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SEXUAL MINORITIES UGANDA (SMUG)
Commonswealth Peoples’ Space, Kampala 2007 REPORT
In the event of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM 2007 UGANDA) Sexual Minorities Uganda -SMUG lobbied for an opportunity to participate and were invited by British Council to the Commonwealth Peoples’ Space (an event of CHOGM) scheduled for Friday November 24, 2007. SMUG invited representatives from Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK) and Horizon Community Association (HOCA) and other LGBTI people to join us in this space.
Today East African homosexuals came in peace to CHOGM to speak, as citizens of the Commonwealth. Ugandan and Kenyan lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) speakers scheduled to address the public at the CHOGM Peoples’ Space, Speaker’s Corner.
The Peoples’ Space was designed to provide opportunities to share in the diversity and richness of the Commonwealth people and was specifically designated as a space open to all people to interact and influence social change.
Although we were scheduled for Friday, SMUG received another invitation to a film festival from a non-LGBT film organisation in Kampala, Amakula. On Thursday November 23, 2007 we attended the two films addressing homosexual issues and later had a decent and lively discussion/debate between LGBTI people and the public present including two key religious people. The tent was so packed that other interested or curious people peeped over shoulders.
Friday November 24, 2007 16:30 was meant to be thee day for East African sexual minorities. We walked in at 12:45 our speakers clad in black T. Shirt with the words “Sexual Minorities Uganda Embraces CHOGM”. We were this early because we wanted to acquaint ourselves with the space before our presentation. In the crowds were some elements that identified us because of the T-shirts and messages on them. As we walked to claim safe space, we ran into a prominent anti-gay pastor- Martin Ssempa who heads the Inter-Faith Rainbow Coalition against Homosexuality. He said “hello” and hell broke loose. In less than 5 minutes we were surrounded by people who shouted and ridiculed us as cameras flickered and recorders pointed at us. An elderly woman asked; “Would you be here today had your mother been a lesbian…” Pastor Ssempa gave a devilish smile as other twentysomethings of his brigade from Makerere University yelled and shouted; “You don’t deserve to be on earth, not here!! Lesbians, lesbians… Where is security? Police, security take them away and lock them up…”
LGBTI front-liner stands up to Pastor Martin Ssempa
Next thing the manager of the space one Anne pulled the Co-chairperson of SMUG Julian Pepe away and took her to the reception to only receive the bad news from organizers.
“We’re sorry but the programme has changed. You had your time yesterday so you can’t proceed as planned because you’re attracting a lot of attention and you will divert the people from Prince Charles who is coming in at 15:00...” the organizers chorused.
Pepe was shocked and disheartened; “Why didn’t you communicate? How do you expect me to tell my people that we have come for nothing...?” She was given a copy of the programme and our presentation was not there. With a heavy heart she went and pulled Victor out of the mammoth crowd and gave her the bad news. Before we knew it, we were being escorted out by both plain clothed and uniformed security. We felt safe being escorted by them because the same plain clothed security had protected us the day before, until we approached the exit that their tone changed. They gave us 10 minutes to leave the premises of the Peoples’ Space. That’s when we took this space outside and made it ours. There was exchange between the security guards outside and members of SMUG and GALCK. Whoever was identified inside was immediately thrown out. Kasha was literally held by the arms by two guards and thrown out.
While outside, we collectively demanded for the meaning of “Peoples’ Space”.
Victor Juliet Mukasa the former chairperson of SMUG told those who felt they could not handle the waiting and protest, to leave immediately. Those who took the space outside were- Nikki Mawanda, Kasha Jacqueline, Georgina, Pouline Kimani, Leenah Najib, Victor J. Mukasa, Maniriho Emma and Julian Pepe. We made it clear that unless we were let in or given a proper explanation, we were not leaving. Some of us sat down in protest as others made phone calls to allies like Amnesty International, IGLHRC, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders, etc. Some of our members who stayed inside were; Frank Mugisha co-chairperson SMUG, Sheila, Brian, Naome (HOCA), Gerald, Sandra, Sharifah, Thomas and others were ridiculed. Some members of Amakula were locked out too for speaking to us. Amakula showcases African cinema. It is known for its celebration of African talent, professionalism, human diversity, and creativity. The police continued their aggressive affront.
Pepe was warned by police for taking pictures. In a split second, Victor was pushed to the ground and kicked to get up by one of the uniformed police and Alice Smits the Co-ordinator of Amakula Film Festival was grabbed by the throat for filming us.
“They threw me down,” Victor said bitterly, “Kasha who came back to help me up, faced it rough. She was caned on the back for doing so.” she stood her ground and declared: “I am not moving a single step from this place”.
“6 policemen in uniform came to us saying that they had orders from higher authorities that we should leave the place immediately. I told them they had no right to violate our rights to be in this space.” Agitated Georgina (a member of Queer Youth Uganda) noted.
Kasha; “This is crazy! The word ‘people’ officially lost meaning today. They’re plainly saying we’re not people”
Pouline from GALCK was disgusted; “Police brutality, public discrimination of any individual is unconstitutional. My experience at the people’s space clearly shows the need for our governments to support explicit fundamental human rights for all. Peoples Space should have had the unsaid quote ‘out of bound for African homosexuals’”
Frank Mugisha co-chairperson of SMUG who managed to get in had this to say; “I was in there, but someone came and whispered over my shoulder that I better leave because I’m being looked for. I did just that and joined you out here. Paul and I moved around looking for international press to inform them of what was happening to LGBTI people in this space.” Paul a medic who cares about our issues said he was pointed at and called a lesbian.
“One of the top security officials in plain clothes came and stopped them from beating us up. Those who were violent were immediately taken away and others brought to keep around us” Victor added.
“On Thursday, this same group was part of a discussion about homosexual rights after a film screening about homosexuality and discrimination. Yesterday the debate was heated, but there were no fights. It was really good,” Alice Smits said. “It was the first time a real debate about homosexuality happened in Uganda.”
Naome of HOCA said; “Over the years our society has been subjected to diversity, the greatest of all being the violation of fundamental human rights at CHOGM, even with the presence of numerous heads of States. LGBTI people were denied the right of being with others at the forum that they so-called ‘Peoples’ Space’…”
The most aggressive policeman was identified as Eric Ociti. Those who violated us were immediately taken off the scene. We remained standing outside the gate in quiet protest, waiting to be allowed back in to deliver our speeches. What was supposed to be one of the greatest moments in our struggle became a disappointment. We were there for a total of seven hours, bitterly disappointed and embarrassed. Adding to the discrimination and violence carried out by police at the Peoples’ Space was an affront to basic human rights in Uganda
Both homosexuals and straight Ugandans are increasingly becoming fed up with the violence and discrimination being directed toward people of different sexual orientations and minorities in this country. Heterosexual Ugandans have begun to speak out against such police brutality, stating that they will not tolerate any kind of violence against another human being, regardless of their sexual orientation.
After futile attempts to secure entrance, Pepe went to one of the media houses- The Daily Monitor, Georgina and Victor also did exclusive interviews with The New Vision newspaper to have these violations exposed. But were told that the articles would not be out immediately.
On a lighter note; the term homosexual was not in use this day. Whoever the public suspected to be homosexual was called a lesbian. These people need to be enlightened.
Report prepared by:
Sexual Minorities Uganda- SMUG