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Ugandan Activists 'Stand Prouder' After Police Raid LGBT Pride

Pepe Julian Onziema (left) and the Mx Pride Uganda catwalk before police raided the event
Pepe Julian Onziema (left) and the Mx Pride Uganda catwalk before police raided the event

Before police began a violent raid, guests at a Uganda Pride celebration said the environment at the pageant was "beautiful and electric."

Between 16 and 25 people were arrested in Kampala, Uganda just before 11:00 p.m. Thursday, when police raided a Pride Uganda event celebrating trans and gender-nonconforming residents.

Thursday's event, a pageant intended to crown Mr./Ms./Mx. Pride Uganda, was one of several planned as part of Uganda's fifth annual Pride festivities, originally scheduled to continue through the weekend.

After organizers met Friday with Simon Lokodo, the Ugandan minister of ethics and integrity, they announced that a Pride event scheduled Saturday had been cancelled over security concerns. Lokodo reportedly told the activists that Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni had instructed Lokodo to shut down Pride. The government official then compared the activists to terrorists and promised to arrest anyone who attempted to assemble for Saturday's event.

At least one person jumped from a high floor of the venue to escape Thursday's police raid. Despite initial reports indicating that person had died from injuries sustained from the fall, multiple reports have confirmed the person is alive and recovering in the hospital. One report says that the individual is transgender.

Before police began the violent raid, contestants from Uganda, Congo, Burundi, and other countries strutted the runway cheerfully in creative costumes and makeup. One took a moment to dedicate their outfit to the victims of the June 12 massacre in Orlando, where 49 people, most of whom were LGBT and Latino, died when a gunman opened fire at a gay club called Pulse.

Rev. Jide Macaulay, founder and CEO of House of Rainbow, traveled from his home in London to serve as the Grand Marshall for Uganda Pride 2016, and estimates there were approximately 300 people in attendance at Thursday's event. Macaulay, who was present at the event and raid but was not arrested, described the pageant atmosphere as "beautiful and electric."

But the mood quickly changed from joy to terror when police entered the building just before 11:00 PM. Rev. Macaulay tells The Advocate that the police arrested transgender pageant contestants first. He describes:

"Many [of those] arrested attended [the] pride event for the first time, and you can see the terror and fear on people's faces. The crowd was ushered into a narrow space [and] the police held us in captivity for nearly two hours. I recorded some of the chaos on audio as police shouted at people using their mobile phones -- it was a terrifying moment for everyone. We were forced to sit on the floor and several of the police officers in uniform used their mobile phone cameras to take photographs, forcing people to look up. A few who became distressed were crying and throwing themselves on the floor."

Rev. Macaulay estimates that more than a dozen attendees were physically injured in the raid. Icebreakers Uganda, a lead organizer of Pride Uganda, tweeted that the "police acted like terrorists." One person called his friend to say goodbye because he thought he was going to die.

Freedom and Roam Uganda, a women's and LGBT civil rights organization founded by out human rights activist Kasha Jaqueline Nabagesera, managed to tweet one photo from the raid before the group's phone was confiscated:

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