In August 2006 Uganda’s tabloid newspaper, Red Pepper, published a list of 45 alleged gay men stating their aim was to demonstrate how rapidly this terrible vice known as sodomy is eating away at our society.
The following month, 13 lesbians were named in an attempt to rid our motherland of the deadly vice [lesbianism], we are committed to exposing all the lesbos [sic] in the city.
Kampala-raised John (name substituted) believes the paper is responding to the general paranoia in Uganda surrounding homosexuality.
There is a fear of homosexuality. The newspaper is playing a name and shame game. Ugandans are scared because gay people exist in Uganda and believe the problem is getting worse, he said. They know the Government and the law are on the newspaper’s side.
These laws include the Penal Code of 1950, which states any person who commits an offence against the order of nature is liable to life imprisonment.
Same-sex marriage was outlawed in 2005 through a constitutional amendment stating that marriage is lawful only if entered into between a man and a woman.
In recent years, gay activists have attempted to force change and strive for a more tolerant society. As the activists have become more vocal, the opposition has intensified.
In August 2007, the activist group Sexual Minorities of Uganda launched a campaign entitled Let us Live in Peace. A SMUG spokesperson said at the time, the goal of the campaign is to reach out to all Ugandans so that people realise we are not something imported from the West. We are the homosexual and transgender children of God. All we ask is that we be allowed to live in peace.
Anti-gay groups responded a week later by holding a rally in a sports stadium. Pastor Martin Sempa of the Interfaith Rainbow Coalition Against Homosexuality told the BBC, We are telling them that Africans find homosexuality reprehensible.
Three months later in November 2007, gay activists and bishops engaged in a heated impromptu debate before an international audience at a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kampala. Following the clash, Bishop Niringiye said, It’s not about silencing them. But we should put in place legislation that does not allow the practice to be promoted.
The conference made 119 recommendations, including one referring to issues concerning minority rights, such as the rights of gay people. Ethics Minister James Bututo responded, Homosexuality has no room in this country.
It’s not open for discussion. That’s how bad it is. With legal and political backing, they can do anything, John said.
John believes African culture essentially defies acceptance. The African culture is all about extended families: mums, dads, kids, grandparents. Homosexuality doesn’t fit into that.
The male persona overcompensates for masculinity. For example, a man wouldn’t go into the kitchen because that’s the woman’s territory. People believe by being gay you’re betraying other men, you’re a disgrace to the male model.
John cannot foresee a solution in the short to medium term.
It’s a desperate situation. How can you take such a risk? I prefer to keep quiet and leave. I expect things to get a lot worse before they get better, he said.