Uganda: “unveiled” gay activists and the invalid bill

The LGBT activist Sandra Ntebi at her home

The shameful anti-gay law in Uganda, condemning gays and lesbians to 14 years in prison and “recidivous” homosexuals to life imprisonment, is unconstitutional. This is the conviction of the judicial Court the African country: the law is invalid for some obvious and already well-known procedural flaws, because it was passed during a parliamentary session that lacked a quorum. Now the Ugandan government could appeal to the Supreme Court or the parliament could re-approve the law following the correct procedures. Meanwhile, the LGBT community celebrate, without going too far: despite the (temporary?) good news, gay and transgender people in Uganda still live a hard and hidden life, as the shots of Daniella Zalcman, photojournalist based in London and New York, tell us. Il Grande Colibrì interviewed her.

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How did your photographic project started? What made you interested in the rights of LGBT people in Uganda?

I came through Kampala in 2011 on my way to document the independence of South Sudan. While I was there for a couple weeks, I read that Uganda’s first and most prominent gay rights activist, David Kato, had recently been murdered. I reached out to the LGBT activist community and began a series of portraits of couples, which I thought was sorely lacking from the existing media coverage. I was careful to obscure the faces of anyone who wasn’t out to his or her family, coworkers, and so on.

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You have photographed many activists in Uganda through a double exposure, others are hidden behind curtains or “spied” through small holes: what message would you give with this stylistic choice?

At the time, I was very aware that while everyone I photographed had given me explicit permission to use their image in news outlets, it might not be safe or responsible to publicize their faces. So for all but the most visible activists, whose faces were already all over the Ugandan media, I did my best to obscure identity when possible. In addition to being practical and necessary it also makes a statement, I think — so many of these individuals have to keep themselves hidden and private to survive.

Beyonce "Double Lives"

Your pictures were made soon after the approval of the anti-gay bill: how did the daily lives of LGBT people changed after this bill?

These photos were all actually made after Parliament passed the bill but before President Museveni signed the bill into law — so there was the looming threat of further criminalization, but the LGBT community still had comparative freedom. After Museveni’s signature, everything was different. Kampala wasn’t a great place to be gay, but there was room for a couple LGBT bars and clubs, support meetings, and even Pride in 2012 and 2013. All of that had shut down.

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In Uganda, did you also exchange views with not homosexual people? What did ordinary people think of the bill invalidated today?

Yes — as a journalist I think it’s very important to get a real sense of what “average” people think even if you’re immersed in a specific community. I’ve read that over 90% of Ugandan supports the bill, which I believe, but I was surprised at how many people had more laissez faire attitudes towards sexual minorities in general. There were, of course, plenty of people who militantly supported the bill as a way to defend against a number of fictitious threats they’d been warned about by religious leaders — especially “recruitment” of their children).

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Pier
©2014 Il Grande Colibrì
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