even the most homophobic ones. Uganda lost support from some donor countries in the West and was labelled with all sorts of names. Speaking from the tourism point of view, and our company’s experience, this legislation hit us really hard. In our first year of operation, we lost a group of 30 clients who cancelled their trip as they didn’t want to spend money in a country that was discriminatory against the LGBT+ community. Some folks here decided to seek asylum in other countries because of the hate they were receiving both from their families and the general public. But thank God, the law was repealed in the Constitutional Court.

Uganda is considered to be one of the most dangerous countries for gay people. Is this a fair assumption?

This is how the media has portrayed Uganda. Uganda can be a dangerous place to be openly gay, that can not be denied. But as long as one does not come out and proclaim how gay one is, then one is safe. One ought to be discreet in his/her orientation to be totally safe.

How open can gay people be in Uganda?

It depends. The LGBT+ activists are openly gay and they live freely most of the time, although they have occasionally been a target in the past. Each country has its own culture. In the case of Uganda, gays cannot really publicly show affection since it is not the norm for even heterosexuals to show affection in public. But as we become more informed, things will be better in the future and more accepting.

Uganda interview

What advice would you give LGBT+ tourists intending to travel to Uganda?

Like I have said earlier, each country has its culture. I’d advise gay travellers to enjoy Uganda and not to show affection in public. They can always do the rest in private when they get to their hotels and residences.

Have Pride events ever taken place in Uganda?

Yes, there were Pride events in the past, but in 2016 and 2017 the places where pride was organized were raided by police and some of the organizers were arrested. But of course, the human rights defenders worked tooth and nail for their release. We hope that we are able to have Pride Events again.

It’s estimated that almost 2000 LGBT+ people tried to flee Uganda between 2014 – 2016. Do LGBT+ people often look for ways to leave the country?

Some that are at risk will always try to leave the country, otherwise for those that are not at risk stay here and continue with their lives.

 What can the international community do to help LGBT+ people in Uganda?

Firstly, the international community should work closely with local LGBT+ organizations to learn the needs of the people on the ground.  Secondly, there’s a need for resources to help the projects which are being done by local organisations. They fight for the rights and visibility of the movement here. Lastly, there’s a need for support in training and skills for LGBT+ people in Uganda, so that they can get employment and be able to sustain themselves.

Three reasons why anyone – gay or straight – should visit Uganda. 

First, diversity of offering. Uganda has so much to offer to everyone regardless of one’s race, sexual orientation or religion. From the Source of the Nile which is the longest river in the world to the amazing mountain gorillas which mostly live in Uganda, and also the country’s abundant natural resources.

Second, climate. Consider fact that Uganda lies along the equator and has therefore has an excellent climate. We have an all year round summer with tropical rains.

Third, friendly people. Uganda was ranked in 2017 as one of the friendliest countries in the world.

Every person should get a chance to visit the place that I’m proud to call Home. As Churchill called it, “The Pearl of Africa”.

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