For Some, Being Gay Means Becoming a Refugee

By Rebecca Dixon

My mom said, ‘I’m going to hand you into police.’ What that means is corrective rape. That I can’t see my family anymore. I have received so many death threats. And now I’m facing seven years to life imprisonment simply because of the work I’m doing—and because of my sexual orientation.”

That’s Clare Byarugaba, a prominent LGBT rights activist in Uganda, describing the dangers she faces on a daily basis.

According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, seventy-seven countries consider sexual activity by LGBTI people to be a criminal offense. More than half are in Africa. And now several other countries are moving to outlaw, or stiffen penalties against, same-sex relations.

Byarugaba, who will speak at the 2014 Human Rights First Summit, has both suffered and witnessed horrible persecution. She once saw a mob attack a transgender woman and undress her in a public place. Many anti-LGBT governments do little to stop such violence.

For LGBT activists such as Byarugaba and John Abdallah Wambere, coming out was not a personal choice but a headline in an anti-LGBT tabloid.

This persecution causes many LGBT people to flee their home countries and seek asylum abroad. After the Ugandan parliament signed draconian anti-LGBT legislation into law in February of 2014, Wambere made the difficult decision to seek asylum in the United States. Wambere received asylum protection, but many others have not been so lucky.

The United States attempted to discourage anti-LGBT legislation in Uganda by cutting aid, but Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni refuses to back down. While a Ugandan court recently struck down the Anti-Homosexuality Act based on procedural technicalities, Museveni is seeking to institute a new anti-gay law, which he presents under the guise of “protecting Ugandans” while not harming Uganda’s “Western friends.” The United States shouldn’t tolerate any law that harms the LGBT community and should consider LGBT rights when allotting foreign aid.

The brutal treatment of LGBT individuals is in no way unique to Uganda. From the spread of Russian-syle “anti-propaganda” laws, to India and Nepal’s rollback on LGBT rights—the plight of LGBT people around the world seems to be deteriorating. To learn more about how the United States can respond to human rights abuses against LGBT people and to hear from prominent activists within the LGBT community, including Byarugaba, attend the panel “Progress and Backlash in the Global Struggle for LGBT Equality” at the 2014 Human Rights Summit on December 9th. Register here now.

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Published on October 16, 2014

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