Voices for Equality: Clare Byarugaba
By Shawn M. Gaylord
Clare Byarugaba is an activist fighting for social justice and basic rights for marginalized populations in Uganda. Clare has served as the co-coordinator of the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law and was the 2014 Oak Human Rights Fellow at Colby College. The Coalition led the fight against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in the Ugandan Parliament and Clare continues to work towards mainstreaming lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) concerns in Uganda.
In Her Words
“Right now, it is Uganda against homosexuals and the biggest solidarity we have is from people who respect and support the rights of LGBTI persons all over the world…International attention on Uganda is the only thing that will save us from the backlash that is going to continue to happen against the community. So we need that now—more than ever.” Clare Byarugaba
In December of 2013, Uganda passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which made homosexuality in some cases punishable with life imprisonment. Anti-LGBT violence and discrimination, already on the rise, skyrocketed after the bill’s passage. “The witch hunt had already started, and now it has been legitimized by the parliament of Uganda, which is very scary,” said Clare Byarugaba at the time. “We don’t know how brutal the police will be now that the bill has passed. With this legitimization, it’s going to get worse.”
And it did. The homophobic bill provided cover for perpetrators of bias-motivated crime, who abused with impunity. In just a little more than four months following passage of the act, 162 acts of violence, intimidation, and loss of property were documented in a report issued by Sexual Minorities Uganda. Only 19 such incidents were reported in the entirety of 2012.
After a storm of international outrage, including sanctions from the United States, Uganda’s Constitutional Court overturned the act last August on procedural grounds. The global LGBT community celebrated, fully aware the homophobic bill was likely to be reintroduced. Nevertheless, the ruling marked a significant moment for embattled LGBT groups, individuals, and families across Sub-Saharan Africa.
Despite the court victory, LGBT Ugandans remain vulnerable. Members of parliament continue to seek avenues for reintroducing the legislation, even though many argue it violates Uganda’s commitments to human rights provisions within the African Charter for Human and People’s Rights. If reintroduced, the bill would likely face no resistance. That would leave its fate in the hands of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni who often expresses homophobic sentiments but has shown sensitivity to threats of losing international aid.
Clare’s tireless advocacy has transcended national borders as she raises awareness of the plight of LGBT Ugandans in every corner of the globe, hoping that her words do not fall on deaf ears.
African human rights activists and civil society leaders need the support of the international community and the United States, as they are often outnumbered and ignored in their own countries. The Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons, recently created by the U.S. State Department, represents a renewed commitment to keeping the human rights of all LGBT people at the heart of U.S. foreign policy. The Envoy will have the opportunity to work closely with grassroots civil society, promoting the protection of human rights for all Africans.
For more info on the state of human rights for LGBT people in Africa, check out Human Rights First’s African Voices for Equality Map, which profiles some of the brave leaders standing up for equality and dignity for all people.