Gay Pride to take place in Uganda, despite hostility

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

The country’s LGBT community is preparing for its annual gay pride parade, taking place this weekend.

This year’s event has special significance – it has been a year since the controversial anti-gay law was scrapped – giving marchers even more reason to celebrate.

Richard Lusimbo – who is heading up the committee behind this year’s parade – has spoken about the harsh realities the LGBT community living in Uganda face.

“There are many people who are still languishing in refugee camps in Kenya,” he told CNN.

“The lucky ones have gotten to western countries but there are people who remain [in Uganda] and the thing that keeps them going is family.”

He continues: “It’s not just biological family – it’s also the allies that stood by our brothers and sisters.”

He says that is why “We are Family” was chosen as the theme for this year’s march.

“We are encouraging LGBTI people to come out with their families to show that gay people also have children or supporters within their families.”

Lusimbo went on to describe some of the work that has gone into putting this year’s events together.

“It’s a very big task with lots of organising to do. There is a new team of 25 people – individuals from different organisations – and we have taken up new initiatives to raise local support for Pride and get a cross-section of individuals involved.”

For security reasons, the location of this year’s parade has been kept secret, a stark reminder that although the anti-homosexuality bill may have been defeated, tensions remain.

Following the stabbings during gay pride in Jerusalem, the organisers say they are taking no risks.

“Within the penal code, the act of homosexuality is still criminalised. Socially, we can’t say that anyone won’t be throwing stones or homophobic insults,” Lusimbo said.

The country’s first gay pride march was held in in 2012 – the same year the anti-homosexuality bill was first introduced.

“Organising pride at that point was an act of defiance,” explains Neela Ghoshal, of Human Rights Watch.

“It was the LGBTI community saying: ‘We are here and we are not going away.'”

However, she says the situation in Uganda has improved over recent years.

“The situation faced by LGBT people in Uganda is more nuanced than is portrayed by the western media.

“Some activists gain protection by speaking out,” she said.

They become so well known that it protects them but most people keep a low profile and have small communities where they can be themselves.”

“This is not to undermine the risk of violence,” she adds, “but people have been able to negotiate a space to live their lives and are able to work with institutions like the police to make sure an event like Pride can take place.”

The march takes place on Saturday (August 8) – with fashion shows, documentary screenings, and events to promote better health awareness and access to support for gay and trans people to follow.

Last month, a Ugandan presidential candidate made history – by affirming that he opposes homophobia.

With the 2016 election approaching, former prime minister Amama Mbazazi stated that he opposes homophobia – making him one of the only Ugandan politicians to ever do so.