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Anti-gay law prompts LGBT Ugandans to go ‘underground’

AIDS activist Dickson Mujuni spoke to Blade from Kampala

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Dickson Mujuni, RPL AIDS Foundation, Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade
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.”

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District of Columbia

Trial for man charged with assaulting gay men in D.C. park postponed for third time

Indictment says attacker squirted victims with pepper spray

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Meridian Hill Park (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The trial for a 50-year-old man who was arrested July 14, 2022, on charges that he allegedly assaulted five men he believed to be gay at D.C.’s Meridian Hill Park between 2018 and 2021 was postponed for the third time last month and has now been rescheduled for Aug. 19 of this year.   

The arrest of Michael Thomas Pruden came two weeks after a federal grand jury handed down an indictment on June 29, 2022, charging him with five counts of assault on federal park land, one count of impersonating a federal officer and a hate crime designation alleging that he assaulted four of the men because of their perceived sexual orientation. 

Prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C. filed a motion in court on Jan. 10 of this year opposing a request by Pruden’s defense attorney to postpone the most recent prior trial date set for Feb. 26. 

“Following indictment in June 2022, the defendant has delayed the trial in this case several times, including by firing two prior attorneys,” the prosecutors’ motion states. “While the government has not previously objected to any continuance, no further delay is warranted,” the motion says. “This is a straightforward case that should proceed to trial as currently scheduled.”

The indictment against Pruden by a U.S. District Court for D.C. grand jury provides some of the details surrounding the case.

“After nightfall, Meridian Hill Park was informally known in the Washington, D.C., community to be a meeting location for men seeking to engage in consensual sexual encounters with other men,” the indictment says. “This practice is colloquially known as ‘cruising,’” the indictment continues. 

“Michael Thomas Pruden frequented Meridian Hill Park after nightfall and on multiple occasions, including those described below, assaulted men in Meridian Hill Park by approaching them with a flashlight, giving them police-style commands and spraying them with a chemical irritant,” the indictment states. 

Virginia court records show that the D.C. indictment against Pruden was handed down 11 months after a U.S. District Court jury in Alexandria, Va., found him not guilty of a charge of assault with a dangerous weapon for allegedly pepper spraying and hitting in the head with a large tree branch a man in Daingerfield Island Park in Alexandria, which is also known as a gay cruising site. 

Federal Public Defender A.J. Kramer, who is representing Pruden in the D.C. case, said in his own motion calling for postponing Pruden’s Feb. 26 trial date that he has at least two other unrelated trials coming up soon and what he called voluminous documents recently provided to him by prosecutors made the latest postponement necessary. 

“Firstly, while Mr. Pruden prefers to go to trial as soon as possible, counsel cannot be ready by February 26, 2024,” his motion states. “Given that the case against Mr. Pruden is actually five cases spanning a three-year period, the discovery is extremely voluminous, in excess of 7,000 pages,” he states in his motion. “Due to this as well as counsel’s other pending matters in the coming weeks, counsel is unable to effectively prepare motions and prep for trial under the current timeline.”

By the 7,000 pages of “discovery” documents, Kramer was referring to the requirement that prosecutors turn over to the defense attorney in advance of a trial details of the evidence prosecutors plan to present at a trial. U.S. District Court Judge Jia M. Cobb approved Pruden’s request for the postponement in a Feb. 5 ruling. 

Court records also show that Pruden was released on personal recognizance following his arrest into the custody of his mother, who lives in Norfolk, Va., where he has been staying since his release. Among other things, conditions for his release prohibit him from having any contact with the individuals he is charged with assaulting and require that he always remain inside his mother’s residence from sunset to sunrise. 

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Texas

Abbott tells UN to ‘pound sand’ amid criticism of anti-LGBTQ policies in Texas

Governor signed seven anti-LGBTQ laws last year

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Texas Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signs the “Save Women’s Sports Act” on Aug. 7, 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Sunday dismissed news coverage of a letter issued last month to the United Nations that expressed alarm over the “deteriorating human rights situation” for LGBTQ people in the Lone Star State.

Signed by Equality Texas, ACLU of Texas, GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, and the University of Texas at Austin School of Law Human Rights Clinic, the letter details how Texas legislators introduced 141 bills targeting the LGBTQ community, passing seven into law.

“The UN can go pound sand,” Abbott wrote in a post on X.

In 2023, the governor signed a ban on gender affirming care for transgender youth, a ban on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at public universities, a ban on transgender athletes competing in college sports, a law allowing schools to use religious chaplains for counseling services, a ban on “sexually oriented performances” on public property accessible to minors (which targets drag shows), a law allowing schools to restrict LGBTQ books, and a ban on nondiscrimination ordinances by local governments.

The groups argued in their letter that these policies constitute a “systemic discriminatory policy” in violation of international human rights laws, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a multilateral treaty whose tenets are enforced by the UN Human Rights Committee.

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National

WATCH: Washington Post grills transphobic Libs of TikTok creator

Chaya Raichik reaffirmed anti-trans views

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Chaya Raichik, founder of Libs of TikTok is interviewed by Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz.in California. (Screenshot/YouTube The Washington Post)

Grilled on a range of topics during an interview with Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz, Chaya Raichik, spoke about the great replacement theory, the death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary in high school student in Oklahoma, why she won’t delete her false accusations about the Uvalde shooter and other mass-shooters, her views on gender, feminism and more.

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