Why LGBTQ+ Uganda won’t be celebrating King Charles’ coronation: ‘It represents a history of oppression’

Collage of photos of Museveni and Charles looking in opposite directions.

Across the UK, Union Jack bunting has been wheeled out to celebrate the coronation of King Charles – but the mood is markedly different in Britain’s former colonies.

The effects of the British Empire are still felt widely today – especially for the global LGBTQ+ community. In nations across the world, many are still living in the shadow of regressive laws put in place in the name of the crown.

That’s felt particularly keenly in Uganda. Homosexuality was first banned under British rule, and in recent years, the Ugandan government – with the help of US-based evangelical Christians – has been trying to introduce laws that would further criminalise queer people.

“There is a lot of ignorance, hatred, violence, and discrimination against us,” says John Grace, coordinator of Uganda Minority Shelters Consortium, an organisation that provides support to homeless LGBTQ+ people in Uganda. They tell PinkNews that it’s a “challenging, stressful and scary” time to be LGBTQ+ in their country.

Union Jacks decorate Regent Street ahead of the coronation of King Charles III.
Union Jacks decorate Regent Street ahead of the coronation of King Charles III. (Vuk Valcic/Getty)

“We live in fear of being arrested, attacked, or killed by the police, mobs, or our own families. We have no rights or protection under the law. We have to hide who we are and who we love. We continue to face harassment, blackmail, and extortion from the authorities and our own communities.

“We have no access to safe health care, education, or employment opportunities simply due to our gender identity and sexual orientation. We are forced to be careful about whom we trust and who we associate with. Each day that goes by, it gets more lonely and depressing.”

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Abbey Kiwanuka, a Ugandan activist who has been living in the UK for 20 years, says Britain “introduced its way of life” to Uganda when it colonised the country – and it never tried to fix the mess it left behind.

“Homosexuality was still a criminal offence in England so they tried to export it to their colonies wherever they went and Uganda of course was one of them,” he says.

Before colonial rule, queerness was a part of Ugandan culture – many believe that the 19th century king Kabaka Mwanga II was bisexual.

“Today people in Uganda say, ‘homosexuality is a western import’. But we say no, it was homophobia… They left us with their laws,” Abbey says.

A proptester holds a sign that reads: homophobic legislation is a crime against humanity
A protest is set to be held outside the Ugandan High Commission in London against the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill (Alet Pretorius/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

Like many other queer Ugandans, the introduction of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill has resurfaced feelings of anger and resentment towards Britain over its colonial legacy in John.

In its current form, the bill would make it illegal to simply be LGBTQ+. Following international condemnation, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni proposed softening the bill to permit people to identify as LGBTQ+, while still criminalising any act of same-sex relations.

On Tuesday (2 May), the bill passed through parliament again retaining the gay sex ban and a crime of “aggravated homosexuality” which would carry a death sentence.

“They [the British imposed their homophobic laws on us, and they left us with a legacy of ignorance, hatred, violence, and oppression against LGBTQ+ people,” John says.

“They have no moral authority right to interfere with our culture, our values, or our sexuality.”

King Charles’ coronation: Uganda’s LGBTQ+ community see British monarchy as ‘outdated’

It’s that context that has shaped John’s view of the British monarchy, an institution that is inextricably linked to colonisation and its consequences.

“My view of the British monarchy is that it is an outdated and irrelevant institution that has no place in the modern world,” they say.

“The British monarchy represents a history of colonisation, oppression, and exploitation in Uganda and other countries in Africa and beyond.

“The British monarchy has not done enough to acknowledge or apologise for its role in the atrocities and injustices that were committed during its colonial rule, such as the imposition of homophobic laws, the suppression of indigenous cultures and languages, the plundering of natural resources, and the creation of artificial borders that have caused conflicts and divisions. 

“The British monarchy has also not done enough to support the development and democracy of its former colonies, especially in times of crisis and need. The British monarchy is a symbol of privilege, inequality, and elitism that contradicts the values of human rights, diversity, and solidarity that I believe in.”

King Charles visits the new Emergency Service Station at Barnard Castle
The Coronation weekend will be held between Saturday 6 and Monday 8 May 2023. (Chris Jackson – WPA Pool /Getty Images)

As the UK prepares for King Charles’ coronation, John struggles to see a place for the monarchy at all in 2023.

“It should be abolished and replaced by a democratic republic that respects the rights and dignity of all its citizens and promotes peace and cooperation with other nations,” John says.

Like John, Abbey has little time for the British monarchy today – and he won’t be supporting King Charles as he takes to the throne.

“It’s not something as Ugandans that were’ going to embrace.”