Fear in Uganda’s Gay Community after Death Penalty Threat, Arrests

    09 November, 2019

    Twenty-one-year-old Shamim Pretty has found shelter in a Kampala safe house for the past three years.

    Shamim Pretty is not her real name. She told VOA when she was 16 years old, her mother kicked her out of their home after learning that her daughter was transgender. Her mother also called the police.

    Fear in Uganda's Gay Community amid Death Penalty Push, Arrests
    Fear in Uganda's Gay Community amid Death Penalty Push, Arrests

    "When they took me to the police, my mother was there waiting for me," said Pretty. "They really mistreated me. There was an officer who was very homophobic. He got hold of me and beat me up."

    A group called Icebreakers Uganda provides help to members of the country's LGBT community. The term LGBT is short for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

    Icebreakers Uganda set up the Kampala safe house in 2012. That was the year before Ugandan lawmakers voted to increase the punishment for homosexuality from life in prison to death.

    Under pressure from Western governments, Uganda overturned the Anti-Homosexuality Act in 2014.

    But gay sex remains illegal and members of the LGBT community are commonly harassed in the country.

    Elvis Ayesiga is the programs director at Icebreakers Uganda.

    "You don't have anywhere to go, you don't have money for rent...so we offer space here, usually for one month," Ayesiga said.

    Last month, Uganda's ethics minister, Simon Lokodo, announced plans to bring back the Anti-Homosexuality Act. So, many homosexuals now live in fear of renewed attacks.

    Pepe Julian Onzima works with a non-governmental organization called Sexual Minorities Uganda.

    "Already, most (gay) people do not have homes, they do not have education, they are not employed, they are homeless. So, when something like this comes, it threatens even the little safety that they had," Onzima said.

    A Ugandan government spokesman has denied any plan to bring back what some call the "Kill the Gays" bill.

    Even so, the LGBT community is frightened by the arrest of 16 gay activists. They were arrested because they had condoms and medicines to prevent the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

    A gay Ugandan man told VOA "you do not know who is watching." He is always careful not to show that he is gay.

    I'm Susan Shand.

    VOA's Halima Athumani reported this story. Susan Shand adapted the report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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    Words in This Story

    transgender – adj. relating to a person whose sense of being male or female differs from the sex the person had at birth

    homophobic - adj. disliking those who are gay

    lesbianadj. related to woman with sexual desires only for women

    gayadj. related to persons with sexual desires for people of the same sex

    harass – v. subject to aggressive pressure

    rentn. a payment made for the use of property or land

    ethicsn. morality

    condomn. a thin protective covering worn by a man during sex as a form of birth control or to protect against infection