From Royalty To Refugees: How Uganda Became So Dangerous For LGBTIQ People


Slain Ugandan LGBTIQ activist David Kato

After reports that Australia has accepted 50 primarily Ugandan LGBTIQ refugees from Kenya under the Refugee Visa (subclass 200) for people fleeing persecution in their home country, QNews Magazine looks at how Uganda came to be such a dangerous country for its LGBTIQ community.

Ugandan law criminalises both male and female homosexuality with males risking life imprisonment for “carnal knowledge against the order of nature.”

Worse still, in recent years the country considered the death penalty for homosexuals and LGBTIQ Ugandans are at constant risk of violence and extrajudicial killings.

In March 2009, three American evangelical Christians held a workshop on “the gay agenda” in Kampala, Uganda. Scott Lively, author of anti-gay books, Caleb Lee Brundidge, a “former” gay man who conducts homosexuality healing sessions, and Don Schmierer from Exodus International hosted thousands of police, teachers, clergy and politicians at the conference described by Lively as “a nuclear bomb against the gay agenda in Uganda.”

The following month the Ugandan Parliament debated introducing the death penalty for gay sex acts. Subsequently, a local paper printed a list of Uganda’s alleged top 100 gays and lesbians with their photos and addresses, with a banner demanding “Hang Them’.

Uganda’s most prominent gay activist, David Kato (pictured above), whose name, address and photo were on the list, was subsequently bludgeoned to death with a hammer.

While the Anti-Homosexuality Bill never passed parliament, LGBTIQ Ugandans still live in daily fear of violence. In August 2016, an attempted Pride event was disrupted by police who bashed and imprisoned attendees, one of whom subsequently died.

Many LGBTIQ Ugandans flee to the comparative safety of Kenya’s Kakuma UNHCR refugee camp. There, they are still subject to persecution with many of the camp’s 185,000 plus residents originating from countries with virulently homophobic cultures.

Despite the oppression, 180 brave LGBTIQ refugees defied threats and actual violence to attend Pride events in the camp in June this year.

In the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, LGBTIQ refugees receive assistance from a discreet charity funded by the Elton John AIDS Foundation. While conditions are more relaxed in Kenya for LGBTIQ people, homosexual acts are nevertheless illegal, discrimination and prejudice are rife, and refugees suffer more than others.

Grindr users in Nairobi automatically assume Ugandan members are sex workers, often for good reason. Many have no other means of making a living.

An elderly white missionary holds church services specifically for gay refugees but seems only able to provide for his parishioner’s spiritual salvation. A Kenyan gay man who attended a service told QNews Magazine he cried to witness the hopelessness of the refugee’s situation.

African dictators looking for minorities to demonise have long decried homosexuality as a colonial import. Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda since 1986, originally took the more learned approach that homosexuality had always existed in Africa, just like everywhere else, until the anti-LGBTIQ hysteria earlier this decade provided him an opportunity to gather votes. He then joined with Zimbabwe’s Mugabe in claiming homosexuality as un-African.

A copy of Ugandan newspaper Rolling Stone outing 100 men they claim are homosexual and calling for them to be hanged

What the European colonisers actually imposed on Africa was not homosexuality, but homophobia, introducing laws to criminalise previously acceptable behaviour. Researchers have documented historical same-sex relationships in fifty societies across every region of the continent.

Uganda itself was home to one of Africa’s most famous gay men. Today’s Uganda incorporates the hereditary kingdom of Buganda. Buganda was feudal. Local chiefs ran their areas and answered to the absolute ruler, the Kabaka.

During the reign of Kabaka Muteesa I from the mid-1850’s, Church of England and Catholic missionaries were allowed into Buganda to offset the influence of Muslims. Muteesa played the three religions off against each other.

When he died in 1884, a council of state chose the most capable prince to succeed, Muteesa’s 18th son, 16-year-old Mwanga II.

Suspicious of the missionaries, Mwanga noticed that in other countries the missionaries arrived first, followed by diplomats, merchants and ‘advisers’, and finally, soldiers. He predicted that when he was dead, the white man would take over his kingdom. They didn’t wait that long…

The “Scramble for Africa” was on as European empires raced to seize as much of the continent as they could. The British wanted Buganda as a bulwark against German and Arab expansion, a base for the ivory trade, and a stop-over port for ships on the East India run.

The missionaries focused their efforts on Mwanga’s 500 pages. The pages were young men from noble families sent to the royal court by local chiefs to serve the Kabaka and learn governance. They ranged in age from 14 to 25 and were chosen for their intelligence and education.

Given important roles at court and in the army, they returned home as leaders of the future when their apprenticeship as pages finished. The older experienced pages were important to the governance of the kingdom. If they could be converted, the missionaries could spy on, and influence, the government.

But the pages were not only an important element of the kingdom’s ruling apparatus. Mwanga also regarded them as his personal harem, as had other Kabakas before him. The missionaries saw an opportunity to undermine the popular and astute Kabaka – attack him on his sexuality.

The missionaries convinced the pages they would burn for all eternity if they continued to indulge the Kabaka. About a hundred pages converted to Christianity. They refused Mwanga’s sexual advances and shared state secrets with the missionaries.

Mwanga gave the converts a choice. Loyalty to the kingdom (him), or their new religion. Those who chose to swear loyalty to him would live. About 45 chose death. Sadly, some of the Catholic pages were burned alive. After the executions, the missionaries whipped up trouble based on Mwanga’s cruelty and sexual deviance, and eventually he was deposed, and the British got his kingdom.

Using sexual deviance as an excuse to impose colonial rule was not without precedent. Spain’s Balboa fed 40 transgender “sodomites” to his dogs after conquering present-day Panama in the 1500’s.

The missionaries and colonisers, in their quest for Mwanga’s land, portrayed the Kabaka as a degenerate paedophile, who raped and killed boys, ignoring that most of the pages were his age or older. Nor were the young men actually executed for refusing sex. They were executed for treason, for spying on their king for foreigners.

The European monarchs who vilified Mwanga (pictured below, right) as a savage black heathen imposed the same penalty their own subjects who betrayed them. Even years later in 1916, the British hung Sir Roger Casement, the Irish nationalist, for high treason. Casement (pictured below, left) was vilified for his homosexuality too.

Indeed the same missionaries who attacked Mwanga for those hundred deaths never said a word when his father killed a thousand Muslims, and they cooperated with soldiers from their own countries killing many more Bugandans for resisting the Imperial takeover of their lands.

With mission accomplished and East Africa divided between European monarchs, the churches turned the murdered men into martyrs and now claim the execution of the Bugandan pages as the birth of Christianity in Africa.

The British exiled Mwanga to the Seychelles and ruled the territory until Ugandan independence in 1962. Mwanga died in exile in Seychelles in 1903.

Meanwhile, President Museveni has now backtracked and admitted homosexuality existed in Africa before colonisation, declaring he knew of traditional chiefs and kings who were secretly homosexual.

Furthermore, he doesn’t think homosexuality should be promoted as though it’s a good thing, but nor should homosexuals be killed or persecuted.

Try telling that to his LGBTIQ countrymen who still flee the land of their birth in fear of their lives.