We have been fighting this for 10 years. This anti-gay bill. It condemns us to life in prison and even death just because of who we love and want to be with. We thought this because of all of the international pressure, because he had sent it back to parliament with amendments including removing the death penalty. When it went back to his desk and that wasn’t removed, we thought he would send it back, we thought we had more time. We were shocked when he signed it.
My name is Henry Mukiibi. I am a bi-sexual man, I have a wife and three children. In 2016 I started my organization, Children of the Sun Foundation, Uganda www.cosfuganda.ug to protect and provide services to our fellow community members. It has never been easy for us in Uganda. Never easy for us to feel safe, get access to medical care, or anything. We feel like the shadows are watching us and now it’s even worse.
Since the bill was passed just days ago, even though it has not gone into law yet, sixteen members of the community have come to our clinic, beaten by people who are homophobic.
Parents are disowning their kids, because the law will also penalize them if they don’t report on their children, ie on “homosexual crime”.
Landlords are evicting tenants because the law also penalizes them. Seven years in jail for “having premises used for homosexuality.” My landlord just asked me to leave. I don’t know where to go, where to put my family. My wife knows about me, she is scared about how it’s going to impact her and our kids safety. I’m scared for all of us.
My biggest fear is that now people in Uganda know that the law has been signed and they will see this as justification to go after us. We used to always hear people say things like “we are just waiting for the bill and we will work on you.”
I know what that means. I have seen it before. My community has experienced it before.
We have shelters, I opened the first one in 2019 after I was using my own house. I had four members of the community who had been kicked to the street staying with us. When I opened the shelter I was shocked when all of a sudden the number of people increased from four to twenty-five. We’ve had to relocate often because of raids. Even before this specific law, homosexuality was illegal in Uganda. I opened a clinic, one that didn’t discriminate, that provided services to the general and LGBTQ community.
Then COVID-19 happened. The number of people in our shelter increased to thirty-one. Some others were visiting and they got stuck when the government gave the lockdown order. I was looking for more funds to be able to feed everyone, I wasn’t at the shelter. It was a Sunday, I remember, and I got a call saying “Henry, the shelter was raided, the police and army and the executive are here.”
That was at 9am and I couldn’t get to the shelter until 1pm because I couldn’t find transport. When I got there, I saw the members seated, some had been beaten. I was accused of being their leader and told that I was under arrest for promoting homosexuality. But they couldn’t prove it.
They opened the gate so that people could see us, they brought journalists to film us, they took members to check if they had been having anal sex. We were tied up like slaves and marched to the police station burning with shame.
They didn’t have any evidence to prove that there was homosexual activity so they charged us with violating presidential COVID lockdown orders. We were sent to prison and on the second day we saw that the other inmates had newspapers with our picture, names, and were watching the TV reports and spreading news around the prison that we were gay.
People started to curse, shout at us. The so-called “priests” in prison, they cursed us wouldn’t let us use the washrooms. I said to my people please be patient, let them abuse us, we cannot fight them. They are more than 1000 and we are just 20. I advised them to keep silent.
We were supposed to spend 20 days and then be remanded back in court. But we weren’t. We thought we were going to die. On the 49th day, oh yes I remember the days, that’s when our lawyers were able to come. They gave me a form to sign so that they could proceed with my case and I kept a copy with me. The prison warden saw this and took it to the officer in charge. This form had my name and that I was bi-sexual and that so and so was a transgender woman etc etc. They confirmed that we were homosexuals. I was called into the boss’s office.
When I got out I saw that the wardens had gathered the rest of us. They were beating them seriously. I hid under a bed in the sick bay. After all of that , when I came out and went to my cell, I found them crying. Some couldn’t sit down. They said “Henry we cant sit down because one of the wardens use a piece of firewood and raped the transgender woman. They put the firewood in the private part of the transgender woman.”
She was burned. And the other beaten, their eyes were all red from blood. I had to clean their wounds with warm water and salt.
The next day they came looking for me. They said “Henry where were you when I was beating these people?”
I said “I was in your boss’s office.”
He got scared and let me go. That’s how I survived.
Then we got called back into court and our case was just dismissed. Just like that.
We have had our members beaten to death in the street. Dragged from their homes. Ostracized by their families and society. Denied medical care. Blackmailed.
All of that before this bill was signed. I’m shocked. I’m still shocked. And I’m scared. Now my personal challenge, and what hurts me the most is that I have been supporting people, but now I need help and I’m not getting it. I need a safe place for my family.