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What the international community can do to support LGBTQ Ugandans

Country’s homophobic laws a legacy of British colonialism



(Photo courtesy of Matthew Docherty)

Less than 24 hours after an LGBTQIA+ sexual freedom solidarity delegation I was honored to be part of finished in Kampala this spring, the homophobic heat intensified. The “Sexual Offenses Bill” that criminalizes consensual same sex acts, was approved by the Ugandan Parliament on May 3, 2021. 

Now the dust has settled, what can the international community do?


Uganda’s homophobic laws are near duplicates of British colonial legislation; one of the British empire’s most notorious exports. The “Public Nuisance Act”, the “Rogue and Vagabond Act”, the “Anti Pornography Act” and the “Anti Miniskirt Act” are all inspired by Thatcher’s deadly Section 28 law that prohibited “the promotion of homosexuality in public institutions” in the U.K. and still digs its claws in tightly throughout life in Uganda today. 

Whilst the “Sexual Offenses Bill” criminalizes “LGBTQIA propaganda,” it cannot stop LGBT+ movements safeguarding communities on the ground. For the last five years Shawn has been training as a community caregiver and pioneered a unique nature-based self-help project in Uganda called ‘FAMACE’ to support queer individuals to heal from trauma. Using Farming, Art, Mindset change, Advocacy, Collaboration and Ethical human-centered design to improve well-being and promote sustainable livelihoods. 

Contrary to the 2012 BBC documentary “Uganda — the worst place in the world to be gay,” for Shawn, Uganda is“the best place in the world to be queer, I tell you, the story here in Uganda is beautiful.” 

“What would solidarity from the UK activists look like, Shawn?” I ask. “An honest call on your government to end and ban the use of colonial laws in former colonial states is the only way.”

(Photo courtesy of Matthew Docherty)

Create a roadmap to freedom

Five years ago Shawn was part of the Pride Kampala organizing team. In the months running up to Pride, brutal police raids on LGBTQI+ spaces resulted in the arrests of 16 human rights defenders, followed by mass assaults on 200 people attending the Pride show. One member of the LGBT community nearly lost his life when he jumped from a four-story building to escape from police. 

After that night it would be easy to assume everyone would go underground, but it only made them fight harder. Shawn continues,“When movements started receiving international aid funding, entrenched cycles of dependency spiralled. Ultimately, we have forgotten that the land beneath us connects us all, the signposts that catalyse community transformation. We need to begin here, right now, in beginning our own queer village.”

Choose visibility: Mobilize the Kuchus!

Morgan was there too that night. In 2010 he started Youth on Rock Foundation “so we can be rocks with unshakable perseverance, because as a society we have to ‘Mobilise the Kuchus!’”The organization grew like wildfire and gained international attention. Their house doors are regularly knocked on by people seeking sanctuary. 

Cultivate creativity

After the “Anti Homosexuality Act” and the savagery provoked through mass media outings, Edgar and his friends started Kuchu Times, an online platform providing a voice for Africa’s LGBTQIA+ community. 

Kasia, another founding member, thought“let’s give it back!’ We made the magazine glossy and incorporated local languages and included referral pathways of local support groups. We opened gates for people to emerge themselves. It’s everywhere now, they cannot burn it just like they cannot burn us. You have to do it all with a lot of PASSION POLITICS.” 


Hajjara Ssanyu Batte is Director of “Lady Mermaids Empowerment Center,” the largest sex workers and feminist network in Uganda. Hajjara recently infamously walked the streets naked carrying the coffin of one of her murdered friends. Now she sits in front of me beaming in the most incredible rainbow diamante sparkling heels.

What’s your most memorable protest I ask?

“I have many. Recently, alongside our male allies in high heels, we protested outside the Uganda Human Rights Commission everyday for two weeks. I proudly wore my miniskirt because it’s our bodies, we can do what we want with our bodies, it not only affects us but our mothers, grandmothers, sons and daughters.” 

Since then, Lady Mermaid’s protests have helped overturned the “Pornography Act.” The tide is turning. 

(Photo courtesy of Shawn Mugisha)

Become a love generator

By digesting the bitter tinctures of life, they have metabolized poisons into medicines to establish sacred connections between each and every one of us.  

As I was leaving, Shawn reached for my hand. “Please come back and see us at ‘Lavender Acres,’ the name of our trans-led permaculture community. By then I will have finished training a new generation of bee-keepers and will have plenty of queer sweet honey for you.”

Now back home, the real work begins. Lady Phyll, executive director of Kaleidoscope Trust, a U.K.-based charity working to uphold the human rights of LGBT+ people across the world, and co-founder and executive director of UK Black Pride, Europe’s largest Pride celebration for LGBTQI+ people of color, reminds us “the activists in Uganda and around the world, who are fighting tooth and nail against homophobia and violence, deserve our unreserved and unequivocal support — and right now.” 

(Photo courtesy of Corinne Cumming)
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Kenyan McDuffie for D.C. Council-at-Large

A voice of reason and progress in city government



D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5). (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Kenyan McDuffie is a voice of reason, and a voice for progress, on the D.C. Council. He has been a voice for those without one, and for minority communities across the District. 

Kenyan is a fourth-generation Washingtonian raised in a working-class family of six. He attended Shaed Elementary in Edgewood, St. Anthony Grade School in Brookland, and graduated from Woodrow Wilson Jackson-Reed high school, having played varsity basketball. He has been a union member working as a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service. His college career began at the University of the District of Columbia, which he continues to strongly support. He transferred and graduated summa cum laude from Howard University with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Community Development and then joined the staff of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. He left there to attend the University of Maryland School of Law, where he was an editor of the law school’s Journal of Race, Religion, Gender and Class. 

After law school he clerked for an associate judge on the 7th Judicial Circuit of Maryland and then became an Assistant State’s Attorney in Prince George’s County. He then joined the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, where, as a trial attorney, he enforced key federal civil rights laws in cases throughout the country. His caseload at the DOJ included defending the civil rights of the mentally ill, nursing home residents, persons with disabilities, and other vulnerable populations.

At that point in his career, Kenyan added community activist to his resume becoming president of his local civic association and taking a job as a policy adviser with the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice. In that position he worked with Council members to shape policy and legislation for the District of Columbia.

In 2012, with this wealth of experience, he was elected to the D.C. Council. At that time Lateefah Williams, president of the Stein Democratic Club, wrote in the Blade, “Kenyan McDuffie is the type of leader that Ward 5 needs. He is intelligent, he has key experience in diverse matters from public safety to public policy, and he is a staunch supporter of the LGBT community. These are some of the reasons the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, D.C.’s largest LGBT political organization, endorsed Kenyan McDuffie for Ward 5 Council.  … and why I personally support Kenyan McDuffie.” Her confidence in Kenyan was well placed. For 10 years he has worked to build coalitions and create solutions, tackling D.C.’s most significant challenges. In his first year on the Council, he was elected to serve as Chairman Pro Tempore (Vice Chair), a position he continues to hold. 

Kenyan is what those of us looking at legislators call a work-horse, not a show-horse. He has put in the work to bring consensus and pass legislation, which he did with sweeping updates to D.C.’s criminal justice laws when he became chair of the Judiciary Committee in 2017. With that committee he oversaw the implementation of D.C.’s police body-worn camera program, including ensuring the public has fair access to the video footage from encounters with officers. 

Kenyan has a view of public safety that includes both a strong MPD, with appropriate community oversight, and recognition of the need to fully fund community organizations working to reduce crime. Kenyan, like the mayor, believes we need to do both of these things, not one or the other. He recently said, “One of my proudest moments on the Council is passing the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act. The law takes a holistic approach to preventing crime in the first instance and floods communities disproportionately impacted by violence with resources – including violence interrupters and behavioral and mental health services – in addition to more innovative, data-driven policing.”

For the past five years, Kenyan has chaired the Council’s Business and Economic Development Committee. His focus has been on helping grow the local economy with a stronger focus on supporting small and minority-owned businesses. He fought to put millions of dollars in the Commercial Acquisition Fund to allow socially disadvantaged business owners to apply for grants to purchase commercial properties here in D.C. Kenyan spearheaded an emergency relief package of $100 million to help the hospitality, entertainment, and retail industries – some of D.C.’s largest employers of immigrants and minority workers – weather the pandemic and keep District employees on the payroll.

For these reasons, and many more, we cannot afford to lose Kenyan’s voice on the Council. I urge everyone to cast their vote for Kenyan McDuffie for Council-at-large. 

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Bisexual activists cautiously excited after White House meeting

Sept. 20 gathering took place during Bisexual Visibility Week



From left to right: Ellyn Ruthstrom, Tania Israel, Nicole Holmes, Mimi Hoang, Ezra Young, Lauren Beach, Belle Hagget Silverman, Diana Adams, Heron Greenesmith, and Khafre Abif. Kneeling: Robyn Ochs, Fiona Dawson and Blair Imani outside the White House on Sept. 20, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Heron Greenesmith)

On Tuesday, Sept. 20, just in time for Bisexual Visibility Week, a diverse group of 15 bisexual and pansexual activists met with officials from the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including Melanie Fontes Rainer, the director of the Office of Civil Rights at HHS. 

The 15 advocates comprised a wide cross-section of the bisexual community, including nonbinary, transgender, female, young, older, Black, Asian and Muslim advocates, people with disabilities and parents. We came from many walks of life: Academia, education, research, health care, advocacy, law, media and community activism. This isn’t unusual: Bisexual people comprise more than half of all LGBT people, totally approximately 12.5 million bisexual adults in the U.S. Strikingly, 15 percent of all GenZ adults — nearly 1 in 6 — identify as bisexual. People of color are more likely to identify as bisexual, as are cisegender women and transgender people in general. 

It has been a painful six years since the Executive Branch last met with bisexual activists (you do the math.) Those meetings, like this one, were the product of tireless advocacy from a population with zero paid organizational staff and less than one percent of all philanthropic dollars earmarked for the LGBT community. It was these stats and others that we shared at HHS on Sept. 20. 

Bisexual and pansexual people face specific disparities in mental and physical health, intimate partner violence and monkeypox prevention, treatment and care. Did you know, for example, that nearly half of bisexual women report having been raped? And did you know that federal reporting on monkeypox doesn’t disaggregate between gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men, despite evidence that bisexual men are uniquely vulnerable to MPX and other infectious diseases. 

Khafre Abif is a Black bisexual educator, father and person living with HIV. At the meeting with agency officials, Abif shared the story of how staff at his HIV-care clinic initially denied him the monkeypox vaccine, despite Abif being bisexual and thus in a population of special focus for the vaccine. 

“This meeting has been a long time coming for the bi+ community,” said Abif. “I’m looking forward to a dialogue with federal officials about solving some of the health issues we face.”

In order to begin remedying these disparities and more, we presented the administration with a set of benchmarks, including the creation of a Federal Interagency Bisexual Liaison and a Federal Interagency Bisexual Working Group. Other benchmarks included training for HHS staff on bisexual disparities and remedies thereof, funding streams for bisexual-specific funding and interventions, and the disaggregation of data on specific health disparities. 

Robyn Ochs is a pillar of bisexual and pansexual community organizing. At HHS, Ochs shared more about her specific expertise. “Research has made clear our health disparities and invisibility. It’s time for federal interventions to catch up with what we already know through research and lived experience.”

Frustrated by years of inaction by the federal government to release bisexual-specific data, target the bisexual and pansexual community with tailored interventions, or recognize the importance of bi+ health in general, we are cautiously excited by this opportunity to share critical data and remedies. 

Heron Greenesmith is the Senior Research Analyst for LGBTQI+ Justice at Political Research Associates, and the co-founder of BiLaw and the Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition. Find Greenesmith on Twitter @herong.

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Larry’s Lounge transformed pandemic into an opportunity

A vibrant neighborhood bar that reflects owner’s passion for animals



A happy crowd enjoys the outdoor space at Larry’s Lounge. (Photo courtesy Larry Ray)

In a Blade article (9/2/22) Larry’s Lounge (LL) customer Brett Howard fondly called Larry’s Lounge “a dive bar.” Yes, it is and so much more.

D.C. native, veteran businessperson and LL owner Ron Robinson transformed the COVID lockdown and pandemic into an opportunity. When D.C. ordered all alcohol establishments to serve food, Ron did with popcorn and wings out of his kitchen. With the assistance of customers, Ron built outdoor structures with fans, heaters, lights, and even plastic walls (lovingly referred to as “shower curtains”).

This opportunistic spirit dates back to 1987 and the founding of LL by then owners and neighbors Larry Tan and Ken Megill. They dreamed of opening the first full-service Malaysian and Singaporean restaurant on the East Coast. Chef Lawrence Tan and Dr. Kenneth A. Megill (philosophy from Yale University) formed an excellent partnership.

Back then, the ANC Commissioner created the 18th Neighborhood and Business Association. The number of businesses along this busy 18th Street corridor between S Street and Florida Avenue, N.W., surprised the neighbors. These more than 100 businesses included accountants, attorneys, restaurants, and retail. Neighbors bonded around “community policing” to ensure safety. Chief of Police Robert Contee even served as this area’s community police.

Larry and Ken consulted with the neighbors and by the time they applied for their restaurant liquor license for Straits of Malaya, the neighbors cheered. The Dupont Circle ANC and D.C. Alcohol Board were shocked that there were no objections. Neighborhood involvement from the very beginning was the key to success. Several years later in 1993, they applied for their CT liquor license for Larry’s Lounge again to the delight of the neighbors. Straits closed in 1991 since Tan needed to return home to take care of an ailing family member. (He did reopen for a bit.) Sadly, Ken passed at age 82. Larry resides in D.C.

Today, Larry’s Lounge is a vibrant indoor/outdoor neighborhood bar. It reflects owner Ron’s passion for animals. Sometimes there are more dogs than people. Most neighborhood dogs pull over their guardians (aka owners) to take a drink from the bowls and receive love from LL staff and customers.

Larry Ray is former ANC 2B 01 Dupont Circle Commissioner. He is a mediator who teaches at The George Washington University School of Law.

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