News / Africa

Report: Anti-Gay Abuse Surges in Uganda After Bill Passage

FILE - Prominent gay rights activist and Sexual Minorities Uganda program coordinator Pepe Julian Onziema said that well-known homosexuals face constant discrimination and abuse and recalled being ignored many times by medical workers who served others as they gossiped about his sexual orientation, Kampala, Uganda.
FILE - Prominent gay rights activist and Sexual Minorities Uganda program coordinator Pepe Julian Onziema said that well-known homosexuals face constant discrimination and abuse and recalled being ignored many times by medical workers who served others as they gossiped about his sexual orientation, Kampala, Uganda.
Gabe Joselow
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International say homosexuals in Uganda have faced increased discrimination since the passage of an anti-gay bill last December. 

In Uganda, members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community, known by the acronym LGBT, say life has not been the same since the passage and signing of the Anti-Homosexual Act, which allows life sentences for those convicted of consensual homosexual acts.

“The atmosphere in Uganda has really changed, especially in the LGBT community in Uganda, the situation is really tense, a lot of people are facing a lot of problems like attacks," explained Jay, a transgender man, who asked we only use his first name for his own protection. "Some of the LGBT people are committing suicide.”

Born a woman, Jay lives his life as a man, binding his chest to obscure his breasts.

Shortly after the law was signed, he went to a health clinic outside Kampala to receive treatment for a fever.  But the doctor refused to treat Jay until he revealed whether he was a man or a woman.

“He said, 'Ok, if you don't want to tell me, then I assume you're a gay.  You're the people we're looking for, we'll have to involve the police in this' and so on.  He tried to harass me.  But still, I was very strong.  I told them I haven't done anything, I've just come for treatment,” said Jay.

Eventually, Jay's partner paid the doctor a bribe of 50,000 Ugandan shillings, about $20, and the matter was dropped.

The new report from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reports similar cases of abuse, humiliation and discrimination in Uganda.

The report says since the bill passed, at least 17 people have been arrested for alleged homosexual behavior.

Discrimination

Many more have been evicted from their homes, as landlords fear violating terms in the law that forbid homeowners from tolerating homosexual behavior on the premises.

“One of the problems with the law is all of the terms in the law are so vague that basically anybody within Uganda, any Ugandan citizen, any Ugandan resident, can be arrested for almost anything that they do without knowing that they're violating the law.  So some landlords are deciding to play it safe and saying, 'I'm very sorry, I know it hurts you not to have a place to live, but I need to let you go,'” said Neela Ghoshal, a senior LGBT researcher for Human Rights Watch.

President Yoweri Museveni signed the law in February saying homosexuals should be “punished harshly” in order to defend society from “disorientation.”

But Ghoshal said the interpretation of the laws has only torn the community apart, as people are losing jobs and being disconnected from their families for perceived violations of the law.

“We spoke to a number of people who have been disowned by their families since the law passed, which is a bit ironic because those who support this kind of law say that they're promoting family values, but actually we find that families are being destroyed because parents think that they ought to disown their children,” stated Ghoshal.

The report says at least 100 LGBT people have fled Uganda since the beginning of this year.

Two men are set to face trial in June for “unnatural offenses,” in one of the first official prosecutions since the passage of the bill.

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