Human Rights House Foundation

Uganda

Image: Ugandan homosexuals launch media campaign: 'Let us live in peace'

Ugandan homosexuals launch media campaign: 'Let us live in peace'

Thursday, 16 August 2007

-In a landmark case, we, Ugandan lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people assembled at the High Court of Uganda two months ago to reinforce our right to privacy, dignity, and property.  There were no charges against us.  We had done nothing wrong. This opened the launch of Sexual Minorities of Uganda´s media campaign ´Let us live in peace´ today.

Based on material received from sexual minorities activists, this article is an abbreviated version of what was presented at the launch of SMUG´s media cmpaign today. It has been edited for publication here by HRH F / Niels Jacob Harbitz.

-It is the government who had to answer for illegal behaviour of its agents by discriminating against homosexual and transgender people.  Government officials raided the home of Victor Juliet Mukasa, an LGBT Human Rights Defender, in 2005, and illegally arresting a guest they found in her home. They forced their way into Victor’s home, stole many work documents, dragged her guest to Kireka police post, and forced the guest to strip naked in order to prove that she was a woman.  The guest and Victor Juliet Mukasa were treated in a degrading and inhumane way.  Many of us, as the Ugandan LGBTI community, have suffered similar injustice.  We are here today to proclaim that these human rights violations are completely unacceptable.  We have had enough of the abuse, neglect, and violence.

No person should be deprived of their constitutional rights; and homosexuals and transgender people are no exception.  All people are equal under the law. 

Therefore, we step into the public today to give a face to the many who are discriminated against every day in our country.  Some of us have brought our faces before you for you to know us.  But many of us come before you today with masks to represent the fact that you see homosexuals and transgender people every day without realising that it is what we are.  We do not harm anyone.  We are your doctor, your teacher, your best friend, your sister, maybe even your father or son. 

As Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), the umbrella organisation for Ugandan lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex organisations, there are two urgent issues we would like you to consider.

HIV/AIDS is a concern for all of us in this country.  And yet many people ignorantly turn a blind eye as we die of HIV/AIDS because we as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people do not have proper access to protection, care, and treatment.  We cannot continue to ignore the people in this country who are most at risk because of unfair discrimination and stigma.  To successfully stop HIV/AIDS, we must treat every person with the dignity and attention they deserve.  No one can justify taking away a person’s right to live, when protection and treatment should be readily available to all.

Secondly, as Sexual Minorities Uganda, we would like to publicly acknowledge the police for their leadership in reinforcing justice in this country by speaking out against hate crimes and discrimination of human beings because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  Leaders in the police force have recently made great steps toward upholding the law in a just and fair manner, providing equal protection for all people against harm.  Likewise, we also urge LDUs to help to end the persecution of minorities, particularly lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders, and intersex people, by acting in an upright and lawful manner in the course of their duties, respecting and protecting the dignity of all human beings.

Finally, to our communities, our schools, places of work, our families, we would like to end by passing on the wisdom of so many of our parents, who have known us and seen that we are born this way and are still their beloved children.  Don’t lay a hand on us, we are the homosexual and transgender children of God.  God created us as this way as LGBTI, all we ask is Let Us Live In Peace.  
 
That was our press release. The campaign, LET US LIVE IN PEACE is officially launched. 

Testimony I:

My name is Larry.  I am an LGBTI Human Rights Defender from Kenya.

Across East Africa, we are many who were born like this.  We are lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, and intersex Africans who come from villages that are very far, who come from trading centers, and some who even come from large cities like Kampala, Dar es Salam, and Nairobi. 

But our traditions of loving each other come from very far back in our African history, before the colonialists ever entered our land.  Many of our ancestors in our tribes across East Africa were the way we are.  They were born like this.  We were accepted in our communities before the colonialists came, and we come before you today to ask you for that same acceptance that was part of our African culture before we were destroyed by laws from the West.  Because of the prejudice brought by the West, we have been threatened, intimidated, and harassed. 

I stand today from Kenya in solidarity with the LGBTI people in East Africa to proclaim that these human rights violations are completely unacceptable. We have had way much enough of the abuse, neglect, and violence. In fact, our leaders have recognized this and made our East African countries signatories of international agreements to end such discrimination. 
There is need for liberation in East Africa as a whole.  Just as if people were starving in Kenya, but had plenty to eat here, we would still fight against poverty in our region.

This can be seen as in the LGBTI court case where Victor’s guest who is a Kenyan was treated in a degrading and inhumane way and is standing in solidarity to hold the Ugandan government officials accountable in court for violations of our rights.

It is a very clear case.  Government agents violated the rights of Victor Juliet Mukasa and her guest in the following ways:
· First, illegal search of the home of Victor Juliet Mukasa without a search warrant and unauthorized seizure of items from the house amounting to trespass and theft
· Secondly, illegal arrest of the guest found in the home at the time of the raid
· And then, there was also inhuman and degrading treatment of Victor and the guest amounting to sexual harassment and indecent assault

The basic rights enshrined in the Constitution of Uganda protect all persons, regardless of sexual orientation:
These Constitutional Rights include:
· Article 23 is about protection of personal liberty
o (1) No person shall be deprived of personal liberty . . .
· Article 24 talks about respect for human dignity and protection from inhuman treatment
o It states that no person shall be subjected to any form of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
· Article 27 talks about the right to privacy of person, home and other property
o (1) states that No person shall be subjected to-
§ (a) unlawful search of the person, home or other property of that person;
§ (b) Unlawful entry by others of the premises of that person. Property.
o (2) No person shall be subjected to interference with the privacy of that person’s home, correspondence, communication or other property.

There have been two hearings of the case; we are waiting for the next hearing soon, where the government is to prove beyond reasonable doubt that they did not violate these rights. We hope the judgment will be free from any prejudice and that justice will prevail. I am a tax payer, I am your doctor, I am your brother, and I am your mother. Does this make me a lesser being? Why would we choose to go through such pain and suffering if we had a choice? LGBTI rights are not special rights, but are fundamental Human Rights for heavens sake, CAN’T you Let Us Live in Peace ? 
 
Testimony II:
 
I’m Your Teacher

I am your teacher, those are my names.  I am going to talk about violence in schools.

Since in Uganda, just listening to something to do with Homosexuality is a taboo, sexual diversity is widely misunderstood!

Although I am not advocating for sex in schools, its rather a reality that sex goes on in schools and unlike heterosexual students or pupils getting lesser punishments, Homosexual students are indefinitely suspended.

This discrimination has brought about innocent young pupils, students, dying in cold blood at their tender age still trying to find out and understand their sexuality as you have all gone through this transition (process) before.

A young girl in Nsambya Girls few years back was beaten when found she was a lesbian from the Head teacher to the cook, the intimidation and stress she went through led her into overdosing  herself with chloroquine  and later she died.

Gabula a girl from Concerted Ntinda School last year was teased and the Head teacher in the process of extracting information from her whether she was a lesbian hit her badly and later she died in Mulago Hospital.

The Durban girls in Busia were thrown out of school, two Kitovu boys in Masaka last month were thrown out of school, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Many students have been beaten almost to death and fear to return to school.  Discrimination against access to resources and worse still denial to education are human rights violations!

Yet all these things are happening to school children without anyone stepping up, even though everyone agrees that it is wrong to kill a child or push a child to the point of killing herself or himself. 

In schools health education and other norms of society are given with a biased approach against the gays and lesbians so that HIV/AIDs and other sexually transmitted diseases are rampart in our pupils/students since are not allowed the right to the right tools, right lubricants but use Vaseline, avocado and other funny funny things which makes them vulnerable to the diseases.

Even in our higher institutions of learning, there is malice whereby lecturers deny students marks because of their sexual orientation. 

Mind you these are our children, your children with a brain to be doctors, lawyers, teachers and leaders of tomorrow.

So we are loosing valuable brains, let’s check and respect our kids, pupils, students regardless of their sexual diversity.  The reality is homosexuals exist in our schools.  Expelling them, only keeps them from education.  Pushing them to kill themselves only makes us loose precious lives.  Let all our students live in peace. 

Testimony III:

Police violence

Thank you so much ladies and gentlemen. My name is Douglas. I am a gay man, activist and proud of my sexual orientation.

I have three main issues to talk about regarding the police and how they treat the gay community.

They are three:
1. Protection
2. Corruption
3. Brutality

The goal of the police is to protect all people within the borders of Uganda.  Many of us have experienced how important it is to have a police force that upholds the law and protects us from thieves, thugs, rapists, and murderers. 

But innocent people in the gay community who should be protected by the police have instead experienced a lot of mistreatment by the police.
The way I speak, and live my life as a gay man or lesbian is a private affair. 
There is no need for police to strip me, beat me, and harass me because of my sexual orientation.

Take Brenda, for example. Brenda a transgender woman who has suffered at the hands of police on several occasions because of the way she dresses and speaks.

She has been arrested, verbally abused, and asked by the police for bribes to let her go.  It is never legal for the police to beat or try to bribe people.

Also, police have asked for sexual favours in payment for release of a gay man, lesbian or from a transgender woman. This is certainly NOT within the law.

Police and LDUs have forcefully entered gay people’s homes and raided them without warrant. This disrespects the rights of any Ugandan to privacy and property.

It is not right to arrest me as a lesbian or a gay man if I am doing no harm to anyone.  I have a right to be gay, not to be tortured, harassed and imprisoned because of my sexual orientation.

Sometimes people make false accusations when they find out you are gay. They collaborate with the police to try to use our fear for their own profit.  This is not protecting Ugandans, it is threatening people for profit.

Police should respect us gay people. We are not out to harm people, we just want to live in peace.

There is so much crime in Uganda and it is a waste of energy for the police to chase after us for bribes when other people are being assaulted, robbed, or murdered. Let the police respect and protect the gay people.

We are gay Ugandans, and proud of ourselves.

Let the police respect our right to privacy and our human rights. They should not harass and mistreat us.

We seek justice, peace and equal treatment from the police, government and the public.
 
Please, let us live in peace and harmony.

Testimony 4:
 
Victor Juliet Mukasa

Health care is a human right.  But LGBTI people are so afraid of persecution from doctors and medical staff that they do not seek medical care when they need it, for urgent treatment, or even for basic check-ups and preventative care.

I am transgender, and I feared going to the doctor so much that I ignored health problems and they grew critical.  Finally, when I was in South Africa, they convinced me to go to the doctor.  When the doctors heard that I was 30 years old and had never had a pap smear or breast exam, they called it an emergency and took me immediately to test.  There were so many problems I could have prevented if only I had safe access to health care. 

This is why it happened.  Growing up as a lesbian, there was never information for a young adolescent lesbian.  It was always about the adolescent girl who was being prepared to be married to a man.  Almost everything that was said was about a woman and a man. 

Even when I realised that I was a lesbian, because there was no information in this country anywhere about lesbian health, I definitely never imagined that a lesbian can have a normal health problem that other women also get.  I grew up without doing the things that other women are advised to do as early as 18 years old to take care of their reproductive health. 

And at 30 years old, I discovered a lump in my breast. 

My question was where did the lump come from.  This must be cancer or because of the fact that I bind my breasts.  So, I was convinced to go to hospital by people who care about me.  It wasn’t an easy thing because I was scared.  Because if it is a gynaecological problem then it is about my genitals, it is about my womb, it is about a female reproductive system.  I had heard stories about what happens at the doctor.  I was scared of insertions of machines inside my vagina.  Going there for me was like torturing me.  It felt like my world had ended. 

The reason I was scared is because whatever I was seeing ahead of me is what traditionally they do to women.  I don’t feel like one.  I don’t dress like one.  The doctor expects a woman to go through their door.  How will they treat me when they see that I am not what they are expecting. 

And indeed, when I got there, the doctor asked one of my colleagues who had escorted me to hospital if it was her appointment.  Thank God it was in South Africa, where issues like this are recognised as national issues. 

It was hell what I went through.  I got so traumatised by the experience of the machines being passed through my vagina into my womb.  It was a scary moment for a camera to go through my womb and search it. 

Over the years I had been developing a complication that happens to many women in Uganda regardless of their sexual orientation, a condition which is preventable.  A complication that I would never have developed if there was sufficient information for all women and not just for some. 

If the doctors were made aware of the fact that some women are different.  If our communities did not preach the myth that we are mentally disturbed, that we are sick, that we are evil.  If only there had been love instead of hatred and rejection.  If only I had been allowed to live in peace.  All this would not have happened.  I had developed fibroids in my uterus.  I still have these fibroids.  I was supposed to have an operation in May but I wanted to come back to this country for the court case.  But at least I know, even if I had go through so much to find out. 

As a young transgender woman, I feel differently about my breasts than many other women.  I hate them.  They do not feel like a part of me.  I have had to hide my breasts for the last 15 years.  I have tied my breasts with belts, with clothe, with bandages, and currently with binders, to keep them flat on my chest.  In doing this, I have had wounds develop on them.  At some point, they got very septic, started rotting, and smelling.  But because I was told that it is not ok to not want to show my breasts, I could not tell even my neighbours to get help. 

Surely, if this was a choice, would I subject myself to almost cutting my breasts off with a belt?  Who knows what I have contracted out of having to keep silent.  If it was a choice, would I really subject myself to this? 

My question is, how many lesbians are out there thinking that they can avoid seeing the doctor, when they actual need routine medical care.  How many are going to die in the name of rejecting your own daughters, in the name of morals, in the name of ignorance, in the name of neglecting, and in the name of denial of what is real.  And if there was information available to the medics of this country about the diversity of human beings. 

In conclusion:
Ladies and Gentlemen, that marks the end of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex media campaign launch.  For further questions, please contact Sexual Minorities Uganda.  You can pick a card at the door with our contacts on your way out.  Thank you for coming.  We go back out into the community with you as we have always been.  Let Us Live in Peace.

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