By Austin Bryan
In 2014, Rihanna, a 22 year-old transgender woman living in Kampala, Uganda was arrested and jailed under Section 145 of the Ugandan Penal Code Act for having “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” — or simply put, for being LGBTQ.
“We were still sleeping; it was approaching 6:30am. The landlord said ‘you people get ready for what’s coming.’ We heard people screaming outside. We opened the door and the chairmen, journalists, police, and people from around were there. They said ‘Get out!’ ‘Remove all your things!’ ‘We wont tolerate gay people in our area.’ It was mob justice; they beat us badly. That’s even how I got this wound,” Rihanna said.
Rihanna’s story is one of many Ugandan LGBTQ individuals being archived in a new research and documentation project. Her story and thousands more represent the struggle for equal human rights of sexual and gender minorities in the country. Because many political, cultural, and religious leaders believe that LGBTQ Ugandans are “un-African” and do not exist, it is important to document the vast gender and sexual diversity in the country.
Several local activists working in Uganda have decided to create a multi-media research and documentation project, called I Am Other, with the goal of recording the lives and stories of LGBTQ Ugandans across the country. This will generate the first online visual archive of the daily lives of LGBTQ Ugandans and serve as another tool for local activists to fight for their human rights as LGBTQ persons.
This project aims to change the narrative and start a positive conversation about LGBTQ Ugandans. It hopes to empower and validate an invisible community that is often faced with ridicule and rejection by calling to attention the successes, triumphs, and hardships they face, bare testimony and honor victims and survivors of homophobia and transphobia.
The project is a part of Queer Collective, a new arts initiative with the goal of creating a space for queer artists working in east Africa to come together and share their work locally, nationally, and internationally. Queer collective aims to empower and validate LGBTQ artists by providing education and mentorship programs that will improve their craft and enable them to become economically self-sustaining vessels of social change.
The team has created a crowd funding campaign, which is running from 8th November to 8th December, to raise money to travel to the most remote regions of Uganda and to document the stories of sexual and gender minorities. To view more stories of LGBTQ Ugandans that have already been documented under the project, please visit our Facebook page or website.
All images are from the “I Am Other” project of the Queer Collective. Photo courtesy of the Queer Collective.
Austin Bryan is an American graphic designer turned visual anthropologist currently living in Kampala, Uganda conducting fieldwork for “Compulsory Passing” – an ethnography on the LGBTQ / kuchu community. He is working with local activists in Kampala to document the sexual and gender diversity in Uganda for “I Am Other.”