Today, I woke up to the horrific news of a new law in Uganda that bans and criminalizes anyone who identifies as LGBTQIA+. As an African lesbian who was forced to leave my home country due to rampant homophobia, this news hit me hard. It brought back memories of the fear and uncertainty I felt when I realized that I could no longer live in my own country.
Homophobia in Uganda is not a new issue. In 2013, a bill was introduced in parliament that would have imposed the death penalty for homosexuality. Though the bill was eventually struck down, the sentiment behind it has not gone away. LGBTQIA+ individuals in Uganda still face discrimination, violence and persecution.
I remember the fear I felt walking in the streets with my friends, knowing I was identified as a woman attracted to women. These were the same streets where I learned to walk as a kid. I knew that I couldn't be with anyone without putting them at risk, and that I couldn't be myself without risking everything. When I finally made the decision to leave my country, it was not an easy one. I had to leave behind my beloved, my language, my entire way of life and everything that was home to me.
As African, from SWANA - South West Asia and North African - and Global Southern LGBTQIA+ individuals in general, we are tired of having to leave our communities, our cultures, and our homelands behind in order to simply survive. We are tired of having to learn new colonial languages and assimilate into colonial cultures that promote individualism and self-hatred. We are tired of re-traumatizing and dehumanizing asylum systems/processes. We are tired of being reduced to case studies and research fields for academics and statistics for funders, instead of being seen as the human beings we are.
Forced displacement or immigration by instinctive survival is not a choice, but a necessity. We should not have to sacrifice our identities and communities in order to exist. It is time for the international human rights community to stand up against the anti-rights actors that are bolstering conservative governments and the recent anti-LGBTQIA+ bans in Uganda, the recent arbitrary arrests and imprisonment of activists in Burundi, in other African countries, and beyond.
The passing of this new law is a devastating blow to the LGBTQIA+ community in Uganda. It means that they will have to live in fear, hiding their true selves from the world, and that they will be criminalized simply for existing.
The fight for LGBTQIA+ rights is not an easy one - but it is a necessary one. We must come together as a global community, stand with the LGBTQIA+ folks in Uganda, and demand that their basic human rights are respected. We must listen to their stories, amplify their voices, and work to create a world where every person is free to be themselves. Personally, I cannot and we cannot sit idly by and watch this happen.
If we do not fight together, we will mourn together.
We will grieve the lives lost to violence and discrimination, the dreams and aspirations that were never realized. We will mourn the future that could have been.
We can create a better future, one where everybody is free to be themselves without fear of persecution. We must stand together, raise our voices, and fight for the changes we want. Only then can we co-create a world where every person, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, can live freely and without fear.