Activists Seek Funds to Flee Violent Homophobia in Uganda

By Sunnivie Brydum

Originally published on Advocate.com April 17 2014 6:42 PM ET

While some prominent LGBT activists in Uganda are pledging to stay and fight the increasingly violent and homophobic atmosphere bolstered by the recent passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, better known as the "Jail the Gays" law, others are looking to flee to more accepting climates. 

Many of those advocating for LGBT rights or even just providing health care services to HIV and AIDS patients are facing threats on their life and being sought by police, since their actions are now technically illegal under Ugandan law. 

In an effort to aid those looking to flee the country, a women's rights organization has launched a new funding campaign that aims to make grants immediately available to those who most desperately need it. 

The Urgent Action Fund launched its Safe Passage Fund earlier this month "to provide immediate assistance to LGBTQ activists who are at risk of violence, life-imprisonment or even death. In partnership with our sister fund, Urgent Action Fund — Africa, the Safe Passage Fund makes rapid grants within 1-7 days to ensure the safety, and if necessary, evacuation, of these courageous individuals," according to the fund's website. Tax-deductable donations can be made here

Among those seeking financial assistance is a 26-year-old Ugandan woman who has long been a volunteer with the AIDS program of Gender-Equality and Health Organization Uganda, a community organization in the eastern region of Jinja. Ugandan police recently raided the group's offices and six local radio stations broadcast Dorcas Awena's name, claiming she had violated the Anti-Homosexuality Act. 

Gay blogger Joe Jervis reports that by last Friday, Awena had narrowly avoided three separate efforts by police to arrest her. The advocacy organization still needed an estimated $300 to secure Awena a one-way plane ticket to Canada, combined with a modest stipend to cover her other travel costs. Any additional funds raised will be disbursed among LGBT people and activists in Uganda, Nigeria, Russia, and elsewhere seeking immediate safe passage out of homophobic environments. 

The draconian Anti-Homosexuality Act, which president Yoweri Museveni signed into law February 24, imposes lifetime prison sentences for anyone convicted of "aggravated homosexuality," which includes multiple instances of consensual sexual activity between two people of the same sex and any such contact where one person is HIV-positive, a minor, mentally disabled, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Anyone charged with the offense must undergo a medical examination — which in practice is usually a forcible anal examination — and HIV test, regardless of the individual's consent. 

The law also imposes harsh sentences on those convicted of aiding, abetting, or conspiring to engage in homosexuality — including providing housing, support, or affirmation to an LGBT person or organization. As a result, LGBT Ugandans have been evicted from their homes, with landlords citing the Anti-Homosexuality Act as the primary reason for their eviction

Additionally, the law declares that any person or organization performing a same-sex marriage is liable to lose their licensure and spend as many as seven years in jail. The law also enumerates the numerous ways in which the "promotion of homosexuality" is forbidden, clamping down on individuals, organizations, and media outlets that discuss LGBT identities, and provides for extradition of Ugandan nationals who violate the law abroad.

Ugandan attorneys, opposition lawmakers, and activists have filed a constitutional challenge to the law, arguing that it violates several fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Ugandan constitution and supposedly protected by international law and conventions on human rights.