The emotional and legal roller coaster LGBT Ugandans have experienced over the past year will hit what activists hope will be a new high when the embattled community holds its third annual Beach Pride celebration on Saturday.
The celebration will be the first time LGBT Ugandans have publicly and openly gathered since February's enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which was overturned on a parliamentary technicality last week.
Although homosexuality is still illegal and punishable by jail time in the east African nation, LGBT activists say they were encouraged by last week's ruling that struck down the law, which prescribed life in prison for many LGBT people, criminalized the so-called promotion of homosexuality, and required straight Ugandans to report their LGBT friends, family members, and neighbors to authorities or face incarceration themselves. The law also made it an offense punishable by jail time for landlords to rent to known LGBT people or for any organization to work alongside LGBT people hoping to advance equality and visibility.
The Associated Press reports that 150 Ugandan lawmakers have already pledged to revive the law and pass it again with the required quorum — the technicality upon which the court invalidated the law, without considering the constitutional issues the activists hoped to raise.
Several of the organizers of Saturday's Beach Pride 2014 event — which is being held in an undisclosed location for security reasons — were involved in the landmark legal case that overturned the draconian law. They say that even though they are concerned about a possibly violent antigay backlash to the ruling and the Pride festivities, they remain convinced that their fight for visibility and equality is just and right.
"It's very important to celebrate Pride," explains Kasha Jacqueline, a Ugandan lesbian, feminist, and founder of the country's first LGBT group, Freedom and Roam Uganda, in a Facebook chat with The Advocate. "It's a time for us to stand tall and not feel ashamed of who we are."
Throughout the fledgling movement's existence, activists have campaigned against antigay messages funneled into Ugandan churches and Parliament by American evangelicals by proudly proclaiming "We Are Here." Several of the activists who brought the lawsuit taking aim at the Anti-Homosexuality Act, including Jacqueline, were featured in an award-winning photo essay published last year by The Advocate titled simply "We Are Here: LGBTI In Uganda."
That message — that LGBT Ugandans exist, that they have as much love for their country as any other citizen, and that they are entitled to the same freedoms as their fellow countrymen — is all the more important given the international attention the issue has garnered in the wake of condemnation and the rescinding of aid from international partners who deemed the law discriminatory.
"We have grown up being called all sorts of things," notes Jacqueline. "I lost count on how many times I have been told I have demons — so coming out to celebrate is to build our movement, so that others out there can know that they are not alone, but have others who are like them."
That's the message a graphic designer based in Portland, Ore., looked to embody when he designed the logo for this year's Pride, featuring the national bird which appears on the Ugandan flag, spreading its wings to reveal a rainbow.
After connecting with Jacqueline and other Ugandan activists through a Portland-based supporter, designer Matt Leavitt created the logo using input gleaned from a private website where LGBT Ugandans could make suggestions for what they wanted Pride to involve.
"[Jacqueline] explained to me that it was important to convey that LGBTI people belong in Uganda; that it is their home, and harsh laws will not change that," Leavitt tells The Advocate. "The crested crane, which is Uganda's national symbol, and the stripes from the Ugandan flag (red, yellow, and black) express pride in their homeland. I went with an image of the crane that looked very proud and dignified. The bird is situated inside the outline of Uganda, standing its ground, boldly displaying rainbow plumage. [Jacqueline] specifically emphasized the importance of its placement."
Allies of Uganda's LGBT community and activists have set up a PayPal account for supporters to contribute to costs associated with Beach Pride and, very likely, to help offset court costs should celebrants encounter police and be arrested. The fund, which is being monitored and processed by two respected LGBT activists in Uganda and in the U.S., is accepting donations through Thursday. Those interested in donating can do so via PayPal, using the email address [email protected].
Jacqueline stresses that the mood of Saturday's event will be celebratory, giving the maligned community a much-needed momentary respite from the contentious battle their daily lives encompass.
"It's a time for us to relax and have a breather from all the hard work we do, even though Pride is also still part and parcel of the hard work we do all year," explains Jacqueline. "And this year is even more emotional, especially because we have endured so much hate in a few months — more than in years before. Pride [also] gives our members who are not able to engage politically [a chance to] meet and greet the activists, and also to thank them for their sacrifices."