Growing up in rural Uganda, Leticia struggled silently with the feeling that she had been born into the wrong body. For many difficult years she faced these feelings alone. Later she moved to Uganda’s capital Kampala for university, where she finally found a community that helped her explore her identity. But when Leticia came out as a transgender woman, her family disowned her.
Surviving these painful experiences of isolation gave Leticia the will and strength to found Queer Youth Uganda (QYU) to tackle the discrimination, harassment, and violence against young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people in Uganda. But after nearly a decade since Leticia founded QYU, she has witnessed ever-deteriorating conditions for the LGBTI community in her country.
The dangerous situation today is in large part a result of the lingering effects of the now-overturned Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA). The act was the most draconian of its kind in Africa. For some time it was referred to as the “Kill the Gays” bill until the death penalty was swapped for life imprisonment as punishment for committing “aggravated homosexuality.” Not only did the act outlaw homosexual acts, but it also required citizens to inform the police of anyone suspected of being gay.
In August 2014 the Ugandan Constitutional Court struck down and annulled the AHA on a technicality, because there had not been enough members of parliament present to vote when it was passed four months earlier. While the annulment was celebrated by the LGBTI community and its many supporters, the excitement was short lived. In addition to the government’s efforts to appeal the court’s decision and lawmakers’ rush to draft similar legislation, discrimination and violence against the LGBTI community worsened.
In July 2015, Leticia and a close friend were having lunch at a popular restaurant in their neighborhood in Kampala. A woman and four men spotted Leticia from across the restaurant. The woman screamed: “You’re one of those gay boys getting money from the United States to recruit our children!” Knowing it was time to leave, Leticia moved towards the door. The men approached her, blocked the door, and beat her until she collapsed. As they kicked her, the woman continued, “You gay people…we’ll drive you out of this country. You’re making Uganda dirty!” Leticia’s friend fell on top of her to protect her, and at last some onlookers got the men to stop. Her clothing ripped, eyes and mouth swollen, and afraid for her life, Leticia left the restaurant. She knew that without her friend and the onlookers, she would have died.
Leticia went to the police station, but the officers refused to take her statement. She, apparently, was to blame for putting herself in such a dangerous situation. Just days later she learned that the men who had attacked her were plainclothes military officers.
Not a week later, while riding in a public taxi on her way to the bank near Kampala International University, another passenger struck Leticia from behind. She managed to jump out of the vehicle relatively unharmed and rushed home on a boda boda (motorcycle taxi). Some university students later told her what had happened after she escaped: her attacker told the crowd of bystanders that Leticia was recruiting Ugandan children to be homosexuals. She had deserved to be punished, he explained, and the crowd agreed. She was lucky to have gotten away otherwise she would have faced a deadly mob.
Leticia is no longer safe in her own home, and every day she goes out in public she puts herself at risk. She endures horrific physical and emotional abuse, and her story is tragically all too common. The Ugandan government, religious leaders, and politicians are terrorizing the LGBTI community, encouraging discrimination, and spreading hate to break the spirits of countless individuals. It is time to stop the tide of violence and discrimination. The Fund for Global Human Rights is committed to supporting organizations like Queer Youth Uganda. These organizations are providing essential support to the LGBTI community in Uganda in this time of extreme uncertainty and crisis.