We live in an amazing time. Currently, LGBT activists worldwide fight to protect our community and individuality. One of these people is Pepe Julian Onziema – an inspiring activist from Kampala, Uganda who has been pushing back against oppressive anti-gay laws.
Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act
In Uganda, it is illegal to identify as gay or as a sexual minority. While homosexuality was marginalized and technically illegal for many years, it was until 2009 that the Anti-Homosexuality Act was passed. This legislation punishes offenders with harsh penalties for identifying as GLBT, one of which is a maximum 14 years in prison.
As you can imagine, the anti-gay laws in Uganda have dramatically affected the GLBTQ community. The laws encourage prejudice against citizens who identify as a sexual minority, many of whom have suffered violence, evictions, and exclusion from society. Even if a Ugandan citizen engages in “homosexual” acts outside of the country, they can be extradited back to Uganda for punishment.
In addition to legalizing homophobia, the High Court in Uganda also made it illegal to conduct HIV prevention activities, including the distribution of condoms and educating at-risk populations.
Pepe Julian Onziema and SMUG
Pepe Julian Onziema recognized the injustice of the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) and has become the primary advocate for the GLBT community in Uganda, fighting the homophobia and discrimination the AHA has made legal.
As the programs director at Sexual Minorities Uganda, Pepe Julian Onziema has filed petitions to challenge the legality of the AHA and continues to be an advocate for his community in Uganda. As a trans man, his goal is to make Uganda a safe place for sexual minorities.
In addition to risking their personal safety, the discrimination against the GLBT population has made it difficult for Uganda’s sexual minorities to access the education and materials needed for HIV prevention.
But, Pepe Julian Onziema has hope. He has filed a petition challenging the AHA as unconstitutional. Uganda’s constitution provides the right to equality, which the AHA directly contradicts.
Hope for the Future
Since the law was passed in February of 2014, many individuals have been prosecuted for identifying as GLBT. But, as Pepe Julian Onziema notes, the extreme punishments have not been enacted. Many of the cases have been dropped, or the sentences deferred.
But, this hasn’t stopped the force of homophobia. Mob violence and discrimination is common, and many Pepe continues to act as an advocate and counselor for members of his community who suffer with depression and anxiety. Pepe refuses to compromise her identity and is an inspiration to us all –“I have a right to life. I have a right to health. I am not my sexuality, I am a human being. My sexuality, my identity, are part of me being human.”