Despite taking a month-long break for the holidays beginning December 14, Uganda’s Parliament will once again consider the Anti-Homosexuality Bill when it reconvenes in 2013. Religious leaders in Uganda are already stoking the homophobic flames, issuing public New Year’s prayers that call for the bill’s passage as a way to protect children from being "recruited" into the "sin" of homosexuality.
As it stands, the so-called Kill the Gays bill would prescribe the death penalty for some LGBT Ugandans, including "repeat offenders" and anyone who has same-sex relations with a minor, with someone who is mentally handicapped, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The bill demands long prison terms for those spared capital punishment and requires friends, family, and neighbors to report any "known homosexuals" to authorities or face jail time themselves.
But despite potential passage of the bill and a hostile environment stoked to an ideological inferno by American evangelicals proselytizing in Eastern Africa, Ugandan LGBTI people have a simple message: We are here. We are Ugandan. We will not be silenced.
American-born photographer D. David Robinson first traveled to Uganda in 2008, and while living and working in Uganda for the past year, he found himself welcomed into the small but vibrant LGBTI community. Robinson’s new friends repeatedly told him their experiences were not visible in media commentary, even within Uganda. Together they decided to document their lives through photos and first-person stories, shared with the world in order to elevate the voices of these oft-silenced people — a brave and dangerous move in a country where coming out could soon get you a death sentence.
“This is a project of intimate storytelling,” says Robinson, himself a gay man. “It is not political, even if these individuals are activists and human rights defenders in Uganda. These are personal stories, and obviously just a small window onto each person’s experience of discovering their sexual orientation and learning to survive and thrive in the country they love.”
The lensman says he hopes everyone will see that the Ugandans in these photos are not victims; they are human rights leaders. And they are profoundly human: at once vulnerable, resilient, flawed, and creative.
“Even though many Ugandan government and religious leaders have abandoned them, these Ugandans have not abandoned their country or their faith. Above all, they are proud to be Ugandans,” says Robinson.
Robinson collected first-person stories and photographed 12 LGBTI Ugandans, all featured on the following pages. Click through to see the striking photos and read first-person stories that could only be told by those who live them daily.