Simon Lokodo: Reread the Ugandan Constitution, Pride is not illegal

Yesterday the opening night of Uganda Pride 2017 was cancelled after the Ugandan Minister of Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo, deployed Uganda Police at the event venue, threatened to arrest those expected to attend and “physically harm” a prominent LGBT activist.

Needless to say, many in the Ugandan LGBT community were disappointed, angry, and frightened. As Grace Wanjiru, my friend and Ugandan LGBT activist said, “Even tears can’t remove the lump in my threat right now. A mere cocktail bannange [oh my god]?”

Lokodo, the anti-LGBT pastor, turned homophobia poster-child, has a fiery passion to criminalize essentially everything he deems “immoral” in Uganda (the growing list includes, mini-skirts, “promoting homosexuality,” and even an allegedly “gay” cartoon character).

On top of advocating that heterosexual child-rape is more “natural” than homosexuality (yes, it’s on video) Lokodo not surprising doesn’t seem to understand the Constitution of Uganda.

At Sexual Minorities Uganda, activists spend day-in and day-out educating members of the LGBT community to “know your rights” ensured by the Constitution of Uganda. Perhaps Lokodo needs the same refresher.

Freedom of Assembly and Association in Uganda

Article 29(1)(d) and (e) of the Ugandan Constitution guarantee that:

  1. Every person shall have a right to freedom to assemble and to demonstrate together with others peacefully and unarmed, and to petition.
  2. Every person shall have freedom of association, which shall include the freedom to form and join associations or unions, including trade unions and political and other civic organisations.

Freedom of Expression in Uganda

Article 29 of the Constitution of Uganda 1995, guarantees that every person has a right to:

  1. Freedom of speech and expression which shall include freedom of the press and other media.
  2. Freedom of thought, conscience and belief, which shall include academic freedom in institutions of learning.

With these two Articles, and the international charters on human rights by which Uganda is bound, Lokodo has (again) not only stripped away the human rights of LGBT Ugandans but also made Uganda even less democratic than it already was.

However, one thing is clear: LGBT Ugandans, and their allies know the constitution much better than Simon Lokodo.

Last year after Uganda Police arrested and brutalized LGBT activists at Uganda Pride 2016, Lokodo cited that the event was not “cleared by the Uganda Police Force” and was “against the laws of the Republic of Uganda; specifically the Penal Code, which is built on precedents, set in many other countries.”

However, ridiculous and false the statement was, Frank Mugshia’s response after being arrested, thrown into a police car, and held in Prison, is more relevant today than ever, “While gay sex is illegal in Uganda, going to a nightclub with friends for a party is not.”

In fact no where in the Constitution is it written that “homosexuality” or being “gay” is illegal. Instead, a colonial-era law proscribing crimes “against the order of nature,” common in many former colonial states, is the only rationale used to make consensual same-sex interactions illegal.

This has been used to justify arrest and torture toward sexual and gender minorities by both state and non-state actors. In 2015 I was a part of the team at Sexual Minorities Uganda which documented 264 cases of such abuse across the country.

But what exactly is a crime “against the order of nature?” Even if we understand it as making consensual same-sex (or same-gender) interactions in Uganda illegal, that doesn’t make identifying as “lesbian”, “gay,” “bisexual,” “transgender,” “intersex” or “kuchu” illegal — and it most certainly does not make hosting a cocktail party illegal either.

Unfortunately, as for now, crimes “against the order of nature” appears only to be (depending on the day) whatever Lokodo decides it to be.

Sexual Minorities Uganda reported that Lokodo had communicated to activists about the Pride events weeks prior, telling them, “You can have your activities, but remember I do not want promotion, recruitment, and exhibition.”

I am not sure which kind of cocktail parties Simon Lokodo is attending, but usually they don’t include sex.

Of course, Lokodo changed his mind faster than the weather changes in Uganda, which is why Sexual Minorities Uganda rightfully called it a “wicked stab in the back.”

However, Lokodo would be mistaken if he thinks this in any way is going to stop Ugandan LGBT activists from fighting for their rights — many having experienced far worse, will only be stronger now and fighting back harder.