LGBT Ugandans, defying the climate of fear and oppression the Ugandan administration has fostered, marched in a Pride parade over the weekend that, mercifully, went off peacefully.
“Can you imagine that the worst place in the world to be gay is having Gay Pride?” Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera asked a crowd of cheering gay men, lesbians, transgendered men and women, and queers somewhere in between. It was Saturday afternoon, and we were on the shores of the giant, cloudy Lake Victoria in the Ugandan city of Entebbe, where L.G.B.T. activists had decided to stage the country’s first Pride Parade. Nabagesera, a lesbian activist covered, for the occasion, in glitter and neon spray paint, with homemade angel wings, was being half-sarcastic. A barrage of media coverage has painted the country as a hell for gays–a place where they are suffering and being attacked constantly–and, despite the need to combat such threats, L.G.B.T. Ugandans were tired of hearing a story that ignored their nuanced experiences of both joy and hardship. But Nabagesera was also sincerely pleased: a crowd of nearly a hundred people had come out, fears of arrest notwithstanding, to celebrate their existence. The air was thick with confetti, paint fumes, and anticipation.
The New Yorker continues to detail how the Pride event went off relatively free of trouble. Only hours after the parade ended did the police gather at the venue, supposedly acting on a tip that a gay wedding might be taking place. The report goes on to say that three participants were arrested, one photographer detained, and statements from all those that could be rounded up were taken. However the police later released those taken into custody.
The Advocate has a series of images taken from the event. They are uniformly inspiring and hope-filled and I urge you to click over to view them. They put into context what it really means to drape yourself in a rainbow flag, to fly a Pride banner, and to hold the one you love in public.
What is perhaps so deeply interesting about this event is that it comes at a time when Uganda officially remains just as hostile to LGBTs as it has been at mostly any time in the past few years, with the threat of the Kill the Gays bill still looming in parliament and a new ethics minister bent on breaking up LGBT rights gatherings wherever they might take place.
As the story of Uganda’s oppression of its LGBT population has been told during these past few years, there has perhaps been a sense that LGBT Ugandans have been the helpless victims in all of this, and while certainly they are victims of overt persecution it would be wrong, and would do them a great disservice, to say they are not fighting.
Indeed, LGBT rights groups in Uganda are currently challenging the ethics minister Simon Lokodo in court for having illegally broken up a February human rights convention. They have also filed a case with the American justice system against known radical evangelical Scott Lively, who is infamous for the idea that the Nazi regime was orchestrated by homosexuals, for his alleged role in setting down the groundwork for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 that would come to be known the world over for its final solution for “repeat offenders.”
The bill remains within the control of the 9th Parliament and waits to be taken up in the current legislative session. Among its exorbitant penalties, the bill would also ban any form of LGBT advocacy, so to be clear: if the Ugandan Pride event that occurred this weekend was not technically illegal now, it will be if the Kill the Gays bill passes. Perhaps this exercise of freedom, then, was not just orchestrated to show solidarity in the face of oppression; it serves to give us a clear contrast as to what will occur if human rights leaders are, in the coming weeks, unable to once again fight off the threat of the bill, a battle that now seems to have become a near annual event.
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