In Uganda, gay people are being forced into exile. If a new bill becomes law, homosexuality will be punishable by death – which means many people are choosing to leave and seek asylum elsewhere. With the vote on the country’s anti-homosexuality bill set to become public in the coming days, photographer Mathias Christensen met gay people in Uganda who fear the changing of the law.
Gay people in Uganda: love on the run
by Rasmus Thirup Beck
“Five police officers force three young men out of their one-room slum dwelling in Kampala, with no explanation. As they are dragged down the slum’s main shopping street, their neighbours’ hateful shouts make their “crime” all too clear: “Beat those gays up!” “Kill those monsters!” “Give them what they deserve!”
Threats were also issued – threats they had heard before:
“We’ll burn down your house!”
After two days in a small, dirty prison cell they are released. Now they’ve gone underground, and hope to gain asylum in another country.
“We don’t dare to live here any more. We have felt unsafe for a long time and it only gets worse. It’s all the talk about that law that agitates people. If it is passed I am sure they will burn down the house,” says one, a 23-year-old transsexual who prefers to be called “Bad Black” for safety reasons.
The law he refers to is the so-called “Kill the Gays” bill, which is set to become reality in Uganda within days. It is already illegal to commit a homosexual act in the country, but a unified parliament now supports a tightening of the law, which, among other things, will make it punishable by death to be a “serial offender”.
The parliamentarian behind the bill is David Bahati. He describes homosexuality as an evil that has to be fought. He also says that he and his peers “do not hate the homosexuals but the sin in them”.
Bahati’s reference to sin reveals the direct connection between Uganda’s politicians and a group of very influential pastors. One of these pastors is Moses Solomon Male, who travels the country presenting his talk, Understanding the Challenges of Homosexuality (Sodomy).
“Those homosexuals … They call it anal sex. It ruins the anus. And they say they enjoy it,” said Male in a recent speech to Sunday-school pupils in a Kampala suburb. He also described the cornerstone of both the pastors’ and the politicians’ argument against homosexuals: That they are “recruiting” innocents to their side – especially children.
LGBT rights advocates are doing their best to challenge these views – and the bill. One of these, transsexual activist Pepe Julian Onziema, has courageously come out with his message as well as his sexuality. Homosexuality is not something you become, it is something you are, he stresses.
“The only thing we can do is to try to inform as many people as possible about how we’re human beings just like them – just with different sexual preferences,” he explains.”