Ugandan Gay Man Tries to Live Peacefully With His Partner
An essay by a gay Ugandan describes the danger and the joys of being partnered with a same-sex significant other. A Ugandan newspaper recently published the photos and names of 100 gay Ugandans and called for their deaths by hanging.
"We live in the suburbs of the Ugandan capital, and have been together for 10 years. And we are gay," the article, published Oct. 22 in British newspaper The Guardian, read. "He is a man. I am a man. We are both Ugandans, living, working in Uganda," the essay continued. "So, how is it to be gay, and Ugandan, today? We live in interesting times and we have lived a kind of terrifying history."
A year ago, legislation to punish gays with the death penalty was proposed by Ugandan lawmaker David Bahati. The bill has not moved forward, due to the international outcry that resulted from the proposal, but Uganda--as is the case with several African countries--continues to be marked by deep, and overt, homophobia, with anti-gay activists and clerics denouncing gays as "un-African," and the result of mores and sexual ideas "imported" from the West.
Nsubuga talked about disclosing his sexuality to his understanding brother a decade ago, just before his partner moved into their Kampala home with them. "I was simply tired of the hiding, the subterfuge, the lies," Nsubuga wrote. "My brother did know that I was gay, since we lived in the same house. But not the rest of my family, and not the neighbors. That could not happen."
Nsubuga wrote that he was "involved in gay rights issues--some very early, nascent activities. Self-confidence, independence of income and some education helped me, as did a sense of growing anger at my world of duplicity, shame and enforced lies. My partner was more cautious. Not all the things that I did were below the radar, or underground." At his partner’s urging, Nsubuga took care to keep his identity concealed, despite maintaining a gay blog. "I did heed his voice," the gay blogger wrote. "Because, for a gay Ugandan, life is not safe. Being known to be gay is tough. It is a life of reckless fear, not courage. We do what we do, not because we can, but because there is no other option. From the very first inkling of our sexuality, we learn to hide. And we do hide.
"In fact, we gay Ugandans hide so well, and are gracefully camouflaged, that fellow Ugandans frequently ask themselves who the ’evil gays’ are," the essay continued. "Of course, we are their kin. But they don’t believe their brothers, sisters, cousins, relatives can be the ’evil gays’."
Because the country’s religious leadership is so deeply homophobic, Nsubuga wrote, "I knew I couldn’t reconcile my faith and sexuality. I decided to repudiate faith. But then I went further and became angry at the faith as shown in Uganda. And why not?
"The words and actions of our religious leaders are full of hate," Nsubuga went on. "Mufti Mubajje, titular head of Muslims in Uganda, believes that all gay Ugandans should be marooned on an island in Lake Victoria. We would then die out and solve the country’s gay problem."
Bahati’s proposed legislation only made matters worse. "We found ourselves targeted by a truly horrible piece of legislation, seeking to kill and imprison us for life, all in the name of ’family and cultural values’," Nsubuga wrote. "We had to fight, and we had to come out of the shadows to fight.
"Death and life imprisonment. No access to information or help. The danger of being reported to ’relevant authorities’ by pastors, doctors, parents. Mandatory HIV tests. All these are provisions of the Bahati bill," noted Nsubuga. "We had to show our faces. We had to, and we did.
"But, though the international outcry enabled the government to go slow on the bill, our exposure was not reversible. Now a tabloid has published the photographs of alleged gay Ugandans, under the headline ’Hang Them’."
Added Nsubuga, "Such is the strength of the human spirit: we are gay, Ugandan, and we live and work in the country. Life is tough. But, I dare say, having come through the fire, we are as tough, if not tougher."
The Associated Press reported on Oct. 20 that in the days following the inflammatory story in Ugandan newspaper The Rolling Stone, several gays had been attacked. The social climate has been harsher for gays ever since Bahati’s bill, which was proposed in the wake of a visit to the country by several anti-gay American evangelicals.
"Before the introduction of the bill in parliament most people did not mind about our activities," a 27-year-old Ugandan named Patrick Ndede told the Associated Press. "But since then, we are harassed by many people who hate homosexuality. The publicity the bill got made many people come to know about us and they started mistreating us."
The AP story noted that gays are executed in Nigeria. A couple who celebrated their same-sex engagement in Malawi were arrested on "indecency" charges and endured an ordeal that saw them locked in prison for months before their trial, where they were sentenced to 14 years of hard labor before being pardoned. The couple, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, split up following their release.
South Africa guarantees the rights of gays in its constitution--the only nation in the world to do so--and is alone in Africa in extending legal recognition to gay married couples. But even there, the AP noted, gangs have been know to try to "cure" lesbians through rape.