February 28, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
Anti-gay law prompts LGBT Ugandans to go ‘underground’
Dickson Mujuni, RPL AIDS Foundation, Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

Dickson Mujuni of the RPL AIDS Foundation in Uganda working with youth
peer educators in the East African country. (Photo courtesy of Dickson
Mujuni)

A Ugandan HIV advocate told the Washington Blade on Friday that gays and lesbians in his country have gone “underground” since President Yoweri Museveni signed a bill that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of same-sex sexual relations.

“The community is very scared, very worried,” said Dickson Mujuni of the RPL AIDS Foundation during a telephone interview from Kampala, the Ugandan capital. “They’re underground.”

Mujuni said LGBT Ugandans remain afraid of blackmail and extortion since Museveni signed the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law on Feb. 24.

He told the Blade the police will “make sure you talk about all your other neighbors” if someone turns a person whom they suspect is gay into the authorities. Mujuni added Ugandan media outlets have published more pictures of gays and lesbians since a tabloid on Tuesday published a list of the country’s “200 top homos.”

“That’s the situation that is very, very bad on the ground,” said Mujuni.

Mujuni and a Canadian friend who has lived with HIV for three decades opened a clinic in a poor area of the Ugandan capital to treat women, young children, men who have sex with men and others who have the virus. The RPL AIDS Foundation was planning to build a hospital, but Mujuni said it has had to “close shop” because of the anti-gay law.

“We can’t continue,” he told the Blade.

This reporter initially asked Mujuni to speak with him on Skype, but he said those in the Internet café would have potentially assaulted him if they heard him talking about LGBT-specific issues.

“That’s how bad the situation is,” Mujuni told the Blade. “Even when you’re receiving a phone call, you have to talk in such a way that the person next to you does not understand exactly what you’re talking about because if you’re very open in your conversation, it’s very unpredictable. Anything can happen because here we have mob justice… if you’re Skyping and you’re talking about that, you could get beaten up.”

Mujuni spoke with the Blade a day after World Bank President Jim Yong Kim announced the postponement of a $90 million loan that would have bolstered Uganda’s health services after Museveni signed the anti-gay law. The Obama administration on Feb. 24 announced it had begun a review of its relationship with the East African country.

“Cutting aid to Uganda would affect Ugandans on the ground,” Mujuni told the Blade. “I do not support aid cuts to Uganda personally as an activist.”

Mujuni instead stressed Western governments should put pressure on the Ugandan government with regards to HIV/AIDS funds, noting Kampala receives nearly $300 million a year through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to fight the epidemic in the country.

“The money that is coming from the U.S. through PEPFAR, basically doesn’t benefit anyone,” he said.

Mujuni told the Blade LGBT rights advocates who are financially able to do so have already left the country because of the anti-gay law. He said he plans to seek asylum in Canada if he obtains a visa to attend a conference in Montréal in June.

“The situation has gotten worse because now even people who are not concerned before are now supporting the president and the government about passing such a bill,” Mujuni told the Blade. “They think the West is trying to promote this vice in Africa.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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