In Uganda, Pride Is A Feeling Not A Place

The government's crackdown makes LGBT activist Qwin Mbabazi's blood boil, "but it also energizes me to talk louder."

Qwin Mbabazi Fiona is an LGBT activist in Uganda, where her very existence is illegal. Despite this she has fought tirelessly for her community and gained a unique perspective on sexual minorities across East Africa.

Her passion for equality and fair treatment is the force that drove her to co-ordinate Pride Uganda

Days after a Uganda Pride event was raided by police—and organizers were forced to cancel a parade scheduled for Saturday—Qwin spoke to us about what Pride means to her as an out lesbian in Uganda.

The celebration of Pride in Uganda to me is very symbolic and important: We only started celebrating Pride in 2012, and I had little hope of it growing, but as I speak now Pride Uganda grew from a one-day event to a five-day event.

I have seen the march grow from 40 to 500 people, and over 300 people attending different events like Mr & Miss Pride.

ISAAC KASAMANI/AFP/Getty

This is a space were I feel so free to celebrate who I am, to convene with those that are like me—LGBTQ members coming from all corners of the country. And, in the last two years, we have seen colleagues from across the borders of East Africa come join us since Uganda is the only East African country that celebrates Pride.

The celebration is very important—it allows me to be comfortable with who I am, to not punish myself, and to have the courage to come out.

When I attended Pride, right from its conception, I was given courage by every single person that showed up. When you realize that they are actually quite many of your kind from your own country or tribe, you feel energized and lose the feeling that you are not normal.

Because if they are over 500 people like me then we are normal—and we are a part of the Ugandan community. I would rather come together in Pride and face the non-acceptance from people, than be alone and ignored.

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I have witnessed numerous LGBTQ people take their first coming-out steps by attending Pride Uganda. You have no idea what a milestone this is. Witnessing more and more people come out is a great achievement.

So every time I volunteered to help out at Pride, it was my way of not only helping others but helping myself and all of us.

The bigger the number, the stronger we get. We can stand strong and let the rigid policy makers know, “Hey, we deserve to be treated equally like every citizen of this country. We need our rights just like everyone else.”

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It saddens me that so many people misunderstand why we celebrate Pride. They think we are trying to impose ourselves on them, trying to recruit others—which is so wrong!

The reason the heterosexuals are not fighting for visibility like us is because they are not being denied rights and services. So, yes, we need to make our presence felt and the government needs to know that we are part of the country and we should not be discriminated against simply because our sexual orientation or gender identities differ.

It is not like we were imported from another country or planet! LGBTQ Ugandans were born by Ugandan people and raised by them. So why all of a sudden should you become hateful simply because I have the confidence to tell you that I prefer girls over boys?

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I am saddened because the self-righteous minister of ethics, Simon Lokodo, stopped our Pride march. [Lodoko threatened to organize a mob to attack participants.]

This is a bad blow to us, it is the first time since 2012 we’ve been stopped. Even amid the “Kill the Gay” bill we managed to celebrate Pride. But this year Lokodo is out for blood.

It feels like we are the scapegoat for his failed time in office but, you know what? If we cannot celebrate then we shall mourn and come back stronger than before.

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UN Human Rights Office

His stopping our Pride march does not give him a victory in silencing us—it makes my blood boil with anger, but it also makes me feel much stronger and energizes me to talk louder and demand my rights even more. Because, as a human I am entitled to them, and I am not going to let anyone deny me what I deserve because of their ignorance and fear.

Listen to Qwin’s full speech on Soundcloud.

Below, Qwin discusses how LGBT identity is criminalized in Uganda.
 

 

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