October 7, 2014 at 3:44 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
U.S. grants asylum to Ugandan LGBT advocate

Nikilas Mawanda, gay news, Washington Blade

Nikilas Mawanda (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

The U.S. has granted asylum to a Ugandan LGBT rights advocate who fled persecution in his homeland.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on October 3 granted final approval to Nikilas Mawanda’s asylum request. Whitman-Walker Health, who represented Mawanda through the process that began in late May, made the announcement in a press release.

“The asylum process and the four months I had to wait anxiously were very emotionally taxing for me, but I’m so relieved this day has finally come,” said Mawanda.

Cori Alonso-Yoder, a staff attorney for Whitman-Walker Health, applauded the decision to approve Mawanda’s asylum request.

“We are thrilled that our government has offered him the necessary protection to remain active in the quest for universal human rights, regardless of gender or sexual orientation,” said Alonso-Yoder.

Mawanda, who is the executive director of Trans Support Initiative-Uganda, a group that advocates for transgender and intersex people in his East African homeland, arrived in the U.S. in March.

He told the Washington Blade during an emotional interview a few weeks later that a mob had recently attacked him during the funeral of his friend’s father.

Mawanda said a man at a convenience store in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, struck him in the face with a gun in 2005 while his girlfriend was sitting in their car that was parked outside. Mawanda told the Blade he was 13 when his stepfather kicked him out of his family home because he thought he was a lesbian.

A Ugandan tabloid included Mawanda among its list of “200 top homos” after President Yoweri Museveni in February signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act under which those convicted of repeated same-sex sexual acts face life in prison.

“It looks like the community-at-large has taken on the role of doing vigilante [justice,]” Mawanda told the Blade. “Since the law was signed on the 24th of February, people felt that they should implement the law even before it was gazetted.”

Mawanda is the second Ugandan LGBT rights advocate to receive asylum in the U.S. in recent weeks

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on September 11 approved John “Longjones” Abdallah Wambere’s request.

“I am blessed, but there are many stories out there,” said Wambere.

The Constitutional Court of Uganda in August struck down the Anti-Homosexuality Act on a technicality, noting Parliamentarian Speaker Rebecca Kadaga allowed a vote on it late last year without the necessary quorum. Ugandan lawmakers have pledged to reintroduce the measure.

The Obama administration earlier this year cut or redirected aid to Uganda and imposed a travel ban against Ugandan officials responsible for human rights abuses.

The World Bank postponed a $90 million loan to Kampala after Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act. Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, announced after Ugandan lawmakers approved the statute that his company would no longer do business in the country.

Museveni last week acknowledged the anti-gay law could adversely affect the East African nation’s economy.

“We want to kill the snake, but we do not want to break the pot,” wrote Museveni in an editorial the Independent, a Ugandan newspaper, published. “We want to protect our children from homosexuality, but we do not want to kill our trade opportunities. That now forces us to dissemble this whole issue.”

Mawanda in the Whitman-Walker Health press release described himself as “one of the lucky ones.” He urged American officials to expedite the process for others who hope to seek asylum in the U.S.

“So many asylum seekers have to wait many more months or even years before getting final approval,” said Mawanda. “The process desperately needs to be streamlined and asylum seekers better supported if the U.S. is to live up to its values.”

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

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