John Abdallah Wambere of Spectrum Uganda, an LGBT advocacy group, told reporters during an emotional Boston press conference that he is seeking refuge in the U.S. because of the additional persecution he said he would face in his homeland as a result of the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill that President Yoweri Museveni signed into law earlier this year.
Wambere, 41, said he arrived in the U.S. three days before Museveni signed the measure that imposes a life sentence upon anyone convicted of repeated same-sex sexual acts.
He is believed to be the first Ugandan LGBT rights advocate to seek asylum in the U.S. since the measure took effect in February.
“I was shocked and heartbroken,” said Wambere. “It became clear to me that I needed to think about whether I could really return home.”
Wambere in his asylum petition notes he has been threatened, evicted from his home and publicly outed as a gay man in several Ugandan newspapers. He told reporters that he has also received anonymous death threats, been rejected by his family members, lost business and was unable to visit is 16-year-old daughter’s school because of his sexual orientation.
He says that several men attacked him in 2009 as he left a bar in Kampala, the Ugandan capital. Wambere notes he has been “repeatedly arrested for violation” of the Ugandan penal code that criminalizes “carnal acts against the order of nature, including homosexual behavior.”
He told reporters that several of his friends and colleagues have been kidnapped or arrested since Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law. Wambere — who has been an activist for 14 years — said other LGBT Ugandans have either gone into hiding or left the country.
“It became clear to me that I needed to think about whether I could really return home,” he said.
Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders and Hema Sarang Sieminski, a Boston immigration attorney, are representing Wambere.
“It is simply not safe for John to return to Uganda,” said GLAD Senior Staff Attorney Janson Wu.
Wambere and other Ugandan advocates with whom the Blade has spoken in recent weeks say anti-LGBT discrimination and violence has only increased in the East African country since Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
Ugandan police last month raided a U.S.-funded HIV/AIDS service organization in Kampala it said recruited teenage boys and young men “into homosexual practices.” The trial of a gay man and a transgender woman who face charges under Uganda’s anti-sodomy law is scheduled to begin on Wednesday.
“It gives me great pain not to be with my community, allies, friends while they are under increasing attack,” said Wambere during the press conference as he began to cry. “My government is unable and unwilling to protect us.”
The White House announced after Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that it would review its relationship with Kampala.
The U.S. subsequently suspended a study to identify groups at risk for HIV/AIDS that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had planned to conduct with a Ugandan university. A CDC agreement that funded the salaries of 87 employees of the Ugandan Ministry of Health who support the country’s response to the epidemic expired at the end of February.
The World Bank delayed a $90 million loan to the Ugandan government that had been earmarked to bolster the East African country’s health care system — although published reports last month indicate that Kampala will receive the funds.
Uganda receives nearly $300 million each year through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to fight the epidemic in the East African country. Kampala in 2013 received more than $485 million in aid from the U.S.
“Direct aid to the government should be cut, but the money or aid should be channeled to the civil society organizations,” said Wambere in response to a Washington Blade question about whether the U.S. should cut aid to the Ugandan government.
Wambere also specifically singled out Scott Lively and other American evangelicals whom he accuses of inflaming anti-LGBT attitudes in the East African country before Parliamentarian David Bahati introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in 2009.
Lively — who is seeking to succeed outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick — faces a federal lawsuit the Center for Constitutional Rights filed against him on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda, another Ugandan LGBT advocacy group, in 2012.
The Massachusetts-based evangelical described the Center for Constitutional Rights as a “Marxist law firm from New York City” during a D.C. press conference in February where he and other anti-gay advocates launched a new organization designed to counter the global LGBT rights movement.
“The purpose of the lawsuit is to shut me up because I speak very articulately about the homosexual issue from a pro-family perspective,” Lively told the Blade.
Wambere said during the Boston press conference that he feels the U.S. should do more to ensure American citizens “do not promote” hate crimes in other countries.
“On the other side we think that the U.S. has been very, very much supportive right from 2009 towards ensuring and making sure the bill doesn’t pass,” he added, noting President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are among those who have spoken out against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.