Five years after the murder of David Kato and 30 years since Uganda was liberated, LGBTIs are still fighting for their freedom
‘Hang them’ – this was the headline calling for the execution of LGBTI people in Uganda which led to the death of David Kato five years ago.
We lost a friend and a hero who was the father of the LGBTI movement in our country. His family lost a son, a brother, parent and bread-winner.
David Kato lived a memorable life but some say his murder is historic for another reason. This anniversary coincides with another – the day Uganda was liberated from the tyranny of Milton Obote.
It is 30 years since President Yoweri Museveni and his comrades liberated the country from Obote’s dictatorship, abuse of power and blood shed. Many people lost their lives in this struggle to liberate Uganda, I pay my respect to their heroism.
It should be remembered that those who started the struggle were labeled as rebels, terrorist and thieves. Today they are heroes. This can give us hope that one day the late David Kato will be remembered and celebrated as a hero to all Ugandans.
Many citizens joined in the struggle to liberate the country, including LGBTI people. But there was no liberation for LGBTIs in return. Today, we find ourselves in a seemingly endless, peaceful struggle for the right to live our lives freely. Ironically, our enemy is a government whose claim to legitimacy started with liberating Uganda from human rights abuses.
In less than a month, Ugandans will go to the polls to democratically elect their leaders. It is very unfortunate and disappointing that none of the political parties has put LGBTI rights in their manifestos. There is no openly LGBTI person standing for any political post. Despite this, many of them are calling upon all people including LGBTI people to vote for them.
Former prime minister and presidential candidate John Patrick Amama was, perhaps, our best hope. He publicly opposed the 2009 ‘Kill the Gays Bill’. But he has failed to take a bold and courageous stand we need for LGBTI rights.
Three of the presidential candidates have openly shown their hostility to LGBTI rights in Uganda. We have also seen religious leaders including the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in Uganda calling upon voters not to elect any aspiring leaders who support LGBTI people.
We have to accept the current government has made some progress – economically, socially and politically – but these benefits still do not trickle down to LGBTI Ugandans.
A country cannot celebrate peace while some of its citizens are still living in fear for their lives and many of us are refugees all over the world.
It is hard to claim a country has been liberated economically when LGBTI people are finding it hard to get jobs and many have been sacked the moment their employers find out about their sexuality. David Kato himself was sacked from his teaching job at Nile Vocational Institute in 1991, for example.
Uganda has been praised for its efforts towards prevention of HIV and AIDS. However some anti-LGBTI activists still blame LGBTI Ugandans for the existence and spread of HIV. LGBTI Ugandans are still denied basic sexual health treatments. And in 2014 the Uganda government raided the Walter Reed HIV Clinic, accusing it of promoting homosexuality.
The on-going persecution of LGBTI Ugandans in all forms – including corrective rape, blackmail, dismissal from schools, torture and more – make a mockery of the celebration of 30 years of liberation of Uganda by the National Resistance Movement.
The late David Kato was so determined to bring an end to these abuses that the struggle claimed his life. David’s death was not the end, however. It was an awakening for many LGBTI Ugandans.
During his burial we saw a very strong spirit of defiance, resilience and determination of the LGBTI community to claim their space amidst a very hostile environment.
We also witnessed religious leaders at their worst and their best. One preacher who had grown up with David condemned him and our lives. But Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo showed other religious leaders in Uganda how to treat people.
The current government should be ashamed of itself for presiding over unprecedented anti-LGBTI laws and witch-hunt in Uganda. It has tightened the colonial anti-LGBTI law on several occasions.
In 2000 it extended the law so it applied to lesbian sex and on 29 September 2005, President Museveni signed a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage. Last year the Uganda parliament passed a bill giving the government powers to shut down NGOs which support LGBTI people. Even the colonialists did not go that far.
It is now 30 years of pain for LGBTI Ugandans.
David Kato struggled for gradual positive change in Uganda and Africa for LGBTI people. He did not demand regime change but called for decriminalization of homosexuality and providing a safer environment for LGBTI people.
It is now our duty to use all democratic, peaceful and constitutional means to bring that desired change for LGBTI Ugandans.
Since David was murdered, many people including some members of my African LGBTI organization, Out and Proud Diamond Group, have taken the torch of hope for LGBTI people in Uganda. I pay my respect to all Ugandans and non-Ugandans who have united for David’s vision.
Thanks to them, today we can celebrate an increasing visibility of LGBTI Ugandans despite all the shame, stigma and harm that may befall them. There is increasing international support for us too. And there is some progress on the African continent in terms of LGBTI rights. It is still minimal but it is recognizable and life–saving – a case in point is the decriminalization of homosexuality by the Mozambique government.
The challenges for LGBTI Ugandans are many but we can win.
Edwin Sesange is a Ugandan LGBTI activist and director African LGBTI organization Out and Proud Diamond Group.
Source: Gaystar news