ON Saturday in Entebbe, in serene botanical gardens along the beach of Lake Victoria, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersexed (LGBTI) community celebrated the third annual “Gay Pride”. While many international gay pride events take place in city centers and on public streets, according to Pepe Onziema, Program Director for SMUG (Sexual Minorities Uganda), “Uganda’s Pride” in the botanical gardens offered the community a safe space to be free and enjoy beauty.
The notion of “taking care of each other” or “taking care of those most at risk within the community” was a prevalent theme at this year’s pride. This was because this year’s pride event was also a celebration of the recently struck down Anti-homosexuality Act. A constitutional court ruling on August 1st annulled the law, which had further criminalised homosexuality in a country that already has anti-sodomy laws that were introduced by the British during colonisation.
The mood was festive, with a diverse selection of not only Ugandan sexual orientations, but also socio-economic backgrounds, ages, ethnicities and geographies. The crowd also included a small contingent from the Kenyan and Rwandan LGBTI community who travelled to Uganda especially for the event.
Hailing from the western Ugandan city of Mbarara, Huzaifa Muwonge and Mac Ilakot sold handcrafted rainbow paraphernalia made by members of a Ugandan organisation called “Rainbow”. A trans-based coordinator and board member for FARUG (Freedom and Roam Uganda), Ilakot said, “We are strong and we will keep on advocating until we make people understand.” Ilakot noted that the first year of the parade, when the bill was simply a motion, people were not afraid but when the bill became an act people became afraid - some even left the country.
However, Ilakot says he loves Uganda and cannot fathom leaving the country because he “must talk for those who can’t.” Indeed, during the event, a community member who goes by the name “Bad Black” passed on messages of support and well wishes from Uganda’s LGBTI Diaspora, some of whom are self-exiled or have sought asylum abroad.
Love your neighbour
One representative of the Christian LGBTI community, Patrick Leuben Mukajanga, brandished a banner that read: “I am Gay, Christian and I love God.” Mukwajanga belongs to St. Paul’s Voice Center, a community of churchgoers who believe in equality and justice for all. He is a recently ordained minister through Affirming Pentecostal Ministries Uganda. A victim of hate crimes and arrests, Mukwajanga is unwavering in his belief in being proud of who you are and standing up for injustice. He says many in the congregation were thrown out of their own churches for their sexual orientation, but they found a new spiritual home at St. Paul’s Voice Center.
The route of the Pride parade was short and in a remote location on the advice of Uganda police, who agreed to protect the pride attendees from any potential attacks. Unlike last year, when the police had to provide protection against people who came to threaten the celebration, this year’s Pride passed without incident. Violence against those in Uganda’s LGBTI community has often gone undocumented, but the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum - Uganda, report over 162 cases of violence, kidnap, torture, blackmail, evictions and other forms of harassment since parliament passed the bill on December 20, 2013.
Civil rights organisations in Uganda also document the psycho-social effects of this insecurity, which has included social alienation and suicides. In light of this, Saturday’s gay pride parade, saw individuals from disparate parts of the country come together in a critical mass, to relax in an environment full of hope and camaraderie.
No rain on the parade
While planning for the Pride events the night before, members of the organising committee, many of whom had been part of the team that sued the court to overturn the Anti-homosexuality Act, were served notice that the State had filed an appeal challenging their recent victory. This did not appear to have any effect on the celebratory mood at Pride.
The event was family friendly, with young children and dogs playing amongst the crowds. There was a talent show and people took boat rides, while others swam in the lake. The palpable joy spilled over to the after party that took place in a Kampala club in the suburb of Ntinda. On the dancefloor of this club, men danced with men and women danced with women with carefree abandon late into the night.
It was a scene not frequently witnessed in Kampala, with people freely expressing themselves in public. The celebrations shall continue this forthcoming week with more parties and a thanksgiving church service. Saturday’s events speak to the momentum of Uganda’s LGBTI movement, which they encapsulated in their pride motto: “Still here, We won’t stop, until they stop.”