To mark the annual Kuchu Memorial Day on Tuesday 26th January 2021, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) hosted a dialogue meeting with several local council authorities and LGBT+ activists from various organizations in and around Kampala. The event was in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the murder of celebrated LGBTIQ activist David Kato Kisule.

SMUG’s Programs Director Mr Pepe Onziema noted that the discussion was important because sexual and gender minorities are vulnerable to several forms of violence and LCs are the first and most convenient contact persons in their places of residence. He explained that this posed a need to build rapport with local council authorities and raise their awareness on LGBT+ rights.

"We live in our communities as LGBTQ persons. Incase anything happens, LCs are the first people we contact. Even when we rent housing in new areas, it is a requirement by the landlords to ask for an introductory LC letters from one’s previous village LCs. We haven't had enough interactions with local authorities since 2018 but these dialogues have been in the pipeline for a while. However, we managed to have these conversations in some areas like Kireka which exclusively focused on transgender issues,"Mr Onziema revealed.

The local council personnel that attended the meeting also engaged participants on a discussion of duties, roles and responsibilities of the village local authorities in relation to human rights. A local area vice chair emphasized that it is the duty of local leaders to be aware of and respect human rights of all individuals within their villages without any form of discrimination.

Among the challenges highlighted during the discussion was the negative perceptions harbored by other members of society towards; this was attributed to both lack of information and misinformation.  The local council chair in charge defense in Kamuli shared his experience with handling a case where LGBTQ persons in his area were being threatened.

"People need to understand that these (LGBTQ) people are created that way. We can either accept or shun them as they are but we don't have the right to take their lives. There was an incident when some people in my community were contemplating on beating them up. But I told them if they dared to do so, then I would ensure that they were arrested. No one has a right over another person's life. Since then, they calmed down until the former shifted. We never had any problems with them within our communities even though complaints kept on coming on the way they behave. There is still more that needs to be done when it comes to sensitization on human rights of LGBT+ persons within our villages. We also need to acknowledge that even though it is claimed that homosexuality was exported here, the fact is that it has always been among us but it just wasn't talked about. It's only now that it has been put in the spotlight due to change of generation and the prevalence of the internet," he narrated

Among the issues that were raised by LGBT+ activists was the refusal by some local leaders and police raids despite acquiring permission from LCs in accordance with the POMA Act. According to Nkali Joanita Ssenfuka, ED of Freedom and Roam Uganda, some LCs and Police OCs don't grant LGBT+ persons or organizations audience when they approach them for permission especially when it comes to hosting events and accessibility to public services. "... We have contributed greatly to the society where we work and reside. What hurts me is that I was denied the opportunity to meet the authorities, let alone be heard. Their refusal was based on hear-say from those around. They have never even invited us for a village meeting to have a dialogue with them and air out our grievances. We would like to hold community health outreaches within our village,” she shared.

LCs were urged to be champions of human rights for all within their respective communities and the spaces they occupy. It was also agreed that more sensitization meetings should be held for Police and other law enforcement officers to raise awareness on LGBT+ rights and their boundaries when it comes to enforcement.

The local leaders present pledged to work with the community to ensure that everyone, irrespective of their sexuality and gender identity, safely accesses the services that they need within their villages. LGBTQ entities were also encouraged to build rapport with their respective local authorities to have a good relationship with them which will help in the smooth running of their daily operations.