Xtra reports from Uganda: Confronting homophobia in the Pearl of Africa

In a multi-part series, Ugandans share their stories in defiance of anti-gay bill

This is the first in a series of articles from Uganda by Xtra freelance reporter Kaj Hasselriis.

Even before I landed in Uganda, I got a taste of how much influence the Christian right has on the country.

On KLM Flight 561 from Amsterdam to Entebbe, I was surrounded by Christian missionaries. The plane was literally packed with Bible-thumpers from Texas to North Carolina.

Said one passenger to another: “We teach Ugandans that God wants us to have one partner for life.”

She could have specified “one opposite-sex partner for life.” That’s because fundamentalists are landing in the Pearl of Africa by the planeload to tell Ugandans that homosexuality is a sin — a sin punishable by death, if a controversial bill gets passed this year by the Ugandan Parliament.

Last March, a trio of America’s most freakish Christian zealots — Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge and Don Schmierer — visited the Ugandan capital, Kampala, and preached hatred against queers. Soon after, an ambitious young government MP, David Bahati, introduced a bill that calls for the execution of gays, the imprisonment of people who fail to report homos to the authorities and the elimination of all organizations that support gay rights.

Homosexuality has been illegal in Uganda since British colonialists criminalized it back in the 19th century. It has never been accepted. But Bahati’s bill takes homophobia to a whole new level, and he claims to be doing it in the name of a man who has great influence over Ugandans — Jesus Christ.

Christianity is everywhere here. Most of the rickety mini-buses that carry people from town to town are branded with handmade signs like “God is great” and “Jesus lives.” Grocery stores are stacked with Bibles. And every Sunday morning, the air is filled with the sounds of worshippers.

Not all of the country’s Christians are anti-gay. But there’s no doubt that the debate over Bahati’s bill has opened up a rhetorical floodgate of homophobia.

Shortly after my arrival in Kampala, I met three cute British guys who told me that, one Sunday, the minister in the village where they’re volunteering turned his sermon into an anti-gay tirade. Then, I met a young Ugandan guy at a café who said he went to a public meeting where one of the country’s craziest but most respected preachers, Pastor Martin Ssempa, tried to make the case for execution by showing graphic gay porn.

The first time I opened a newspaper in Uganda, it featured news of a street demonstration by children in support of the anti-gay bill. The next day, I read an article about homophobic remarks made at a local wedding by the country’s vice-president. And shortly after that, another paper ran a debate on whether single-sex schools should be banned — since homo panic is causing many to think those institutions are breeding grounds for queers.


But where does Uganda’s gay community fit into all this? Is there a gay community? Who’s in it? Are they out — or in hiding? And what — if anything — can they do to stop this insanity?

That’s the reason I’ve come to Uganda. I want to meet the people who are being persecuted, hear their stories and share my experiences with Xtra’s readers.

Stay tuned for a revealing series of articles about Uganda’s gays. Proud. Defiant. And ready to fight.

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