- February 6, 2014
Post submitted by Chloe Stokes, HRC Digital Media Intern.
Tadej Žnidarčič, a Ugandan-based photographer, began his project,“We are Here, We are Gay, and We are Ugandans,” in 2010, aiming to give voice to members of the gay community in Uganda.
Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda, and being publicly gay can result in job discrimination, harassment, arrest, and beatings. In 2009, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which included the death penalty as punishment, was introduced into the Ugandan Parliament. The Bill faced great opposition from human rights organizations and western countries, and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni even distanced himself from the Bill. On December 20, 2013, the Bill was passed by the Parliament of Uganda, with the death penalty proposal replaced with life imprisonment.
Earlier this month, more than 70 members of Congress sent a letter to President Museveni urging him to reject the bill. HRC has dedicated many resources to exposing the connection between anti-LGBT activism in the United States and anti-LGBT laws in places such as Uganda. Through the Global Engagement Program, HRC works with peer advocates in several countries to fight for a world where there is true LGBT equality.
Žnidarčič began a series of portraits and interviews LGBT activists in 2010, through which the participants could express their opinions on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, of homosexuality in their country, and their own personal stories. None of the participants wanted to be identified in their portraits, so they were all photographed from behind in 2010.
The series continued in 2013, as Žnidarčič revisited many of the initial participants of the project. Many decided to be photographed from the front rather than behind as they had done before. “Despite the risks,” Žnidarčič said, “they are now willing to face the world.”
In Sam’s 2010 interview, he expressed his fears over the introduction of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, stating that if it passed, he and other activists “will be the first ones arrested. They know us.” He discussed his own experiences with the law, and described how he was treated by Ugandan police once a man who he had recently come out to told them he was gay.
“They were humiliating and pushing me with the gun. They told me the guy wanted 1.5 million shillings. I had 15,000 in my wallet. They took it. I said I could raise only 300,000. It was money that I got to pay my brother’s schools fees.”
In his 2013 interview, it was obvious that Sam had become much more assertive and empowered in his activism, despite the continued risks in his country.
“If people ask me [about my sexuality], I say, ‘Yes, I am [gay]. Do you have a problem with that? What can I help you with?… We should talk about malaria corruption. Why are we looking at gay issue and not at serious issues?’ When you have that conversation, they start doubting what they were told about you. I’ve won over so many people like that.”
In 2010, John discussed the issues he faced with his family, as well as his own personal acceptance.
“My family, they all know, but they never speak about it, except my sister and my cousin. Especially since the article came out in the Red Pepper and my nephews were running around with the paper. My younger sister asked me. I first said no, but then with the article, I said yes. She said a lover of hers asked her about it and then the relationship ended because of it. The family distanced itself from me, it went on for about five years.”
After facing the issue with his family, and eventually facing discrimination from the Ugandan police, John was finally able to accept himself, even in the face of the hatred he experienced daily.
“I accepted myself when I was 25. I had this partner, friend. He told me, ‘If what you do makes you happy, then go ahead and do it.’ I didn’t get it at first. Later I rephrased it. ‘If being gay makes you happy, then do it.’”
During his interview in 2013, John expressed how his life has changed, and how the support he was received has helped him through his challenges.
“Living the life you should has motivated me. Each day I get friend requests, messages from the world over. That has encouraged me.”
In 2010, Sandra articulated her opinion on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, stating that if it were to pass, she would lose her job and be forced to go back into the closet.
“In the bill, they mixed homosexuality with rape, assault. They can’t compare us to animals, witch doctors, rapists. We are normal people who love each other. We’re not here by choice.”
She further discussed the difficulties she faced in her own town and with her family.
“In bars, people insult me. We play pool and they say, ‘Are you a man or girl?’ They want to fight me, threaten to rape me. A few years ago my stepmother saw me on TV when we had a workshop. When I came back home she was insulting me, making fun of me. She even went to my landlord, told her to send away ‘this evil.’ I had to hide for some days, until the [lesbian] organization found me another place. I wasn’t ready for that.”
Sandra’s 2013 interview reflects the empowerment that she gained over the last three years, as she discusses her refusal to submit to violence and cruelty against homosexuals.
“If Bill is passed will I run? Kill myself? I’ll maybe go to the police to arrest me to protect me from mob justice. And then for how long? I will not change. Will I be in jail for hundred years? They say arrest them…but how many? They don’t have enough resources to arrest everyone.”
Her statements reflect the purpose of Žnidarčič’s project, as her two interviews demonstrate the voice she gained throughout her activism.
“We are here, we are gay and we are Ugandans, no matter if Bill passes or not. They will not kill everyone if it passes. The Bill is not the end of the gay movement. People will still advocate for gay rights underground.”
Žnidarčič has conveyed his amazement with the changing lives of his participants, noting that in their second interviews, “they showed much more confidence and empowerment.”
“Considering the situation regarding the Bill here is far from resolved, it’s great to see their resolve.” Žnidarčič said.
The photo series demonstrates the progress that has been made in Uganda, but more importantly, brings to light the work that is left to do. "We are Here, We are Gay, and We are Ugandans" has given a voice to several Ugandans who are participating in the LGBT movement, and artists like Žnidarčič are essential in speaking out against oppressive laws like the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. We hope that people across the globe stand up for LGBT equality, in Uganda and worldwide, so that one day we can all live freely and equally.
If you're in the Washington, D.C area, please join HRC and the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law for a day of action in solidarity with the LGBT community of Uganda. RSVP now.