Katie G. Nelson
Public Radio International
More than a dozen armed police officers shut down Uganda’s fifth annual gay pride celebration on Saturday — the second major government crackdown on the gay community since August.
Yet, gay rights activists said the raid at a private beach resort outside Kampala marked one of the most important moments in their careers.
“In the 19 years I’ve been doing this work, today is the day I’m most proud of,” said Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, a Ugandan activist.
Uganda is one of at least 34 African countries where homosexuality is illegal, with mandatory sentences of life in prison for anyone engaging in sexual intercourse “against the order of nature.”
Saturday marked the second attempt by gay rights activists to hold the annual gay pride event; police forcibly shut down the original celebration in August. They were accused of beating, groping and fondling participants at that event, and they arrested several prominent gay rights activists, including Nabagesera.
Still, activists were determined to try again, even if it meant risking jail time.
“I just wanted to feel myself, to enjoy my life and be free,” said Mart Jason while en route to Saturday's celebration at a beach resort in Entebbe. “What I can say is this: These Ugandan police are nothing because we have the power, we have the strength and we have the security.”
But less than half an hour into the second attempt at Pride Uganda 2016, two trucks carrying armed police officers arrived on the scene. Officers quickly shut down the event, forcing about 100 attendees to abandon their volleyball games and half-eaten picnics and return to Kampala.
Transgender women were still clutching green plastic bags filled with sequined dresses and bright makeup as they re-boarded buses; barred from wearing their carefully selected outfits for the drag show competition later that afternoon.
“We have religious groups that come here. We have students that come here. We have families that come here. So why shouldn’t we come here? We are Ugandans after all,” said Nabagesera. “We are here. We will remain here. We will not be intimidated."
Police officers cited “orders from above” as their reason for shutting down the festivities. It was unclear if the gathering was actually illegal.
But the Pride Uganda celebration continued, with a new party roaring late into the night at a dimly lit bar in Kampala.
“I thought there would be 10 people — I never expected so many people to come,” remarked Shawn, who helped coordinate this year’s event. He did not want his last name published.
“To me, this is pride. This is the true definition of defiance to me.”