KAMPALA, UGANDA —
On Saturday, August 3, Uganda’s homosexual community stepped out of the shadows in red wigs and glittering stilettos.
The country’s second gay pride parade, held on a sandy beach in Entebbe, drew over a hundred people eager to tell the world that they are out, they are proud and they are not afraid to show it.
Last year’s parade, the first ever in Uganda, was broken up by police, and several people were arrested. But the fact that they were able to pull it off at all has given the community newfound confidence, says activist Kelly Mukwano.
“That success gave us confidence that we can do it," Mukwano said. "We are getting more confident as time goes by.”
Saturday’s march was sheltered in the leafy recesses of a botanical garden about 20 miles from Kampala. But this year, police were informed in advance and the authorities did not intervene. Some revelers felt it was only a matter of time before they are able to march through the streets of the capital.
“Guys, it’s baby steps," said one marcher. "Today, we are here, miles away from Kampala. Baby steps. Soon we shall be on Kampala Road.”
Uganda has a grim track record when it comes to gay rights.
The country grabbed headlines in 2009 with the introduction of a draconian anti-homosexuality bill which proposed the death penalty for acts of so-called “aggravated homosexuality.” The bill has yet to be debated by parliament.
The proposed legislation whipped up homophobia in Uganda and drove some homosexuals out of the country. But, according to Sandra Ntebi, who handles security for the gay and lesbian community, the number of activists has also been growing.
“We have more energy than three or five years back when the bill had just been tabled and everyone was running," Ntebi said. "We were not feeling that we really deserved to stay in our own country. But most of us have decided to come back on the ground and we fight for our rights from home.”
There is no question that being homosexual in Uganda is still difficult. Police regularly break up events held by the gay and lesbian community, and homosexuals are often disowned by their families and shunned by friends. Violence and intimidation occur on a regular basis.
But Mukwano insists that the situation in Uganda has been exaggerated in the international media, and that there are plenty of countries that are worse.
“People are dying in Ethiopia," Mukwano said. "People are dying elsewhere in the world. In Jamaica, people are being beaten all the time because they are gay. So I think that was over-exaggerating that Uganda is the worst place to be gay.”
One brightly dressed transsexual, who goes by the name Beyondy, says that Saturday’s event just made her feel free.
“Last year, I was one of the people who were beaten up by the police," Beyondy said. "So today I’m happy that we are free. No one is staring and stopping our marching.”