Friday, September 23, 2011

"Hate No More" in Uganda

The brutal murder of gay activist David Kato has motivated more people to speak out, writes CAELAINN HOGAN

“MY BODY is not a battlefield,” declares one poster on a Kampala street. “Uganda belongs to all who live in it,” reads another. On walls across a country known for its condemnation of homosexuality, a simple yet powerful appeal is being made: hate no more.

The Hate No More campaign, launched on August 10th, is a courageous four-month initiative to raise awareness and end discrimination. In addition to the nationwide poster campaign, LGBT activists are engaging in direct dialogue with religious leaders, NGOs, police, health providers and politicians.

“These people exist among you,” says Joshua Muhanguzi of Freedom and Roam Uganda, the organisation spearheading the campaign. “They’re your brothers, your sisters, your parents. So stop the hate.”

In the same month, following widespread international pressure, the Ugandan cabinet finally rejected the 2009 Anti-Homosexuality Bill proposed by MP David Bahati.

While homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, the Bill sought the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” and threatened three years’ imprisonment for those who failed to report a known homosexual within 24 hours.

As well as suffering verbal and physical abuse, many LGBT people in Uganda are expelled from school and disowned by their families because of their sexuality. Many are denied medical and counselling services.

“Lesbians have been forced into marriage to cover up their sexuality,” says Joanitah Abang, programmes manager for Freedom and Roam Uganda.

“Others have been raped by family members and friends to cure them of the ‘disease’.”
Campaigning in her home district of Lira, Abang received positive responses from the community, including the police. Local radio stations, however, accused the campaign of recruiting people to homosexuality.

“They claimed I was given money to recruit people; the whole place is on fire, they want to kill me,” she says. “I just tell people, whatever you do, you cannot break me.”

The brutal murder of gay activist David Kato in January was a harsh reminder of the high risks Ugandan activists face, but his death has motivated more people to speak out.

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