By Author: Naomi Conrad
"Some guys broke into my house and started raping and beating me," Lillian said, playing with her short, spiky dreadlocks while explaining why she had to leave Uganda. "The men told me: Until you stop being a lesbian, we will continue to do this to you."
Homophobia runs deep in Uganda. Known gays and lesbians are ostracized, said Musaazi Namiti, a Ugandan journalist who lives in Qatar. "Most employers would never hire a known homosexual." Homophobia is fueled by many of the country’s Pentecostal churches where sermons against homosexuals are common and widely accepted, he added.
Homosexuality is an 'evil'
David Bahati, a member of the Ugandan Parliament, said he believes homosexuality is an "evil" that needs to be "cured" and claimed that some 95 percent of Ugandans hold the same view. As in 36 other African countries, homosexuality is illegal in Uganda and those caught face imprisonment. The laws date back to the colonial times and the British penal code. For Bahati, imprisonment is not enough. He introduced a bill in 2009 that called for the death penalty in certain cases.
The bill was dropped, following an international outcry and condemnation - and the threat to cut development aid. An attempt to reintroduce it in August of this year was blocked by the Ugandan government. But Bahati said he hopes it will be reintroduced at some point in the future. "The bill is now the property of the parliament," he said.
The main danger is from the public
The main danger homosexuals face come from the public and their own families. When someone told Lillian's family she was homosexual, they lured her back to her village from Kampala, where she worked as a journalist. Her grandmother was dying, they told her. She had to see her before she died.
When she arrived at the village, the elders confronted her, called her a disgrace to the clan and beat her. Someone pushed her, she fell and cut her face and throat on pieces of glass. "One of my relatives said: If you die now, we don't care." Thick scars run down her cheek, framing her face. She managed to return to Kampala, where she said she thought maintaining a low profile would keep her safe.
Like Lillian, many homosexuals try to hide their sexuality to stay out of danger, according to Amnesty International's Stephen Cooper.
In 2009, Lillian wrote an article in a small magazine criticizing the proposed anti-homosexuality bill. The response to the article was immediate - and violent.
"I got a lot of threats, a lot of attacks," she said, adding that she changed her house three times only to have the threatening phone calls continue. She was harassed in public and beaten up on several occasions. "The public beating up homosexuals is quite a usual thing in Uganda."
No help from the police
She went to a police station after a group of men had broken into her flat and raped her only to have the police officer threaten to put her behind bars. Lillian realized that she had to leave Uganda. She won a journalism scholarship to Germany and decided to apply for asylum.
She was lucky, her lawyer Gisela Seidler said. Lillian's case was processed quickly and she was granted asylum within a couple of months. She had proof that she was a journalist and had worked as an activist in Uganda. This is very unusual, as cases often drag on for months, according to Seidler.
While the legal framework for asylum seekers has improved within the last few years, Seidler said many judges still work upon the assumption that as long as homosexuals keep their sexuality private they are no danger in their country - an assumption the lawyer called ludicrous.
"It’s like saying that political activists should just keep their mouth shut," Seidler said.Asylum lottery
There are no figures as to how many homosexuals apply for asylum. But the chances of getting asylum approved depend on the judge who is assigned to a case. While some judges do serious research, others sometimes reply on outdated sources. A positive decision can depend on "whether you file your case on a Tuesday or a Thursday, or whether you file it in Munich or in neighboring Nuremberg," Seidler said.
One of her other clients, a gay Nigerian, was recently denied asylum. The people who see their application rejected, Seidler said, still are not in a position to pack their bags and return to their home countries.
"They know that they're in real danger." Lillian said. "Had I not been granted asylum, I would have gone to a neighboring African country."Even now, Lillian continues to hide her homosexuality: she is still living in an asylum hostel.
"My councillor told me to keep quiet about being homosexual," Lillian said, adding that a gay asylum seeker was beaten up when the others in the hostel found out.
Lillian only shares her secret with close friends and asked not to be identified here out of fear for her own safety. At the end of the year she wants to leave the hostel and move into an apartment of her own. She said she wants to find a job and apply for a visa for her girlfriend, who she hopes to marry.