Last night, police in Kampala stormed the Mr and Miss Pride beauty pageant, a celebration of trans and gender non-conforming Ugandans. The pageant is a critical part of Uganda’s 2016 Pride celebrations, hosting LGBT citizens, allies and international guests.
Over 20 people were arrested, including prominent campaigners such as Frank Mugisha and Pepe Onziema of Sexual Minorities Uganda. Though subsequently released, this was a clear attempt to harass, intimidate and derail a lawful event that had already been agreed with the authorities. More details of the raid can be found in this eye-witness account, posted by Rev. Jide Macaulay, founder of House of Rainbow.
During the arrests, LGBT people were also harassed, attacked and threatened with public exposure after having their photos taken. Trans participants were subjected to the worst forms of violence and abuse, particularly shameful given what Mr and Miss Pride represents. We are saddened to learn about a trans woman, who jumped from the building to escape and is reportedly recovering from serious injuries. Our thoughts are with her community and her family at this time.
This incident took place in a broader context of discrimination against LGBT Ugandans. In 2014, the government passed an anti-LGBT law (the Anti-Homosexuality Act), which was thankfully overturned by the Constitutional Court. This was followed up by another law with a clause that charities and NGOs should ‘not engage in any activity which is…contrary to the dignity of the people of Uganda’ – widely interpreted to be aimed at LGBT people.
There is clearly a lot that still needs to be done before genuine equality can be achieved for LGBT people internationally. Despite some positive advances, same-sex relationships are still illegal in 73 countries and are punishable by death in 10. Only 50 countries provide legal gender recognition for trans people. LGBT communities face daily discrimination and violence on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
In this gloomy context, there is hope. There is inspiring work being done by LGBT groups around the world to fight for their rights and for equality. They achieve amazing things in difficult situations with limited resources or support. In Uganda, this includes Sexual Minorities Uganda, Chapter Four and others, who have organised Pride events in the face of strong opposition.
At Stonewall, we are working to support and stand by the side of LGBT people internationally. We are also working to influence others, such as the UK government, international employers and international charities, to do more to support LGBT communities directly and advocate for their rights. More information on Stonewall’s international programme can be found here.
Internationally, LGBT people are more likely to risk arrest, violence and discrimination for publicly speaking out against homophobia, transphobia and biphobia than they are to have their rights protected. We want to help turn this around, to create a world where LGBT people have their rights respected, promoted and affirmed.
We call for an end to harassment against Uganda’s LGBT community. The Ugandan LGBT community has asked us to spread the word. If you have the opportunity, please share this statement condemning the raid and demanding justice.