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Human Rights campaigners are calling for more action following a major report highlighting the extent of abuse, violence, prejudice and discrimination facing the Ugandan LGBTQ+ community. And although ReportOUT’s damning report was originally published in October 2020, little has been done by the Ugandan authorities to ameliorate the situation, which is why we have decided to shine a light on this dreadful situation some six months later.

Working in close partnership with seven Ugandan SOGIESC organisations to document the lives of an often hard to reach and voiceless population, ‘OUT in Uganda’ shines a light on their lived experiences with the intention of holding the State to their human rights obligations.

With 61% of respondents being the victims of torture — one of the report’s alarming findings — the need for the government to offer greater protection to LGBTI people could not be more urgent.

Uganda is a largely conservative Christian country where homosexual sex is punishable by life imprisonment. Campaigners say existing laws are also used to discriminate against SOGIESC people, making it harder for them to get a job or promotion, rent housing or access health and education services.

The key findings of the report survey include:

  • over half (60%) of SOGIESC Ugandans have been tortured.
  • 38% of respondents report that they have been attacked or threatened with sexual violence twice in the last 12 months, often with more than one perpetrator.
  • three quarters of SOGIESC Ugandans state that Uganda is ‘very unsafe’.
  • respondents often face arbitrary arrest, police brutality and when SOGIESC people are a victim of crime themselves, over half do not report it for fear of not being taken seriously by the police. This is due to a fear of homo/bi/transphobic reactions by the police.
  • a significant number (over 40%) of SOGIESC Ugandans live with depression and many show trauma and symptoms of PTSD. 
  • The mental health of many SOGIESC people is very poor and a quarter report that their physical health is ‘getting worse.

University of Sunderland Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Chair of ReportOUT, Drew Dalton said: “With this prejudice and discrimination being so rife and uncontested by the state, it has led to SOGIESC people being deeply marginalised, isolated, brutally harmed and constructed into social pariahs. 

“There are various forms of violence that also affect the everyday lives of many SOGIESC people which came out in the research, ranging from police brutality, arrests, sexual attacks, mob violence and even torture. These forms of violence come not only from the state, but from local communities, neighbourhoods and even family structures. There are few places of safety for many SOGIESC people.

“Due to these pressures, a significant number of SOGIESC Ugandans are evidenced as having mental health problems, are in a financially precarious situation and are blocked from key provisions that form the basis of their human rights, such as employment and access to healthcare. SOGIESC organisations need further funding and often work at extreme risks to themselves and often on limited budgets.”

He added: “The right to a family, marriage, freedom from discrimination and a standard of living are all human rights enshrined within the UN Declaration of Human Rights and Uganda is a signatory of this. The Ugandan state must fulfil its obligations in this regard to allow these rights to be met and make the life of SOGIESC people in better shape than it is today.”

Amnesty UK Rainbow Network Committee, also added their voice, commenting: “ReportOUT’s thorough and comprehensive new report outlines the persisting and rising trends of homo/transphobia in Uganda.

“With 61% of respondents being the victims of torture — one of the report’s alarming findings — the need for the government to offer greater protection of LGBTI people could not be more urgent. This report highlights the lived experience of LGBTI Ugandans and the pressing need for the government to ensure their safety, health, financial security, and access to housing.”

Case study – Bukenya Musa.

Bukenya Musa, 26, grew up in a family of 11 children in the suburbs of Kampala, the capital city of Uganda.

At aged 10, however, Bukenya realised they were a transgender woman and has been actively a member of the SOGIESC community since 2008.

Completing their Uganda Certificate of Education, Bukenya now works as the Executive Director of Kuchu Shiners Uganda, a Community based Support Organisation, they founded in 2015 to help homosexual men and transgender women sex workers in economic empowerment and capacity building. Bukenya said: “Life as a SOGI member in

Uganda is very tough and very abominable to all members. You have to pass through a lot of rejection by not only the community but also family.

“Even if you decide to be a faithful member, there is still a lot of fraud and blackmailing within fellow SOGIESC members, mostly for the young fellows, they are very often sexually abused and taken advantage of.”

“I have been arrested on several occasions, tortured and harassed by regional and National Police by judging my character as a transgender woman.”

Bukenya believes the ReportOUT Research is helping to highlight human rights and gender equality to the wider public, which is key in minimising the brutal attacks and stigmatisation, providing a safer environment for the SOGIESC community.

Bukenya said: “The most important aspect of the report is promoting equality, minimising stigmatisation and making healthcare for the Key and Priority Population accessible.”

So what advice does Bukenya have for young SOGIESC people that are experiencing any hardships or abuse?

“Stick to your truth, keep healthy and speak up because there are many community based support organisations like Kuchu Shiners Uganda, to give a hand where and support them in any way possible.”

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