Living like a criminal in Uganda
I was warned before the interview that what I see is what I will get. When I meet Jay Abang she is wearing a red T-shirt, loose black jeans and casual shoes. Her T-shirt read : ‘’ some people are gay, deal with it.’’ The 5’9, tall 29 year old straight away says she does not want to be associated with the wrong perceptive of the ‘community’. Nerves kick in my stomach at the possibility of a dead end story.
Jay came out when she was 14. After being expelled from school for being a lesbian. She was paraded before the school and treated like a criminal. She faced ridicule and segregation even in the next school and lived feeling less a person than others. Jay does not find comfort even at home, she was accused of promoting homosexuality, and her brother hates her and her father is torn about the person she is and worries about her. I unwittingly bring up old wounds by saying; ‘’surely your mother is on your side, she should be the one person that gets it’’ Jay replies emotionally, ‘I wish Patsy, I only wish’’
Her deceased mother was the only person who understood her she says. ‘’she noticed I was different from the time I was a little girl playing football with the boys’’ A smile forms on Jay’s lips but I also see doubt clouding her eyes. I think about how proud her mother would be to see what an honorable, selfless and confident woman she has become. Despite being treated harshly in the past she has opened the door of her home to her sibling. She has been physically and emotionally abused but still believes in humanity. She was ostracized in her home town of Lira in Northern Uganda yet she returns after with the aptly named ‘hate me no more campaign’.
She is the Program Manager of LBTI (lesbian, Bisexual , Transgender and intersex) rights group Freedom and Roam Uganda [FARUG] an organization set up by a group of lesbians who were constantly harassed, insulted and discriminated by misinformed members of the society. They hope to help sisters who share their plight.
Along with other members of the group Jay sets out to educate the masses about their existence and also calls for tolerance and understanding and sexual orientation. They teach sex practices to curb increase in sexual diseases. They also discuss security measures to deal with emergencies and encourage one another in what seems like an endless struggle.
There shouldn’t be a single place in the world one is held captive in one’s own house. When Jay visits her home, she stays indoors most of the time for fear of causing trouble and endangering her life.
Uganda offers no protection for lesbians, gays , bisexuals, transgender and intersex persons. Lesbians are raped by their parents and siblings to ‘cure’ them of homosexuality, you are a criminal if you conceal information about homosexuals. It is touching meeting someone like Jay who has vow to bring social and political change in their communities – a person who is always looking forward to the future against all unjustified man made odds.
Call me naïve but am surprised when Jay talks of violence in lesbian relations. This is the first time I have heard of a woman thrashing a knife into her partners back in the heat of the moment. This is why there is need to recognize LGBTI rights in my community and country. Because such cases of abuse are left in the closet like sexuality is. The proposed Anti Homosexuality Bill 2009, will criminalize homosexuality and approve 25 years in prison up to life imprisonment. Every person should feel protected, not just a section of society. Jay also asks what gay rights are any way. ‘’There should be no such thing as gay rights. Its human rights!’’
Homosexuals demand the same rights stipulated for Ugandan citizens. They want unfair laws to be repealed, for those who spread homophobia to be held accountable, students to stop being expelled from school, families to stop disowning them and to be included in national HIV/AIDS programs and other empowering initiatives. When you are pushed up against a wall, sometimes all that is left to do is ask. Ask, ask and never stop hoping.
Jay is also very tough on some members of the LGBTI community for creating ‘’self made problems’’. She says they should be more careful with how they carry themselves as the laws are not so liberating and even straight people can’t afford public display of affection.
In a conservative culture like Uganda, most problems are caused by society’s assumptions stemming from luck of education and understanding of sexuality. People refuse to believe this is not a choice. This is why cases of termination from employment, expulsion and belittling homosexuals in school are still prevalent. Sometimes charity does begin at home and if children can be taught that not everyone is made the same way, it can come a long way in ensuring gay rights.
Jay’s goals are simple – to be happy, hopefully have a child someday, have proper medical care.
When I leave, I know I have made a friend and ally. This is my first interview and I come expecting a tale of triumph , but I ended up humbled by the story of a woman who chooses to stay optimistic in the face of struggles.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.