Pride in London 2016's parade showing Ugandan LGBT people marching in orange shirts and holding signs that pay tribute to those who died in the Oralndo terror attack and others which read
Pride in London 2016's parade showing Ugandan LGBT people.

Most readers will probably be aware of the situation at the moment in Uganda, where under the influence of American far-right so-called Christian groups, the government has enacted a law criminalising all LGBT people. But the story on the ground of the Uganda LGBT ban is much darker. Jenny List from Trans Rescue writes;

What we’re sad to say is not so well known is that this has unleashed a growing genocide on the ground in Uganda, where LGBT people are being targeted by their neighbours, abused and beaten, and picked up to be “disappeared” by the police aftter the recent Uganda LGBT ban. This should be front page news, but since it’s happening to queer black people in a country far away, nobody seems very interested.

On the ground, they’re not getting enough help

I’m writing here as treasurer of Trans Rescue, we’re a small non-profit that gets trans people out of dangerous places worldwide. We’ve been operating in East Africa for quite a while, and since we had an existing network from helping trans people in the region we could move fast when things kicked off. Thus we’ve found ourselves one of very few organisations on the ground helping LGBT people escape the Uganda LGBT ban. We judge that during a genocide is not the time to be making decisions on what colour of the LGBT rainbow people are from, so our remit has temporarily expanded from its normal focus on trans people alone to include queer Ugandans of all stripes.

To do otherwise would be to make arbitrary life-or-death decisions based on people’s identities, something we are not prepared to do.

Our presence on the ground gives us a distressingly up-to-the minute eye on what is really happening in Uganda, and we find it very troubling that our passengers have found nobody else to turn to but some overwhelmed local organisations, and us, a tiny European trans organisation. We know that there are plenty of very well funded LGBT organisations and relief charities here in the UK, the USA, and Europe, and we’re wondering where they are.

Putting it very bluntly, we’re seeing a lot of hand-wringing and thoughts-and-prayers, but on the ground where it matters, our Ugandan passengers are seeing nothing. They are repeatedly telling us that they want to see international action in response to the Uganda LGBT ban, but so far as they see it, they’re hearing crickets.

Of course, we’ve asked around to find out what’s being done by those organisations, and the answer has come back from several quarters that things are in motion, but under the radar. We’re told that too public a move might cause them to be accused by the Ugandan government of being colonialist, and we understand that. We’re happy to hear that so much is being done, we really are.

Unfortunately, the fact remains that the people on the ground aren’t seeing it. Things they can’t see are of little use to them, when what they need is to escape an angry mob or a police manhunt. They need real help, a bus fare to Rwanda or Kenya, enough money to eat while they’re on the move. We’re overwhelmed at the moment, not working on big ticket projects but spending twenty or thirty dollars on bus tickets. We were lucky enough to secure a grant for a safe haven for our passengers, but compared to the demand it’s a relative drop in the ocean.

What do LGBT Ugandans need, and what don’t they need?

So perhaps it’s best to state in no uncertain terms, first what the Ugandan queer people don’t need to see from external agencies, and then what they do need. What Ugandans on the ground tell us they don’t need, are initiatives which sound good for PR machines of developed-world organisations, but which bring little or no help to them on the ground while their lives are in danger. If things are being done behind the scenes then they need to feel the benefit, they need to have routes out of danger, and they need them quickly. They do not need high-PR-value flights out for a few queer Ugandans at 20k-a-seat, they need large numbers of twenty-dollar bus tickets, and a safe refuge at the other end of their journey.

What they tell us they do need, aside from the aforementioned meaningful presence from developed-world organisations operating a significant grass-roots operation to get them to safety, is for their plight to assume a very high profile outside their country. We all laughed at Posie Parker being covered in soup and we’re all very sad to hear of Paul O’Grady’s passing, but neither of those two stories should be the lead LGBT headline while there is a genocide against us in full swing via the Uganda LGBT ban.

What the Ugandan activists tell us they need is for their plight to become front-and centre in the developed world, for Ugandan trade, investment, aid, diplomacy, and export products to be made toxic by sustained action from LGBT activists in Europe, the USA, and the UK. When you can no longer buy Ugandan vegetables in Tesco because direct action from gay activists has made them a dangerous line to carry, then perhaps the activists on the ground will feel that someone outside is doing something.

What do you need to do?

There are several things to take away in conclusion for this piece. As treasurer of Trans Rescue I’m duty bound to say that we’re stretched to the limit and could use your donations via our online form, but that’s not the real point of what I’ve written above. The real desired outcomes are twofold, first for the Ugandans we’re talking to on the ground to start to see meaningful results from developed-world LGBT and aid organisations, and second for them to see the Uganda LGBT ban receive a significant profile outside Uganda. As far as they are concerned they tell us they are not seeing enough of either, and it’s time for those of us outside the country to step up to the plate and deliver something.

So if you’re reading this, we need you to know about what’s going on in Uganda, and we need you to spread the word. We need gay men, lesbians, and all the other people in the queer community to have this front and centre, we need them to demand action, and we need them to take action. If you’re a person of influence, use it. Don’t dither over optics or PR, because people are dying. Kick every important butt you can find, and kick it repeatedly.

And finally, if you are part of an LGBT or aid organisation, ask yourself this. Why are Ugandan LGBT people in the middle of a genocide seeing nothing for me, and how can I help them directly, on the ground, in Uganda? Then, act.

This may be happening to queer black people in a country far away so the temptation is to focus on things closer to home, but inaction is definitely not an option. If people dying weren’t enough of a motivation, it’s fairly obvious from the involvement of the US Christian Right, that this is a dummy run for them. Let them get away with it the Uganda LGBT ban, and they won’t stop there.

Time for action, you know what to do.

This article was funded by LGBT+ Futures: Equity Fund is a two-year £786,000 partnership between Consortium and The National Lottery Community Fund, designed to help community-led and grassroot organisations supporting some of the most under-represented and marginalised LGBT+ communities. Read more here.