Ugandan LGBT community celebrates gay pride despite nation's taboo
Legislation passed 1 year ago would have punished gay sex with long prison terms
Dozens of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Uganda gathered on Saturday to celebrate gay pride in Entebbe on the shores of Lake Victoria a year after a tough anti-homosexuality law was overturned.
Held at the Entebbe Botanical Gardens, the event attracted more than 100 people, who waved rainbow flags in an effort to raise awareness about being gay in Uganda.
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Like most of sub-Saharan Africa, Uganda is highly religious and socially conservative. Disapproval of homosexuality is widespread, and attacks on gays are common.
"We feel and we think this is a step moving forward, and it is about trying to show the wider community that violence, discrimination, harassment, stigma against LGBT people is bad," said gay rights activist Moses Kimbugwe. "So we are here to send a message to the wider population that we do exist and we want rights like any other Ugandan."
Legislation passed by parliament almost a year ago, which would have punished gay sex with long prison terms, provoked a storm of international protests and led some donor countries to withhold aid, but the constitutional court overturned the law last August.
The earlier version would have punished gay sex with harsh prison terms, including life sentences for "aggravated homosexuality".
Influential evangelical pastors have urged Ugandan legislators to reintroduce the law since it was quashed.
Pride event hidden
The organizers of the event had kept the exact location under wraps until today because of concerns about safety as, in most of Africa's 54 states, LGBT people have to hide their sexual orientation for fear of persecution or criminal prosecution.
"Why do I have to celebrate it in an isolated place?" said Sandra Ntebi another gay activist, referring to the rainbow colours she was wearing. "Who am I showing that I am proud? Because we are celebrating to our own selves. But my dream is to see myself have this, wear this."
Homosexuality remains taboo in Uganda and many socially conservative African societies where some religious groups have branded it a corrupting Western import.
The constitutional court overturned the earlier law on the grounds parliament had passed it without the required quorum.
Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni has since told legislators from his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party that he favoured a debate in the assembly on the re-introduction of the law, but wanted to remove penalties against gay sex between two consenting adults.
It is not clear when the law may be debated in parliament.
Museveni wrote in his commentary that he favoured punishment for those who recruited children or lure adults into gay sex using financial inducements, but expressed misgivings about punishing consenting adult homosexuals.