I am a gay Ugandan about to go home. This law will tyrannise my life

Published: March 20, 2014

Growing up in Uganda, homosexuality was not something we talked about much. I knew I was gay from a young age, and I came out to those close to me when I was a teenager in the early 90s. Some in my family accepted it, while others refused to acknowledge it. Homosexuality wasn’t always accepted but it was, largely, ignored.

There were characters from my youth whom I remember as openly gay, such as a local barber – everybody in our close-knit neighbourhood knew them for who they were. There were snide comments and rude names – it was far from social equality – but I did not experience hatred. To be gay in Uganda back then was a fairly unremarkable thing.
As a Catholic, I always knew the church and religious leaders were openlyhomophobic. They preached the well-known mantra that homosexuality is a sin, and goes against God’s wishes, but, again, that was where it ended. There was no hate-speak, so I didn’t feel too much like I would be judged when I was honest about my sexuality.
Today’s Uganda is a different story. As the director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, the country’s leading lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights organisation, I have been on an advocacy trip in Europe and the US, encouraging the international community to speak out against the recently passed anti-homosexuality act, which myself and a core group of Ugandans who support human rights are now challenging in the constitutional court. As I prepare to return home, I know a law has been passed that will tyrannise my life and that of many Ugandans I know. The outlook is bleak. As a gay Ugandan, I know I am one of thousands. But as someone who has chosen to be "out" and is still living in Uganda, I am in a minority of fewer than 20 people.
A day after the anti-gay law was passed, the Ugandan tabloid Red Pepper published my name and picture in a list of the "top 200 homos". The last time a similar article was published, in 2010 by the now-defunct Rolling Stone, it listed the name of my friend and colleague David Kato. He and others successfully sued the paper for this, but weeks later David was bludgeoned to death at home, almost certainly as a result of his sexuality.
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