We Are Here: LGBTI in Uganda
BY Sunnivie Brydum
January 02 2013 5:00 AM ET
Photos by D. David Robinson © 2013, for use by The Advocate with this article only. All rights reserved. Subjects have approved use of images contained herein.
Pepe Julian Onziema, 31-year-old transgender man, program director and advocacy officer for SMUG
When I was 15 years old, I read a story in a local daily newspaper about students my age who were sent away from school on suspicion of being gay. Angered by this, I decided to mobilize my classmates to write an op-ed criticizing this action. The newspapers never published it.
But I went on to start the Writers’ Club in my school, in which we had a chance to write about issues that affected us internally, like sanitation, food, and sports, and externally, about the situation of youth in our country. A few of our articles on sexual health made it into the teenage pullouts, including “Straight Talk,” a column in Uganda’s New Vision publication. Little did I know then, but this would be one of the turning points in my desire to contribute to a better world.
That led me to where I am now. Since 2007, I’ve worked as the program director and advocacy officer for SMUG. Today, I’m proud to be one of the most outspoken Ugandans on human rights issues targeting LGBTI people.
Outside work, though, I’m a big romantic, who likes to cook for my girlfriend. Playing rugby is a definite passion. I’m also a big photography fanatic — I like to capture the moment. In not being accepted for who I am, I’ve learned not to take it for granted.
In late September, President Bill Clinton awarded Pepe, along with his colleague Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, the Clinton Global Citizen Award in Leadership in Civil Society at a ceremony in New York City.
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