News / Africa

    Kampala’s Haven from Homophobia

    Despite frequent attacks on homosexuals, Uganda’s gays and lesbians strive for ‘normality’

    Ugandans demonstrate last year at their country’s embassy in London against a controversial anti-homosexuality bill introduced by Ugandan MP David Bahati
    Ugandans demonstrate last year at their country’s embassy in London against a controversial anti-homosexuality bill introduced by Ugandan MP David Bahati
    Darren Taylor

    Part 5 of a 5 part series: Gays in Africa
    1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

    In a balmy suburb of Kampala, gay couples gather in a nightclub to escape the tensions of their everyday lives.  They laugh, they hold hands, they embrace, they kiss, they dance under flashing, multicolored strobe lights, they dig into plates of fatty fried chicken.

    It’s like any other club…except that the patrons are with partners who are of the same sex.  
    On recent night VOA visited the venue, the DJ played a reggae song, followed by a techno beat and then a hip hop favorite.  “Everyone is mixed up here, just like the music!” Owen Murangira joked, clutching a bottle of ice-cold Nile lager.

    This “mixing up” is taking place in the capital city of a nation that international gay rights activists have labeled “the most homophobic country in the world,” a place where a number of homosexuals have been brutally murdered in recent times, a place where parliament is considering making a law under which, in certain circumstances, gays could be executed.

    “It’s ironic,” says Denis Nzioka of the African Gay Activists Alliance, “that in the middle of this cooking pot of hatred and bigotry, you get this oasis of friendliness, acceptance and love.”

    Gay people of various ethnicities and religions gather at the club – “Even Muslims!” says Murangira.  He adds, “Most of them don’t drink alcohol, but they come here to socialize.  Besides, this place’s coffee is very good!”

    ‘100 TOP HOMOS’

    Nzioka says, “In terrible times like this, clubs like these are havens for gay people, the only places we can come to be ourselves.”

    The “terrible times” he’s referring to include the grisly killing of Ugandan gay advocate Paskikali Kashusbe.  The young man disappeared in June last year.  About a month later, his torso – minus genitals – was found on a farm in Kibiri district.  Police found his head in a pit latrine in the same area a few days later.  The murder remains unsolved.

    And in an incident that sparked international outrage recently, outspoken Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato was beaten to death with a hammer.  The police are investigating the motive behind the murder.  But Ugandan human rights activists blamed Kato’s death on US evangelicals they say are stoking anti-gay sentiment in Uganda, and the Ugandan government.

    Ugandan MP David Bahati, the author of a bill that seeks to impose the death penalty, under certain circumstances, on homosexuals
    Ugandan MP David Bahati, the author of a bill that seeks to impose the death penalty, under certain circumstances, on homosexuals


    Last year, under a headline ‘100 PICTURES OF UGANDA’S TOP HOMOS,’ Ugandan tabloid Rolling Stone [no relation to US music magazine with same name] published the names and addresses of people it said were gay.  It called for them to be hanged.  The newspaper’s editor said the story was done to protect Ugandans from people trying to “recruit children to homosexuality.”  A gay rights group, Sexual Minorities Uganda – SMUG – says since the piece was published, there’ve been increasing attacks on Ugandan homosexuals.    

    Nzioka says anti-gay sentiment has been building in Uganda ever since 2005, when President Yoweri Museveni changed the constitution to introduce a ban on same-sex marriage.  A radio station that invited three activists to comment on this was fined almost two million Ugandan shillings – about 85,000 US dollars.

    Even at the club, the good times haven’t always rolled for Kampala’s gay community.  Murangira explains, “We had times in the past when the managers have chased gay people away from this place and told bouncers, ‘No more gay people allowed.’  But then after a week, we get a call from management saying, ‘Hey, you guys, please come back; business is bad!’”

    Bicycles for sale at a market in Kampala … MP David Bahati says most Ugandans disagree with homosexuality
    Bicycles for sale at a market in Kampala … MP David Bahati says most Ugandans disagree with homosexuality

    For the best part of a decade, says Natasha Vally of the South Africa-based Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, Christian evangelical groups from all over the world have been visiting Uganda to emphasize that homosexuality is an “abomination in the eyes of God” and “whipping up prejudice” against gays.        

    Bahati’s Bill

    Last year, MP David Bahati began to push for his Anti-Homosexuality Bill to become law.  If passed, the bill will impose the death penalty for some homosexual acts and life in prison for others.  People found to be “encouraging” homosexuality – such as the owners of the Kampala nightclub – could also be jailed.    

    Since the bill’s introduction, says SMUG’s chairman, Frank Mugisha, more than 20 gays have been attacked and 17 imprisoned.  In contrast, says Mugisha, in 2009 only 10 homosexuals were assaulted and “five or six” jailed.  

    In Uganda, homosexuals already face imprisonment of up to 14 years for “immoral activities.”  According to Murangira, “When a law like that exists, it causes citizens to treat gay people like criminals.  They then feel it is their right to abuse us and even kill us,” he says, caressing his partner’s hand on the nightclub balcony.

    Uganda’s parliament is considering Bahati’s bill
    Uganda’s parliament is considering Bahati’s bill

    Bahati denies that his bill’s “sole purpose is to kill all gays.”  He points out that it merely calls for the execution of people found to have had gay sex with minors.

    In an earlier interview with VOA’s Jackson Mvunganyi, the MP said, “We are not engaged in a hate campaign; we are engaged in love – love for our children and love for our family (unit).  We in fact love gays but we don’t agree with the sin in them.”

    Nevertheless, Bahati’s bill continues to cause an international uproar, with many rights groups condemning Uganda’s “homophobic” lawmakers…leaving Bahati to ask, “Why are people making noise to defend homosexuals who defile children?”

    Influence of foreign gays


    Bahati insists the purpose of his bill is to protect Ugandans from certain foreign gay organizations.

    Many opponents of homosexuality say being gay is anti-Christian … But many gays, including these protesting in South Africa, say they’re Christians as well
    Many opponents of homosexuality say being gay is anti-Christian … But many gays, including these protesting in South Africa, say they’re Christians as well

    “What they do is unbelievable.  I want the world to understand this.  They use money; they go into schools to recruit (children), to indoctrinate them into believing this (homosexual) behavior,” he says, continuing, “You find young people turning (into) gays.  I have so many messages on my phones – people who brought me these problems they are going through; parents who visit me.  That’s the reason why in this bill we have a proposal to care and to rehabilitate and to counsel the victims of homosexuality.”

    Bahati says, “The problem is…massive, and something must happen (to stop it)….  We can’t just sit and watch our children’s futures being demolished.”  He maintains that even gay rights organizations in Uganda support him.

    But Nzioka doubts this, saying it’s “too ridiculous” to suggest there’s any “foreign gay conspiracy” against Uganda.  The activist comments, “To suggest that any gay organization would spend money to go into Uganda to indoctrinate people into homosexuality is beyond reason.  Why only Uganda?  And who are these mysterious, evil, gay organizations Mr. Bahati is talking about?  Why doesn’t he name them, so that the Ugandan government can ban them, or the police can arrest them?”

    The MP, though, says he has “video evidence” of his claims and he’ll release it soon.  But Nzioka scoffs at this, saying Bahati is using a “phantom occurrence” to “demonize” gays so that his bill will become law.  This, he insists, will open the door for the “total persecution” of gay Ugandans.  

    “They will then be targeted, jailed and maybe even executed.  Mr. Bahati wants open season on gays!,” Nzioka says.

    For some gay Ugandans who’ve been attacked in recent months, that season has already started.  But for Owen Murangira and his friends, jiving to the reggae beat in the Kampala nightclub, the party continues…for now.

    “Who knows what the future holds?” he asks, light flashing off his skin from an overhanging mirrorball.   “I just hope some common sense prevails.  I just hope some humanity prevails.”  

     

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.