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Interview with a Ugandan Trans Advocate: Impact of Anti-LGBTQ+ Laws

Uganda gained international attention this week when its Constitutional Court upheld a significant portion of a severe law that would enforce the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.” However, for LGBTQ+ activists in Uganda, the looming threat extends beyond just the death penalty. In the past 15 years, Ugandan authorities have been striving to broaden the scope of criminalizing homosexuality and strengthen punitive measures. With each reinforcement of homophobia in the legal system, there is a tacit endorsement for violence against the vulnerable LGBTQ+ community in the country, fostering a culture of homophobic fervor.

In the aftermath of the court ruling, JURIST interviewed Liz,* a social worker and advocate for transgender rights in Kampala. Liz has dedicated her life to providing resources and support to transgender individuals in Uganda, drawing from her own struggles with gender identity and expression.

From early childhood, Liz identified as a girl, facing various negative reactions including disapproval, rejection, and even encounters with law enforcement due to her gender expression. Despite enduring decades of abuse, Liz exudes courage in every word she speaks. Her fears in Uganda extend beyond the recent court decision allowing the death penalty for homosexuality; she is apprehensive about the broader societal attitudes.

Liz highlighted the correlation between the introduction of anti-LGBTQ+ laws and a surge in violence within the community. These laws not only lead to physical violence but also fuel verbal abuse and cyberbullying against individuals perceived to be LGBTQ+. The legislation serves to embolden the community to target and harm those they suspect of being gay or transgender.

Growing up amidst societal prejudice, Liz faced challenges in understanding and expressing her gender identity. Despite lacking support and resources, Liz gradually embraced her identity as a trans woman during her university years, finding solace in a supportive community of like-minded individuals.

Today, Liz works tirelessly as a social worker and mentor, assisting transgender individuals who have faced familial rejection, health issues, and mental health struggles. She operates a shelter for homeless trans women, providing vital support in a hostile environment. Despite facing multiple arrests related to her advocacy work, Liz remains steadfast in her commitment to empowering the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda.

As Uganda’s anti-homosexuality laws become increasingly stringent, Liz and her community confront heightened risks and challenges. Despite the threats and pressures, Liz continues to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, emphasizing the importance of international support and urging local authorities to reconsider their discriminatory practices.

In the face of adversity, Liz remains resolute, recognizing the urgency of her advocacy work and the critical need for societal change. She remains hopeful that sustained international pressure and collective efforts can bring about positive transformation in Uganda’s treatment of the LGBTQ+ community.