Holding a gay pride parade in a place as notoriously hostile to LGBT people as Uganda requires a lot of planning.
The East African country's fourth ever gay pride celebration has kicked off, and while organizers are very excited they are also warning attendees to be trepidatious about the aftermath.
The five-day event opened with a cocktail party on Wednesday night for the coordinating team and other volunteers. Around 400 people are expected to attend the main event — Saturday's parade.
One of the organizers, Vincent, told VICE News that the location for the parade — a closely guarded secret — is not far from capital city Kampala but is relatively secure. Access will be restricted with those who turn up required to have a specific identification tag, and LGBT groups will pass out the information by "communicating within their circles." Transport will also be provided for everyone taking part.
On Thursday there was a medical talk which looked at diseases, particularly HIV and AIDS, according to Vincent, who emphasized the importance of raising awareness around health by noting that three transwomen had died from HIV/AIDS in Uganda over the past year. This was followed by a movie night.
On Sunday, the day after the parade, there'll be a hangover party.
The Ugandan pride organizing committee with faces blurred because of security concerns. Photo by Vincent
Uganda has become an increasingly dangerous place for LGBT people to live. In 2011, the country's most prominent LGBT rights activist David Kato was bludgeoned to death months after his photo was published in a local tabloid accompanied by a message calling for his execution. The police claimed it was a robbery, though activists labeled it a hate crime.
Uganda introduced an anti-homosexuality bill in 2014. While this was annulled several months later on a technicality, talks to bring it back in have been ongoing, and with an election next year the debate is continuing.
Vincent talked VICE News through the advice he's giving those attending Ugandan pride. "You have to be prepared psychologically for everything."
"First and foremost what is important is to look into the security implications," he said. "It's always good to celebrate pride but you have to be prepared for the aftermath… for example, if you're not out. Many people come to pride. Many people take pictures and you don't know what they're going to use it for, so at least it's very important to tell people that it's good to celebrate pride, but [question] are you prepared for the aftermath."
As an example, he said it was possible that an attendee could be kicked out of their house if their landlord saw their picture in the paper.
"Pride is all about people coming out, celebrating, it feels good to be out," Vincent continued, "but again after that feeling, are you ready for what is going to come next?"
Last year's gay pride parade. Photo by Vincent
Vincent said they expected the Ugandan media — notorious for repeated attempts to out gay people — to cover pride, though they couldn't anticipate what angle they would take. "They might show whatever they want but they will talk about it," he said.
"The attitudes from the people are so horrible and so hard," award-winning Ugandan LGBT advocate Frank Mugisha said when he met VICE News in London last month.
Another pride organizer, Mugisha, has applied for police permission for the event for the last two years, and said he didn't anticipate any problems. The organizers received no police permission the first time they held a pride celebration in 2011, but have been successful each year since.
Mugisha said that while it's very difficult to be openly gay in Uganda, in some ways it's the people who are quiet who suffer the most.
"It's a tough love situation. First, it's assertiveness," he said. "Pride is assertiveness because we know that the Ugandan general society will not accept this — the reason that we don't hold the march in a very public area in the city."
However, he said he didn't think the government would risk the international outcry that would result if anything happened to the hundreds of attendees.
"The government may not provide us protection but will also not arrest us," he said. "Because of the high political profit that they've created in the country, that arresting 100 LGBT people is going to create all this international tension in Uganda, and that's what they wouldn't want to risk."
Last year's gay pride parade. Photo by Vincent
Mugisha added that Uganda was not the worst country to be gay in by far. "In some countries they can't say anything," he said. "Some people in the Western world, when they look at Uganda they think it's worse, but in Uganda it's actually not worse because in some countries… they can't even express themselves.
"In Uganda we have the tool of the mouth, we speak a lot, we're loud, so we have that tool and we're gifted with it but there are some countries where they either have to use civil society, HIV organizations and all that, they cannot use them."
Mugisha concluded: "There could be so many atrocities going on towards LGBT persons that we don't even know about because no one is paying attention."
Vincent also made reference to the LGBT people who couldn't march, as well as those in other countries where the laws are much more restrictive and no LGBT communities exist. "We are marching for those who can't march," he said. "We can't speak for those who can't speak when we are hiding in our houses or offices, we have to go out there."
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