By Betesta Segale
A meeting attended by Transgendered and intersex African activists recently resolved to act on the issue of the treatment of sexual minorities in Uganda. The activists came to the decision during the recent Transgender, Intersex African Exchange programme held from May 9 to 14 2011, when they declared that it was high time to speak out on the issue that has gripped the international LGBTI community since the so-called Bahati Bill promoting the imprisonment and killing of gay people was revealed in late 2009.
During the exchange programme, participants from outside Uganda experienced the challenges of LGBTI activists in Uganda who have to work underground in an environment where they feel their mere existence is illegal.
Homosexuality in the country is criminalised under the ‘unnatural offences’ provision of Section 145 of the Penal Code Act of Uganda Cap 120.
The activists questioned how policy makers could claim to hate something that they do not know, and argued that homosexuality is not unAfrican.
Amongst those who were gathered for the exchange programme were 15 LGBTI activists from Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia. Of these 10 were transmen, four were transwomen and one was an intersex person who identifies as a man.The activists were supported by the two organisations which organized programme, Gender Dynamix (GDX) from Cape Town whose director is Liesl Theron and Support Initiative for People with atypical Sex Development (SIPD) from Uganda whose programme director is Julius Kaggwa.
The aim of the programme was to create a platform to contextualise the realities of their peers in Uganda. It was felt that it was important to learn from Ugandan activists and organisations the importance of synergies and forming alliances with mainstream organisations and institutions such as universities in order to work in hostile environments. The Director of Gender Dynamix (GDX) said the purpose of the Uganda visit was not “deep rooted theorising and training sessions as such but rather in experiencing and sharing lived realities.”
Frank Mugisha, director of Sexual Minorities in Uganda (SMUG) said most of Uganda’s LGBTI community still feared coming out because of homophobia and transphobia. The organisation takes measures to provide security for a few people who come to ask for help in understanding their sexual orientation. The minority that come to their office want to share their problems and insist that that any information they ask for be treated confidentially.
It is important for sexual minorities to be free to experience their human rights and the general community should be helped to understand them as human beings. The violence against and killings of sexual minorities should end because violence cannot change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Meanwhile the transgendered community has also decided to speak out and refuses to be silenced any longer. Members of the community at the exchange programme in Uganda said they found a DVD titled ‘Exquisite Gender’ “interesting”. The DVD was made up of digital stories by the Transgender and Intersex Activists Capacity Building Exchange Program. It is a first digital film of transgender and intersex activists from different parts of Africa, telling their powerful stories and projecting their identities with their own words, imagery and lenses.
The director of the Human Rights and Peace Centre (HURIPEC) at the University of Makerere, Professor Joe Oloka-Onyango said he was currently researching minorities within the community such as young lesbians, people with disabilities etc. He said that every five years he is given grant by the Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni. He said that in schools there is lack of teachings on sexual minorities. He revealed that the University of Makerere plan to include courses about Human Rights and Gender Rights.
It is hoped that helping the policy makers understand about sexual minorities will make the government rethink the constitution and perhaps lead to the amending of the anti LGBTI laws.
After all, laws are made by people and as such can be reformed. The more the sexual minorities of Uganda speak out the better it will be for the government of Uganda to recognise their existence.