“I was always told by my mother to never lose hope” – In conversation with Edward Mutebi on Uganda’s anti-LGBTQIA+-laws

An interview taken from our new digital issue. Earlier this year, Uganda’s current President, Yoweri Museveni, signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2023 into law. While the country’s legal system already has severe penalties for same-sex conduct, including life imprisonment, though this is rarely enforced, the new Anti-Homosexuality Act goes even further, defining vague new offences such as the “promotion of homosexuality,” and introducing the death penalty for certain actions deemed “aggravated homosexuality.” Additionally, the law increases the prison term for attempted same-sex conduct to ten years.

To talk about this new law, KALTBLUT had a chat with “Let’s Walk Uganda’’s” founder, Edward Mutebi, an active advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community in Uganda and neighbouring countries. His organisation, “Let’s Walk Uganda”, is the first organisation openly dedicated to providing safe shelter for LGBTQIA+ individuals in the country without just offering shelter, but also helping the community – particularly the homeless – by teaching them skills for self-support.

Edward: My name is Edward Mutebi, and I’m the founding director of “Let’s Walk Uganda”, an LGBTQIA+ human rights organisation established in Uganda. I’m currently a resident of Germany, where I moved in 2018 to seek asylum after experiencing a series of persecutions and threats to my life during my tenure as an executive director. At the moment, I am in Nairobi, Kenya, working on my master’s degree thesis.

My activism is, of course, driven by the numerous challenges I faced as an individual while I was still living in Uganda. It is motivated by the desire to promote love and witness the flourishing of others’ lives without them being persecuted solely due to their sexuality.

KALTBLUT: Doing this work must be incredibly dangerous. How did you find the bravery to become an activist and advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights in Uganda?

Edward: I suppose the main thing leading me to start “Let’s Walk Uganda” was the personal persecution I endured. In 2014, I was arrested for the first time due to my sexuality and was blackmailed and detained for over 14 days. During my time in police custody, I was denied most of my rights. I was subjected to torture, and my mother was extorted; they forced her to provide money for my release.

This occurred when the initial anti-homosexuality law was enacted in 2013, which was later repealed in 2014. For the record, Uganda has passed two anti-homosexuality laws. The first was in 2013, and the most recent is the current one. While I eventually regained my freedom, there were no queer organisations I could reach out to for help during my detainment. I had no resources at my disposal.

By that time, unemployment and homelessness were rampant among the LGBTQIA+ community in Uganda. Additionally, accessing medical services was a struggle. We needed to establish an institution, which is why I created a grassroots organisation aimed at assisting the community with these issues.

Where did I find the courage? I shouldn’t have to witness such atrocities any longer, and I am determined to spare others from enduring the hardships I faced while in custody. I am resolute in preventing anyone else from being arrested, tortured, and extorted. Countries like Kenya and Ghana are also deliberating similar laws to those in Uganda. We find ourselves amidst a wave of homophobia, making it a challenging period to be an activist amidst such draconian legislation.

Fellow LGBTQIA+ people are even distancing themselves from other LGBTQIA+ people because they’re scared.

read the full interview here: 

Check out Edward’s work with Let’s Walk Uganda on their website at lwuganda.org or their Instagram account at @letswalkuganda.
Photos by Rick Burger @rickburgerphotography / www.rickburger.com