Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer –LGBTQ Ugandans call upon the government of Uganda to put less restrictions and instead increase protection of Ugandans who use the internet. In an exclusive interview with Kuchu Times Media Group-KTMG, Kelly Mukwaano the executive Director at iFreedom an organization that caters to emerging digital security needs for LGBTQ Ugandans says, “LGBTQ Ugandans face a lot of hate speech, cyber bullying, trolling and revenge pornography online, I’ll give you an example of when we were at a KTMG retreat, one of the people was almost tricked into transferring 4000 euros to a hackers account who contacted him via email. Luckily we were there and we were able to stop it. A highly respected Dr who works with the LGBTQ community was hacked and the hacker was asking her contacts to send them money, another incident happened when a gay man’s facebook account was hacked into and the hacker outed him publically on the platform.”
When COVID-19 struck the world, everyone was required to stay home and for over two years employed LGBTQ Ugandans have all been working at home via internet but the price of internet is just too high. “When we were doing research in Masaka one of the people we spoke to said they only use social media from Friday to Monday because of freaky Friday. They can’t access internet for the rest of the week. Only 1GB of data is taxed up to 12% making the internet quite inaccessible to us especially since most of us are unemployed.” Says Andrew the Programs Director at iFreedom.
On the positive side though Kelly notes that during the pandemic especially the lockdown many queer Ugandans took to the internet to express themselves.
“LGBTQ Ugandans are using the Internet to make money, selling clothes, makeup food among other services. The clients who they work with don’t know who you really are so they can’t discriminate you. We have also taken advantage of the internet to organize better via Zoom meetings, Google meetings, WhatsApp among others.” He adds.
Kelly Mukwaano admits that he was able to understand and confirm his sexuality via the internet, he says it is when he went to a cyber café back in the day is when he realized that he is not the only gay person in Uganda. This is how he was able to communicate and get together with other LGBTQ people for solidarity and community building.
Being on the internet has its risks especially Grindr, homophobic people use the App to hook up with LGBTQ Ugandans hoping to extort money from them. “A colleague was arrested after being getting a “friend” in a WhatsApp group. In a bid to extort money from him the blackmailer used police around the area to arrest him, luckily we’d had a training with police on LGBTQ issues so at midnight they let him go.” Says Kelly Mukwaano.
According to Andrew this is why they urge LGBTQ people meeting for the first time to meet in an open space for safety.
“If anything, the pandemic taught us to work from home, not only does this reduce on the office budget but it allows us to rest and program ourselves when we need to without fearing repercussions or being reprimanded. Of course it takes away from the personal touch of humanity, not seeing our colleagues may affect us mentally but we persevere.” Says Kelly Mukwaano.