© Reuters. Laura, 22, a lesbian member of the LGBTQ community, poses for a photograph after an interview with Reuters in Kampala, Uganda October 17, 2023. REUTERS/Abubaker Lubowa
KAMPALA (Reuters) – As a Ugandan court hears a challenge on Monday to one of the world’s harshest anti-LGBT laws, there’s more at stake than the simple constitutionality of the statute.
LGBT activists say the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) has given Ugandans an implicit licence to abuse and discriminate against sexual minorities.
While at least five people have been charged under the AHA since its enactment in May, including two for alleged offences that carry the death penalty, hundreds more have suffered torture, sexual abuse, intimidation and eviction at the hands of private citizens, according to a report released in September by rights groups.
Reached for comment, government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo said in a text message: “I won’t waste my time giving credence to falsehoods. Let them run with their propaganda. It won’t negatively alter Uganda’s record on the ground.”
The government has previously said the AHA is meant to criminalise same-sex activity and its promotion, not penalise LGBT Ugandans.
LGBT rights activists, private individuals and a lawmaker are seeking to overturn the law on constitutional grounds.
Three members of Uganda’s LGBT community shared the following stories about their experiences since the law was enacted. Reuters has referred to them by their first names or nicknames for safety reasons.
JOBLESS AND HOMELESS
Days after the law was enacted in May, Sandra, who is lesbian, was summoned to her boss’ office at the supermarket where she worked.
“My boss … told me, I can’t allow you to work for me anymore because of what is going on,” Sandra, 23, recalled. He told her that if customers learned he was “hiring someone like you” it would ruin the company’s reputation, she said.
Sandra, who said her parents ordered her to leave their house when they learned about her sexual orientation in 2019, could not afford her rent and was evicted from her house. She found a place to sleep at a shelter for homeless LGBT Ugandans.
She now works as an emergency responder at a different charity that helps LGBT people. When not at work, she said she keeps indoors and avoids social media to avoid drawing attention to herself.
NOWHERE TO TURN
When his family learned he was gay in 2019, Pingu, now 22 years old, said his mother disowned him and stopped paying his school fees. His relatives threatened to burn his genitals with boiled water, he told Reuters.
Still, as lawmakers began considering the AHA in March, fuelling a surge in homophobic abuse, Pingu life’s was about to take a turn for the worse.
In May, Pingu said he was drugged, raped and robbed by a man he had met at a restaurant for a date. Upon regaining consciousness he said he found himself half-naked on the roadside in a forested area. A good Samaritan helped him find his way home, he said.
Pingu said the assault left him bruised around his genitals and struggling to walk, but he did not seek medical help or go to the police for fear it could land him in jail.
“With all that homophobia that was going on … I felt like they (health workers) would really ask me a lot of questions, they would report me to police,” he said. “I couldn’t get justice for what had happened to me.”
‘SUFFOCATED BY THE WORLD’
When the law passed, Laura said her siblings and aunties told her people like her deserved the death penalty.
That pushed the 22-year-old over the edge, and she pondered ways to kill herself. She said she started overdosing on anti-depressants and didn’t want to wake up at all. She also mulled hanging herself or drowning in a village well.
Laura said she was admitted to a hospital, where she was stabilised and discharged.
“What (the law) does to people like me, it makes you feel like you’re suffocated by the world to the point whereby you have no air to breath,” she said.
“It makes you feel like you’re going to be in this world of people who hate you, so why don’t you just leave this world and leave it for those who hate you.”
(This story has been corrected to change the number of people charged to five from seven, in paragraph 3)