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“Am I Alive?”: What Happens When You’re Outed As A Homosexual in Uganda

Irakowze* is a twenty-year-old living in Kampala, Uganda, where homosexuality is a crime punishable from 3 years to life in prison. He has been hiding ever since being “outed” by Uganda’s The Red Pepper, a notoriously violent and homophobic publication. He was unaware that the newspaper had been illegally downloading and publishing pictures from his Facebook profile – painting a large dangerous target upon his existence.

One day, as he was walking in public, Irakowze was surrounded by a mob and brutally beaten. Following this incident, he attempted to flee from the city, but was soon stalked down and violently attacked again, forcing him to return back to Kampala. Soon the situation became so extreme that he was unable to leave home. This is his story.

[*Real name not disclosed for reasons of personal safety]

At least if I die, you will know something about my life. You will have something to say at my funeral. Sometimes I wake up, and I think I am dead. I have to actually let my consciousness settle for a moment. I am not sure if I am scared of being dead, of dying in my sleep. It would be peaceful, and I would be free of the nightmare I am living in now.

Then I get up. I look around at walls. The headache starts anew. It is the dull painful pressure of the small walls of my flat (that I have been hiding in) pushing inwards. Imagine your vision narrowing and narrowing, till it appears as if you are looking through a funnel – embedded in darkness, with a tiny opening at the end for light.

I see the world now through bars on windows, chased back to a hiding place. I am in a prison. I have been socially convicted of a crime worse than the nightmares of waking up dead – I was born Gay. I had no choice in the matter. I was born as Gay as the people murdered in a nightclub in Orlando. I am as Gay as the LGBTQ+ flags held by activists in India fighting Section 377. I am as LGBTQ as the Transgender woman murdered last week in Turkey.

We are the collective outlaws and ghosts of histories that will be rewritten, and our omissions, pain, oppression, repression, marginalization, and our battles to live, will all be written in statistics. That is where I am right now. I am between life and a statistic. I wonder when my family, who had fled to Uganda from Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, where 800,000 existences became statistics – if they knew when they exiled me from their home at sixteen years old for being Gay, that I would become a statistic too.

I don’t think my parents knew that, like them, I would have to fight to survive. I walked miles, to the Ugandan capital Kampala, carrying only a small bag containing my belongings. I survived hunger. One night of hunger can only be summarized in an entire existence of hours and day – long seconds passing into withering existence. I survived sexual exploitation by European tourists, men who were two to three times my sixteen-, seventeen-, and eighteen-year-old body. I survived the nights of wondering if this was all that life offered. I survived the nights where the voice of the earth responded to my “Why me?” with “How dare you! You’re still alive!” I transformed my entire existence into a passion for preservation. I lived out my dream of being a stylist in East Africa Fashion Week.

Now, my existence, passion and survival are in question. I was on my way to making it past survival, when I was identified and “outed” in The Red Pepper – a chronicle of homophobic rage published daily in Uganda. There was my picture, shared from my Facebook profile without my permission, on a printed page.

I made it! I didn’t know I had made it, when the men that I hadn’t noticed were following me, grabbed me in a market. Two men held me up, while the rest took turns punching me, kicking me and spitting on me. My blood dripped onto the dirt like a mural, defiling my existence. I watched each drop, as if each second was an eternity of starvation.

The last punch that I remember sent me out of the grip of the two men who were holding up my limp body. On the floor, between existence, survival, nightmare and a statistic, I felt a foot kick into my chest. I must be still alive, because I felt it. One man reached into my pocket and said, “Now we can find you anytime, homosexual.” as he took my wallet. I survived, as they ran off.

I survived several more of those.

My phone would go off day and night, “We know where you are, dirty homosexual.” Ring after startling ring. “We see you in the ripped jeans, we’re going to skin your homosexual ass.” I survived because I looked out the window first. I survived looking both ways, backwards and forwards. I survived because I would be home before dark. I walked out one morning forgetting that I made it, and survived to see men waiting for me. I went back into the house. I decided I am leaving. I left. They stalked me. That Facebook image and that paper followed me. Isn’t making it wonderful?

I was brutally beaten again, this time close to death. I wanted to call the police, because being imprisoned for being a homosexual was better than surviving as a homosexual in the social prison of Uganda. Then I remembered the stories of what it was like to be serving time in prison for being a homosexual.

I decided to survive again. A friend took me in, and I have been inside ever since I walked in the door. Now I look at freedom through the funnel of a window, between walls caving in. Tomorrow, I will be moved to a new prison. I will look through life through a new window. The day after tomorrow, I will be transported again and again; I will see freedom through the funnel of a new window every day.

I might become a statistic tomorrow. I may become one the day after. I am twenty years old. I have a name that I cannot say. A breath inwardly that exits outwardly, second by second, of an impossible existence.

Am I alive?


Price of Silence and Pride Uganda Still Stands is working on Urgent Action #Rights4Irakowze, a campaign demanding asylum for Irawkowze in Canada.

Sign, share, and demand justice for Irakowze: https://www.change.org/p/justin-trudeau-asylum-for-anonymous

Edited by Siddhesh Gooptu

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