On the morning of Sunday 12th June 2016, the world woke up to shocking news of a shooting in Orlando-Florida, USA where Omar Mateen, opened fire in Pulse, a popular gay hangout spot, instantly killing 49 and injuring 53 people. The US government described this as one of the worst ever mass killings in their history.
To the global Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) fraternity, the incident was not only tragic but also brought to the forefront the reality that homophobia was even more real than we realize. LGBTIQ people from different parts of the world have since then held rallies and vigils to mourn the people who lost their lives to this hate crime; several world leaders have sent in condolence and solidarity messages to the bereaved families as well as the global LGBTI community.
To show their love and support during this hard time, the Ugandan LGBTI community held a vigil on 18/6/2016 at the Chapter Four office premises. Despite the heavy down pour, the event organized by Kuchu Times Media Group, saw a number of LGBTI identifying persons and allies of the community come together to pay their respects to the innocent souls that were lost in the tragic shooting.
The incident had left many traumatized and had also renewed fears that our lives remain at risk and we constantly walk with death in the face of the homophobic environments we live in. Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera,the founder and Executive Director of Kuchu Time Media Group first heard about the sad occurrence while on a work trip in France and greatly affected by it, she couldn’t help but wonder how a sane person could wake up one fine day and openly shoot whose only crime was love.
.“We are both mourning and celebrating their lives, they died in pride, they stood proud for what they believed in. I am really proud of my community and it gives me hope to see that regardless of what happened in Orlando people fear that the same could happen to us because there has been a lot of hate on social media. I’m grateful that the community is still united and standing strong,” Kasha said on being asked what the vigil meant to her.
The event started with a word of prayer from Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo, who is also the founder of St. Paul’s Reconciliation and Equality Centre (SPREC), an organisation that spiritually nurtures LGBTI Ugandans and gives hope to those who have lost it. The Bishop in his opening sermon referred to the Orlando victims as “Martyrs”.
He noted that there are many things that we might not understand but should be ready to learn when their truths are revealed to us. He further said that unfortunately most people in this world don’t like to hear or even learn about things that they might fully understand i.e. human sexuality.
He also noted that many people in this world consider sexuality to be about procreation and tend to overlook the concept of companionship in this context.
“Companionship is another great component of sexuality but people don’t want to talk about this,” the Bishop emphasized. “Whether heterosexual or LGBTI, we were all created by God in his own likeness” further emphasized.
He also noted that what happened in Orlando could have happened in Uganda or anywhere else in the world and the only way to fight such crimes is through education about human sexuality, creating dialogues and other engagements.
The chief organizer, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera in her communiqué said that while the vigil was a short notice event, the community had come through to show their solidarity for the Orlando victims. She further said that even though there was a need for the Ugandan LBGTI community to mourn the departed souls together, it was also relevant to meditate on what the incident in Orlando means to the Ugandan gender and sexual minorities’ fraternity.
“We are here today for the people in Orlando because when we call upon people in the whole world to stand in solidarity with Ugandan LGBTI people, people move to the streets, people write statements and do all things possible to stand with us,” Kasha said. She concluded by appealing to the community to maintain the spirit of unity.
Dr. Stella Nyanzi who was the chief griever, said what happened in Orlando was pitiful. She thanked Uganda’s LGBTI community for standing with her whenever she hits a hard place. She emphasized that people must realize that all lives matter and the Orlando incident made her wonder what kind of God was as hateful. She called on Uganda’s LGBTI community to remain steadfast in unity and remember that we are all loved by God despite our diversity.
Several community members also spoke on the incident and shared the sentiments it had evoked in them. “I came to show solidarity for our brothers and sisters and others who died in Orlando and for our brothers and sisters who have died as a result of homophobia and transphobia. We need to define safe spaces for LGBTI people ranging from security and other related factors and set necessary precautions to mitigate the arising threats,” Moses Kimbugwe the Programs Director of Spectrum Uganda said.
Comments from Community Members
It is absurd and very heartbreaking that such an incident happened in the era of LGBTI marriage equality in the US. It is very unfortunate that the right to life has been abused and now the whether an LGBTI person has a right to live or die is decided by any homophobe with a weapon. We condemn all acts of violence against LGBT persons because of who they are or who they love and we affirm that we shall not be intimidated and shall continue for human rights for all regardless of sexual or gender identity- Gloria.
I am saddened by the horrific shooting in Orlando. One of the mostly cowardly acts against innocent people is to take lives; this has set us back as the LGBTI movement both in Uganda and world over. Such cowardly acts encourage the oppression of LGBTI persons across the globe- Joanitah Nkali
Homophobia is everywhere; we need to realize that it is a global problem and everyone needs to join in the struggle- Dr Frank Mugisha
It is very upsetting, heartbreaking and worrying that we still have people that harbor such an attitude towards LGBTI persons. It has evoked different memories and feelings. This has brought up fear all over again; the very fear we have worked so hard to overcome over the years- Diane Bakuraira
It should be noted that several Ugandan LGBTI and civil society organization held candle lighting ceremonies to pay tribute to the victims of the Orlando shooting.