Out in the World: Gay Ugandan activist blames government for stabbing

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Tuesday January 9, 2024
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Ugandan LGBTQ activist Steven Kabuye is treated at a hospital near Kampala on January 4 after he was attacked by unknown people. Photo: Hajarah Nalwadda/AP<br>
Ugandan LGBTQ activist Steven Kabuye is treated at a hospital near Kampala on January 4 after he was attacked by unknown people. Photo: Hajarah Nalwadda/AP

Prominent Ugandan gay activist Steven Kabuye blames the East African country's government for his being viciously stabbed by two unknown assailants.

On January 3, Kabuye, 25, was attacked by two unknown men wearing helmets riding a motorcycle while walking to work around 8 a.m., according to media reports. One of the men wielding a knife jumped off the motorcycle and slashed Kabuye's forearm, which he raised to defend himself, and then in the stomach before leaving the scene, according to police spokesperson, Patrick Onyango, reported the Advocate. They did not rob him. The assailant meant to stab Kabuye in his neck, Onyango said. Kabuye captured part of the assault on video with his mobile phone that was posted to X. The video has since been taken down.

Ugandan police have not announced arrests of the assailants by press time. It is unclear if the police are considering the incident as a hate crime.

Kabuye is the editor of Coloured Voices Media Foundation, the Ugandan LGBTQ magazine, and co-executive director of the queer organization Coloured Voice Truth to LGBTQ.

Ugandan gay rights activist Hans Senfuma told the Washington Post it's believed the assailants followed Kabuye for several days.

Senfuma, advocacy officer of Colored Voice Truth to LGBTQ, told Pink News the attack happened a month after Kabuye returned to Uganda from Kenya. Kabuye went into exile due to death threats last March. He feared someone would try to kill him, reported the Advocate.

Media outlets reported neighbors discovered Kabuye. He was immediately taken to a nearby hospital where he underwent emergency surgery, reported the Advocate. There was no damage to any of his organs, according to the Washington Blade. Kabuye is now recovering in the hospital.

President Joe Biden denounced the attack. An unidentified State Department spokesperson called on Uganda's government to investigate the crime and persecute the perpetrators, reported the Blade.

"We call on the government of Uganda to investigate this assault, as it would every other violent assault, and to prosecute those responsible to the full extent of the law," the spokesperson told the Blade in a statement.

Kabuye told the Associated Press from his hospital bed that politicians "are using the LGBTQ+ community as a scapegoat to move people away from what is really happening in the country."

Gay activist Frank Mugisha, who is the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, agreed with Kabuye. He blamed Uganda's government for exacerbating the conservative country's hate against queer and transgender people, telling Reuters, "The deep hate for sexual minorities that the law unleashed created an atmosphere in which such attacks are happening."

SMUG, an umbrella organization for a coalition of Uganda's LGBTQ groups, was ordered to cease to exist in 2022, the Bay Area Reporter previously reported.

The activists referred to more than 15 years of increasing anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, political interference, and financial backing of a campaign of hate that culminated in the enactment of the Anti-Homophobia Act 2023 last May, the B.A.R. reported. American evangelical and conservatives have fueled some of the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and provided funds.

Last April, Sharon Slater, founder and president of Family Watch International, funded and spoke at a conference where Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni called on African countries to save Africa from homosexuality, as the B.A.R. reported. In October, Congressman Tim Walberg (R-Michigan) defended the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 at the National Prayer Breakfast Uganda, reported the Blade.

Biden condemned the law when Museveni signed it in May. His administration has since withdrawn millions of dollars in funding and revoked visas for key Ugandan politicians connected to the law. The World Bank also withdrew billions in financial support to Uganda.

Homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda, which retained the British colonial-era law when it gained independence and joined the Commonwealth in 1962. The controversial law increased the punishment of LGBTQ people and supporters from long jail terms up to death for "aggravated homosexuality."

LGBTQ Ugandans and queer and transgender people in other African countries are under severe attack with politicians' anti-gay rhetoric, draconian anti-gay bills proposed in legislatures, and vigilante assaults on LGBTQ people. Burundi's president, Évariste Ndayishimiye, capped off 2023 by stating gay people should be rounded up and stoned to death in sports stadiums, reported LGBTQ Nation.

The year also saw gay Ethiopian men being violently attacked following TikTok videos calling for LGBTQ people to be stripped naked, publicly whipped, and burned to death, reported the AP. Ghana is considering its own draconian anti-LGBTQ bill and Kenya is upset by the Supreme Court's decision to allow LGBTQ organizations to register with the government, the B.A.R. reported.

Last month, Uganda's highest court received written arguments challenging the new law, reported the B.A.R. Activists are waiting for a decision.

Whatever the court's decision, LGBTQ Ugandan activists say the damage is done. Uganda's government is standing by the law. Queer and transgender Ugandans have little faith that the situation will improve.

Nicholas Opiyo of Chapter Four, a Ugandan civil rights group, told The Guardian, "The damage has been done. People have been militarized against the LGBTQ+ community. There is complete social terror. So whether the law is upheld or nullified by the courts, that will do very little to change the now deeply-rooted exclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals in Uganda."

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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