As a major human rights activist in Uganda, I find myself facing significant challenges following the enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act.
Our organization has been dedicated to providing crucial medical harm reduction interventions to the LGBTQI community, particularly those who use drugs. These interventions include the provision of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), and other essential HIV/Aids services. However, the passing of the Act has disrupted our work and thrown it into disarray.
The Act specifically targets individuals who are already marginalized by society and are in desperate need of health services and support. The LGBTQI individuals who use drugs now live in constant fear of community violence due to the heightened stigma and discrimination perpetuated by this law.
Moreover, they are forced to hide their HIV/Aids medication from their own families, creating additional barriers to managing their health conditions and drug dependence.
Punitive laws like the Anti- Homosexuality Act have severe consequences on public health. They push individuals further away from accessing essential health and social services that are vital for managing drug dependence, preventing the transmission of HIV/Aids, and supporting individuals to live full and productive lives.
By further criminalizing LGBTQI individuals who use drugs, this law effectively pushes them into the shadows, leaving them isolated and vulnerable. The fear of repercussions and societal judgment makes people afraid to speak up and seek the much-needed medical help they require.
The government’s definitive positioning of LGBTQI issues as a matter of justice rather than a health concern exacerbates the challenges faced by the community. Instead of viewing the health and well-being of LGBTQI individuals as a priority, this law emphasizes punishment and persecution. It creates an environment where seeking medical assistance and support becomes fraught with risks and uncertainties.
In light of these concerns, it is essential for us as human rights activists to raise awareness about the detrimental impact of the Act. We must advocate for a shift in the government’s approach, emphasizing the importance of health and human rights for all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The focus should be on providing comprehensive health services, support, and equal opportunities to help LGBTQI individuals live fulfilling lives and contribute to society.
From a psychological perspective, the implementation of this law has resulted in heightened levels of fear, oppression, and discrimination against the LGBTQI community.
The atmosphere of fear and oppression created by the Act poses significant challenges to the well-being and security of LGBTQI individuals. They face increased risks of intimidation, threats, and violence, as the law reinforces and legitimizes discrimination against them.
This not only infringes upon their basic human rights but also severely impacts their ability to live freely and authentically.
Moreover, the passage of the Act has had severe consequences for LGBTQI individuals’ access to essential harm reduction and HIV services. The law has created significant barriers to healthcare and support, exacerbating the already-existing health disparities and risks faced by this community.
As a result, many individuals have experienced a loss of employment, evictions, and homelessness. The dire circumstances have forced some LGBTQI individuals to flee the country in search of safety and the opportunity to live their lives without fear of persecution.
These developments have had a detrimental impact on the overall well-being and human rights of LGBTQI individuals in Uganda. It is crucial that we acknowledge these challenges and work towards creating a society that respects and upholds
the rights and dignity of all its citizens, irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Efforts should be made to repeal discriminatory laws, promote inclusivity, and ensure that comprehensive services and support are available to LGBTQI individuals, enabling them to lead fulfilling lives free from fear and oppression.
Since the implementation of the Act, our organization, the Uganda Harm Reduction Network (UHRN), has been subjected to surveillance by unknown individuals. This legislation, which not only criminalizes homosexuality but also restricts assistance to gay individuals, has raised serious concerns regarding our safety as human rights activists.
The instances of surveillance have primarily targeted our offices, where unidentified individuals have allegedly followed me and other members of our organization. Additionally, individuals claiming to be security operatives have made visits to our office, further adding to our concerns about the nature and intent of this surveillance.
Given the alarming nature of these incidents, we have taken immediate action by reporting the harassment to the police. It is essential to document and address any acts of intimidation or threats directed toward activists working to promote human rights and equality.
Such surveillance and harassment pose a significant risk to our ability to carry out our work effectively and safely. As human rights activists, we firmly believe in the importance of protecting the rights and well-being of marginalized communities, including the LGBTQI community. It is imperative that authorities take these reports seriously and ensure our safety and the safety of the communities we serve.
The UHRN has long been committed to promoting harm reduction practices and public health initiatives. Our efforts have included offering medical support, life-saving harm reduction interventions, and other crucial assistance to marginalized communities, including LGBTQI drug users.
However, the passing of the Act has thrown our work into disarray. The new law, with its stringent provisions, directly targets organizations, making it illegal to provide support or assistance to individuals based on their sexual orientation. This leaves us in a difficult position, as our core mission of providing medical aid and harm reduction services now clashes with the legal framework.
Our other concern is that some of our network partners were included on a gay promotion list compiled by the Uganda NGO Bureau. This discovery has intensified scrutiny and raised questions about the network’s activities.
As advocates for human rights, we remain steadfast in our commitment to promoting equality and justice for all individuals, including the LGBTQI community. Despite the challenges posed by the Act and the hostile social climate, we continue to encourage community members to prioritize their safety and security.
We urge them to remain vigilant and report any cases of human rights violations to legal and human rights bodies. By empowering individuals to speak out against discrimination and rights abuses, we aim to create a culture of accountability and raise awareness about the importance of protecting the rights of marginalized communities.
It is crucial for LGBTQI individuals to know that they are not alone and that their voices matter. Furthermore, our advocacy efforts extend beyond the immediate challenges we face. We are committed to advocating for human rights for all individuals, irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
We believe in the fundamental principle that every person deserves dignity, respect, and equal treatment under the law. In light of these challenges, it is our sincere hope and prayer that this law can be repealed. By doing so, lives can be saved, and the rights and well- being of LGBTQI individuals can be protected.
We urge the government of Uganda to reconsider this legislation and work towards creating an inclusive society that upholds the principles of public health, equality, and respect for human rights.
Efforts should be directed towards fostering an environment that supports access to healthcare services, without fear or discrimination, for all individuals.
By promoting understanding, acceptance, and compassion, we can create a society that values the health and dignity of every citizen, irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The author is the executive director, Uganda Harm Reduction Network (UHRN)