Matt Beard, Executive Director of All Out, travelled to Uganda Pride earlier this month to support the local LGBT+ community. Below he writes of the resistance they faced from a totalitarian regime determined to suppress LGBT+ equality, and how they managed a small celebration in defiance.
As I waited for my taxi at Entebbe Airport, I was full of hope and expectation about Pride Uganda 2017. Over the next few days, LGBT people were finally going to come together in a series of events to celebrate community, diversity and pride. Such moments are rare and precious in Uganda. There are few, if any, opportunities for LGBT people to feel the strength of common action. Pride is like fuel for activists campaigning against the odds for their rights.
As my ride pulled up, my phone started beeping insistently. Isaac Mugisha, coordinator of the Pride Uganda Organising Committee, was sending frantic messages, telling me that the opening gala event – due to start just a few hours later – was under threat.
Even though negotiations with the police about the event (a private, invitation-only function) had been positive, the Ugandan Minister of ‘Ethics and Integrity’, Simon Lokodo, had visited the Sheraton Hotel that morning and put pressure on the venue to cancel. He then deployed police around the venue in an intimidating show of brute force.
Just half an hour later, I got the devastating news from Isaac that the Sheraton had cancelled the event, stating that they could not proceed in the face of the Minister’s opposition. Three hundred guests, including diplomatic representatives from the US and EU, had to be told that the gala was off. All this was happening with just a few hours’ notice.
After arriving at my hotel, I went to meet All Out’s partner activists. The mood was bleak: Lokodo’s threats were now, unsurprisingly, directed at the other events planned for the week, including the main Pride parade itself. After months of painstaking planning and so much anticipation in the community, there was a sense of disbelief that – once again – Lokodo would deny LGBT citizens in Uganda the simple right to be together.
The fact that Lokodo knew of these plans so quickly was terrifying and a real insight into what totalitarian control really feels like – either our phones were being hacked or there was in internal informer. Either prospect was chilling. Read more via Gay Times