September 16, 2014 at 2:10 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
U.S. grants asylum to prominent Ugandan LGBT rights advocate

John Abdallah Wambere, Uganda, asylum, gay news, Washington Blade

John Abdallah Wambere has received asylum in the U.S. (Photo courtesy of InfinityPortraitDesign.com)

A prominent Ugandan LGBT rights advocate who fled his homeland earlier this year has been granted asylum in the U.S.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in a letter dated Sept. 11 stated John “Longjones” Abdallah Wambere’s asylum request “has been recommended for approval,” pending the results of a mandatory background check.

“I am overwhelmed,” said Wambere in a press release from Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, a Boston-based LGBT legal advocacy group that represents him. “I must say that I am blessed, but there are many stories out there.”

Wambere, who is a member of Spectrum Uganda, an LGBT advocacy group in the East African country, arrived in the U.S. in February, three days before Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill that sought to impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

Wambere, 41, noted in his asylum petition that he has been threatened, evicted from his home and publicly outed as a gay man by several Ugandan newspapers.

He told reporters during an emotional Boston press conference in May that he also received anonymous death threats, had been rejected by his family, lost business and was unable to visit his daughter’s school because of his sexual orientation. Wambere said a group of men attacked him in 2009 as he left a bar in Kampala, the Ugandan capital.

“I was shocked and heartbroken,” he told reporters during the May press conference, referring to his reaction to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill becoming law. “It became clear to me that I needed to think about whether I could really return home.”

Wambere is believed to be the first Ugandan LGBT rights advocate to seek asylum in the U.S. since the Anti-Homosexuality Bill took effect in February.

Nikki Mawanda, a Ugandan transgender rights advocate, told the Washington Blade last month he is currently seeking asylum in the U.S. Dickson Mujuni of the RPL AIDS Foundation, an HIV/AIDS service organization in Kampala, fled to the Netherlands in May because it “wasn’t safe” for him in the country after Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Asylum ‘protects vulnerable members of LGBTI community’

The Obama administration in June imposed a travel ban against Ugandan officials responsible for anti-LGBT human abuses. The White House also announced it had redirected funds it had previously given to the Ugandan Police Force, the Ugandan Ministry of Health and National Public Health Institute.

Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBT advocacy group, in 2012 filed a federal lawsuit against Scott Lively, an American evangelical who is running to succeed outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, for allegedly inflamating anti-LGBT attitudes in the East African country before Parliamentarian David Bahati introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in 2009.

The Constitutional Court of Uganda last month struck down the Anti-Homosexuality Bill on a technicality, concluding Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga illegally allowed a vote on it late last year without the necessary quorum. Ugandan lawmakers have pledged to reintroduce the measure.

Lawmakers in other African nations have sought to implement similarly draconian anti-LGBT laws.

Members of the Gambia National Assembly last month approved a measure that would impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality.” The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights is among the organizations that have urged Chadian President Idriss Déby to reject a proposal that would criminalize homosexuality in the sub-Saharan African country.

“The United States must continue to grant asylum to LGBTI people from around the world who can’t enjoy the most basic freedoms in their countries of origin, and whose lives are threatened simply because of who they are,” said GLAD Senior Staff Attorney Janson Wu. “Asylum is a life-saving system that protects vulnerable members of the LGBTI community forced to flee places like Uganda, Russia, and Jamaica, where it is fundamentally unsafe to be out.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

  • Billbb

    The issue is not simply which laws are passed or thrown out by the courts. The issue is also that the bloody homophobia that functions apart from the laws is given implied sanction by those laws. Just as the homophobic Christianism of Scott Lively and other US exporters of hate give implicit permission to the persecution of lgbti people in Africa. For more on this, see John Oliver’s interview with Pepe Onziema of Uganda.

  • Welcome to the U.S.A. We are blessed and enriched by having you come and live here with political asylum. May the heartache of leaving your family and homeland be tempered within our heartfelt
    goal/ premise of Life, Liberty. & Freedom to All. Be Well, Ed Smith

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