Sixteen LGBTQ people in Uganda were arrested October 21 on “suspicion of homosexuality” charges and numerous others have been beaten and murdered amid talk that lawmakers there might revive legislative efforts to impose the death penalty on those who engage in same-sex conduct.
The arrests, announced by LET’S WALK Uganda, a non-governmental LGBTQ organization connected to the 16 individuals, coincided with the uptick in reports of violence emerging via Ugandan-based social media accounts.
The violence has been alarmingly frequent and horrifying. Sexual Minorities Uganda, an advocacy group, stated that Brian Wasswa, a young gay paralegal professional, was murdered on October 5 by homophobes who invaded his home and attacked him with a gardening hoe. Uganda Health and Sciences Press Association (UHSPA), which is a network of LGBTQ folks and groups, posted photos on October 16 of a transgender woman who was brutally attacked. Four days later, on October 20, that group posted photos of a beaten and bloodied gay Rwandan refugee in Uganda who was ambushed by a mob. And on October 21, UHSPA posted photos of a lesbian who was undergoing a CT scan after she suffered head trauma stemming from an assault.
LET’S WALK Uganda announced on Facebook October 25 that all 16 people who were arrested in the October 21 busts have been released. But the circumstances leading to their arrests in illustrated the dire circumstances facing queer people who have limited options to seek refuge from violence.
“16 LGBTIQ members who live in a safe shelter of LET’S WALK Uganda got attacked by a mob of community members yesterday,” the organization explained in a Facebook post. “The shelter residents themselves called the police for rescue. But the Ugandan Police ended up arresting the LGBTIQ shelter residents that called them for help instead.”
(LET’S WALK Uganda has established a GoFundMe page to relocate its LGBTQ residents to safer locations.)
Children of the Sun Foundation Uganda, which is an organization that offers sexual health services and advocacy for LGBTQ people and sex workers, condemned the attacks in a Facebook message to Gay City News and explained how the persecution of queer folks is contributing to further health disparities.
“It’s hindering members from getting services,” COSF Uganda said. “Whenever we ask people to come for services, they fear that they will be attacked.”
The organization noted that the fear instilled in LGBTQ people locally is specifically causing disruption in the fight to eradicate HIV/ AIDS. The organization stated that its headquarters in the nation’s capital of Kampala is among the few locations in the area where individuals can get access to HIV treatment medication, but folks are often too afraid to visit.
“People are having to miss appointments and this is driving them to poor drug adherence,” the organization said.
It is possible that the spike in attacks on LGBTQ folks is related to the renewed talk that the government is considering exploring a newfound version of the “kill the gays” bill that drew widespread international outrage five years ago. That bill was passed, but only after being amended to require life sentences instead of the death penalty. The amended legislation was later thrown out by the Ugandan courts, based on a procedural deficiency in its enactment.
Early in October, the nation’s ethics and integrity minister said that the bill would be re-introduced in parliament within weeks, but a spokesperson for Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni told Reuters on October 21 that “there are no plans by the government to introduce a law like that.”
“We have the penal code that already handles issues of unnatural sexual behavior so there is no law coming up,” the spokesperson added.
Despite the international outrage that surrounded the original “kill the gays” bill, bigoted Bronx City Councilmember Fernando Cabrera traveled to Uganda in 2014 and called the government there “godly” while heaping praise on leaders there for resisting what he falsely described as American threats to cut off aid to the nation unless its government supported marriage equality.