By TJ Rogers
Last Thursday, Aug. 4, in the midst of the “Mr. and Ms. Pride” event of Pride Uganda 2016, police raided Venom nightclub and arrested at least 15 attendees, including two prominent international Ugandan LGBTI rights activists: Frank Mugisha, executive director, and Pepe Julian Onziema, program and advocacy director, of Sexual Minorities Uganda.
Those arrested were held in a local police station for several hours before being “cautioned and set free.”
In an interview with Reuters, Clare Byarugaba, a gay rights activist said, “They (Police) were dragging people, they were beating people, they were undressing people.” Further, “They were undressing especially transgender women. Apparently they wanted to find out whether they were men or women,” she said.
Initial reports said that the raid was in response to rumors that a same-sex marriage was underway, and then the Ugandan authorities later claimed that the event was in violation of the Public Management Act because they were not notified. Ultimately, the gathering was said to be “unlawful”; and on Aug. 8, Uganda’s Minister of Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo, said the government disbanded the gathering because it’s “against Ugandan culture to be gay,” tweeted Mugisha.
Despite the fact that the infamous Anti-Homosexualtiy Act of 2014 was overturned by a constitutional court on technicalities, and while SMUG and others have made notable progress, pervasive misconceptions of LGBTI individuals remain.
Following Mugisha’s 2014 visit to Detroit for the Freedom House organized event, “The Plight for Equality – A Luta Continua,” SMUG and Freedom House entered into a partnership in recognition of their mutual commitment to the respect of human rights and dignity of LGBTI individuals.
As SMUG works on the front lines to change hearts and minds, ensure protection, and enshrine equal rights in the law for LGBTI individuals in Uganda, Freedom House welcomes those who courageously live their truth and have no choice but to flee to save their lives.
Until LGBTI individuals, and indeed all individuals, are free to live and thrive in their authenticity, Freedom House will remain open and answer any call for freedom. We will provide refuge to those “yearning to breathe free,” supporting and walking beside them as they start anew here in the United States.
To our friends at SMUG, and all others around the globe engaged in the plight for equality: we stand with you in solidarity.