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Uganda : hunted down for their sexuality

En 2009, un projet de loi prévoyait la peine de mort pour les homosexuels séropositifs. ©Neamoscou

Uganda : hunted down for their sexuality

In Uganda, homosexuality is considered a crime punishable by long years in prison. In this country where an estimated 2% of the population is thought to be LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender), coming out is perilous, both for the people concerned and for their families. Despite the best efforts of activist organisations to change mentalities, stigma and violence against the LGBT community is still a frequent occurrence.

ISOLATION AND PSYCHOLOGICAL DISTRESS

The life of homosexual men and women in Uganda is difficult and dangerous. Driven out, oppressed, sometimes beaten or raped, not a week goes by without a homophobic incident being recorded.
There is also a highly repressive political environment in Uganda. In 2009, a bill was introduced before parliament under which sero-positive homosexuals would be sentenced to death and sero-negative homosexuals to life imprisonment. The majority of LGBT lose their jobs or are rejected by their families. They are isolated, psychologically undermined, depressive and even suicidal.

« In 2009, a bill was tabled under which seropositive homosexuals would be sentenced to death. »

The arrival in the country of American evangelicals has worsened the situation. In Uganda, where the population is very devout, words spoken by a pastor carry considerable weight and they can often be heard spreading homophobic ideology, comparing homosexuality to paedophilia or mental illness and even presenting it as a conspiracy against society.
This rejection of homosexuals is also seen in medical facilities. In Kampala, the country’s capital, 53% of MSM (Men who have Sex with Men) report feeling stigmatised when seeking sexual healthcare. As a result, many LGBT patients no longer attend traditional medical centres and keep clear of the health care system for fear of reprisals.

 

 

HOMOPHOBIC ACTS AND OTHER FORMS OF VIOLANCE

In 2013, the Ugandan government launched a massive witch-hunt against homosexuals, with the slogan “Kill the gay”. The Rolling Stone newspaper (not to be confused with Rolling Stone magazine), went so far as to publish a list of men suspected of committing homosexual acts, under the title, “Hang them, they’re after our kids!!” Their photo, sometimes accompanied by their job and home address, meant they could be tracked down and “punished”. This was a clear call to violence.
Despite a slight change in mentalities over recent years, in 2010, 37% of homosexuals living in Kampala reported being victims of physical violence and 26% admitted to having been raped.

« 37% of homosexuals living in Kampala were victims of physical violence. »

There are also many recorded cases of rape of lesbians - rapes that the perpetrators call “corrective”. This type of violence is particularly common among certain populations, such as refugees or sex workers.

CHANGING MENTALITIES

Doctors of the World has been working in Uganda since 2015 and draws on a local partnership with the MARPI organisation (Most At Risk Population Initiative) to care for and promote the rights of LGBT people. Our action is therefore focused on medical care, prevention and advocacy.
A special team is working at Kampala's Mulago hospital , training local health care staff in proctology and especially in the testing, diagnosis and treatment of anal condyloma. These growths, similar to warts, are the most frequent sexually-transmitted disease in Uganda (and also in France, where 2% of sexually-active 20 to 30 year olds are affected by this STI).
The HIV infection rate is also very high, with 13.2 % of the gay community thought to be infected (against 7.1 % of the general population), according to an UNAIDS report published in 2015. Yet knowledge of HIV/Aids and the other STI is still very limited in Uganda, which is why we also distribute protection items, such as condoms or lubricants.
Our long-term objective is to ensure access to health services for LGBT people in Uganda. Our team and the MARPI team are therefore planning to extend their activities to six provincial hospitals in order to improve screening for STIs and care for victims of homophobic violence.
Advocating for the inclusion of LGBT people in health policies and the repeal of repressive laws targeting their way of life is an urgent priority. To achieve these goals, local organisations and hospitals must be supported and empowered.

Nicolas Danicourt
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