John Abdallah Wambere left Uganda to visit Boston in February 2014 on a simple mission: to spread information that his home country was persecuting LGBTQ individuals at an alarming and terrifying rate. He arrived in the states with three pairs of jeans, two pairs of shoes, and four shirts. Little did he know that his life would totally and completely change in a matter of moments: he’d be a wanted man in Uganda for no other reason than the fact that he was gay.
Three days after he arrived, Wambere woke in the middle of the night to a series of messages on his phone: Yoweri Museveni, the President of Uganda, signed an anti-homosexual bill into law, which essentially allows the Ugandan government to treat gay individuals as animals. Needless to say, he couldn’t fall back asleep.
“There has been harassment, arrests, parading of suspects before the media, blackmail, extortion, loss of jobs, and even public undressing to confirm if a person is a man or a woman,” said Wambere.
What has made matters worse for Wambere is that his name has been specifically attacked in Ugandan news outlets for his activism. Of note, Martin Ssempa, the vehemently anti-gay pastor who rejects the separation of church and state, has publically condemned Wambere on the radio.
Unfortunately, things have not improved whatsoever in Wambere’s native Uganda—there’s a lack of shelter, food, water, and health services for LGBTQ individuals, and mob violence is rising daily. He admits he’d be “lingering in prison” if it wasn’t for his refuge in the states.
“I fear more people will silently die due to the lack of proper health care services, increased stigma, and poor nutrition,” he said. “More people will be targeted by the police and will become victims of blackmail and extortion.”
For those who wish to assist the gay population in Uganda, Wambere suggests following the efforts of Spectrum Uganda, a non-government organization that focuses on the LGBTQ community in his native country. He claims the institution works on the grassroots level to provide emergency care for those who are displaced.
The need is urgent, said Wambere, and the message is rather stark.
“Unless something is done to curb or stop religious fundamentalists from traveling and spreading hate and homophobia amongst nations, we are going to see a genocide in Africa based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”