As July ended, Uganda’s LGBTI community could barely contain the excitement that came with the Pride Festival week, which was scheduled for 2-7th August. Social media was ablaze with posts depicting the positive mood as people posted their anticipations, selected attire and general messages of solidarity.
On 2nd August, the long awaited Festival kicked off with a gala held in honour of the partners and allies that gave continuously extended a helping hand to the LGBTI movement. The gala held at one of the top hotels in the city centre was by invite. By 8:30pm, the pool area of the hotel was filled with about 100 people from different community organizations, several diplomats as well as guests that had flown in to be a part of the fifth edition of the annual Pride Festival.
The mood was perfect as people mingled and the band serenaded the guests. The Grand Marshal, UK based Nigerian Rev Jide Macaulay gave his key note speech sighting the importance of the Pride week as a way of strengthening the movement as well as celebrating recognizing all the achievements that have been accomplished. Speeches were kept to a minimum add emphasis was put on people discussing amongst themselves on how best to move the movement forward.
By the end of the night, all in attendance were looking forward to what was left of the festival and one thing was clear- the organizing committee for Pride 2016 had pulled its best stops and this was destined to be a great festival.
Day two of the festival saw people gather at Queer Youth Uganda where a heated discussion on bisexual and lesbian issues ensued. Discussed were legal matters, health issues, and all things that continue to surround the two minority groups. Panelists included a bisexual man who attempted to demystify the misunderstandings that surround bisexual individuals. He noted that what is most important is not who one sleeps with but who one is attracted to, that determines ones sexuality. The panel also had a lesbian who spoke about issues that affected these female loving women. She highlighted lack of enough health strategies for lesbians as one of the biggest problems they continue to face.
The health worker on the panel addressed how best to tackle the problems within the LGBTI community as each bracket has its own set of unique health needs, Also discussed were easy to prevent infections within the LGBTI community and where to go in case a health issue arises.
The legal expert on the panel addressed what to procedures to follow 9n cases of hate crimes, how to deal with adoption and the legal processes that come with it. There was a QnA session that had participants interacting with the panel leaving everybody satisfied and even more content at how the festival was going.
The evening session dumbed Lesbian and Bisexual night was held in one of the posh clubs around town; for a change, LGBTI persons gathered in one place, let loose, danced and partied the night away. The mood was ecstatic, the partiers energized; it was a night that will live in the memories of those in attendance for quite a while. For one night, all troubles faded away, issues of class and status were thrown out the window and Uganda’s gender and sexual minorities merged as one. By the end of the night, the anticipation for the following events was clear; what more could beat this and the organizing committee assured us we hadn’t even started yet.
Day three, there was a workshop that addressed the role of religion and its impacts on LGBTI people. The five hour gathering attempted to debunk most of the scriptures that are continuously used in the spread of hate and encouragement of homophobia.
The evening session was the Mr and Miss Pride pageant, that was well attended as hundreds came out to see the community crown a new king and queen. The transgender women looked magnificent in their heels, well done hair and polished nails. The contestants were excited as each had high hopes of taking the crown home and the community was there to cheer them on.
(As earlier published on Kuchu Times)
Suddenly, there were rushed movements as people tried to quickly exit the space. In a few minutes, it was obvious there was Police in our midst and all exits had been blocked. Activists Frank Mugisha, Shawn Mugisha and Pepe Onziema were the first to be bundled up and led out of the premises and straight to the police docks. Later it was established that close to twenty people were arrested during the chaos.
The confused, scared and upset group of about 400 people was swiftly instructed to gather in a small space and everybody ordered to get on the ground. Unfortunately, during the disarray a few people attempted to jump off the balcony and a yet to be indentified young gay man escaped death by a whisker and is currently hospitalized from the severe injuries attained from the fall.
The Police who were in the company of plain clothed officers started pin pointing at whichever two men they saw together and also picked out the transgender individuals. It was a heartbreaking sight as they searched and sexually assaulted transgender persons by touching their genitals and breasts all in an attempt to determine whether they were male or female. Many transwomen threw their wigs away and plucked out their braids to avoid being identified and harassed.
A young transgenderman walking with a white companion were singled out and questioned on whether they were gay; the policeman questioning them shamelessly pointed a gun at them and it took the intervention of a top activist to let the two rejoin the kneeling crowd.
Soon, they started confiscating people’s cameras and phones claiming they did not want people to spread the news on Facebook! The Officer in Charge, a rather arrogant man in demeanor, addressed the now extremely perplexed crowd and informed us were being held for conducting a gay wedding even though the laws of the land were very clear on homosexuality. Our faces fell! It seemed like our ordeal had just began and on bad note. Efforts to correct this information were futile as he shut down everyone who attempted to pass on the right information of what was actually happening.
A short while later, the same officer said he was retaining us for holding an unlawful gathering under the Public Order Management Act. The organizers still tried to inform him that they had attained permission from the Police prior but all their pleas fell on deaf ears.
Clare Byarugaba, a persistent and fearless activist stood up to the intimidation and attempted to talk to the police officers on more than five occasions. Angered by her relentlessness, a female officer led her away and she was put under arrest.
The beatings then started as the officers kicked and whipped people. Media was called and pictures of the attendees taken; all this while with the police forcing them (the attendees) to look into the cameras. The officer once again addressed us and said he would not tolerate this kind of ‘nonsense’ in his division.
After staying in the cold bundled up like criminals for over one and a half hours, we were released with caution that next time would be fatal.
News of the incident was spread through social media as the detainees gave live updates to the world through social media especially twitter and facebook. There has since been an outpouring of solidarity messages from across the globe as partners, allies, and world leaders condemned the horrendous acts of the Uganda Police Force.
Day four started off with an extremely low mood as the rest of the festival hang in balance but even the fear and sadness from the previous’ days raid did not stop the community from going ahead with the Festival. Medical equipment was given to one of the hospitals around town and a two hour distribution of condoms ensured in the city centre. The day’s activities were sponsored by Ice Breakers Uganda, an organization that has worked tirelessly to better the health of LGBTI persons in Uganda.
That very day, Chapter Four’s Nicholas Opiyo had met with the Minister of Ethics and Intergrity Father Simon Lokodo who banned all Pride events going forward. He threatened to organize mobs and more forces to arrest anyone who would take part in the parade that was scheduled for the following day.
“I can fault the police for beating these demonstrators in the street but if they beat you people, I will not even bother addressing this issue,” the Minister shamelessly said. He further compared LGBTI persons to murderers and terrorists who do not deserve any fair treatment from the state.
Following this meeting, the organizing committee released a statement canceling the Parade. They said they had taken this decision with the safety of the people in mind. However, even with the main event cancelled, people met up in small groups and shared their ‘personal Pride’ pictures on social media.
Many showed their resilience as they went ahead to celebrate their differences in a country where they had been declared unwanted just the previous day.