Can you tell us more about yourself?
My name is Atwine Isabella. I was born on the 4th of October 1988 in Uganda and I am currently the Treasurer of Uganda Gay on the Move. After facing persecution from my very own country, I was helped to flee and requested for asylum in the Netherlands, where I am currently a resident of AZC Dronten. I first discovered about my sexuality at the age of about 14, when I was in high school. At first I thought it was abnormal, because they had always taught us that a girl can only be attracted to the opposite sex and vice versa. At that age, I was confused because my body was telling me something totally different from what the teacher said. I met this girl in school and we started dating, discovering our bodies and I realised I was really into her. However, on one unfortunate day, we were caught by the matron and that was the beginning of my pain. We were terribly punished, humiliated in front of the whole school and worse – expelled from school. For fear of what was to follow, I ran away from my aunt’s house and went to my grandmother. But my family followed me there, forcing my grandmother to cast me away, saying that I was a demon’s child and that I should go and look for my dad. And this is the day I got to know that the person I thought was my mom was actually my grandmother, and these were not my sister or brothers but instead my aunts and uncles. Discovering my sexuality has been a gradual process and it has put me in more trouble than I can say, since homosexuality is not recognised in the African culture. But this is not something I just chose, this is involuntary. No matter how many times I tried to hide and constrict myself, at the end of the day, my feelings always surfaced at the top.
What is it like to live as an LGBT in Uganda?
Living life as an LGBT in Uganda is one of the hardest things ever. You live a very closeted life and have to be very careful who you speak to, what you talk about, what you do and where you do it. It is basically living like a thief. You have to watch your every move to the extent that you even get afraid of your own shadow. There is just so far you can go to hide what you are because sooner or later, the real you will be revealed. You cannot deny the way you were created. So your life becomes a life of lies. Once you come out of the closet, you face many risks which include rejection from your family, loss of your job, which is your livelihood, gang rape, denial of your rights to medical services, mob justice, imprisonment, torture and even death. The media instigate the public against us, the “church” who is welcoming wrong judges and condemns us. Even the very people who are sworn to serve and protect us are out for our lives. One very powerful politician even once said that “thieves or rapists are better than homosexuals.” Even if I had decided to be in the closet forever, people would still be questioning me, because as a woman, I groomed from childhood and am expected by society to have a husband and children. So if this should not happen in the near future, then questions start to arise. Besides, how am I expected to hide who I was created to be forever?
Are there any organisations in Uganda that support the LGBT community?
Back in Uganda, I used to hear about SMUG, but I had no idea where they operated from or how to meet them and possibly get help. But now that I am here in the Netherlands, I have heard of a couple of organisations in Uganda that are fighting for LGBT rights.
However, the problem to address here is that even though these organisations do exist, they cannot really serve as they should because they are being suffocated by the government and have to work underground. It is like a rose trying to grow up in a thorn bush. With this problem at hand, a simple person at the grass root levels may not be able to reach these organisiations, benefit from their services or even be aware of their existence.
What is Uganda Gay On Move?
Uganda Gay on Move was initially an idea of two people: Moses and Julius. However, in September 2013, it was turned into an advocacy for human rights – especially the LGBTI’s. This took place in AZC Dronten with about fifty people in attendance and with the help of mentors and advisors.
Social transformations and community development can only occur in a society that is just, free from all forms of oppression, and is culturally dynamic. This is what Uganda Gay on Move advocates for.
The struggle is hard and the journey is so rough, but we dream of a world where everyone will be equal and has a voice. Not only here in Europe but also back at home in Africa, like Uganda, where many LGBTI’s are being oppressed.
Do any international organisations do anything to support LGBT’s in Uganda?
As I said earlier, I have only heard of these organisations while here in the Netherlands, but when I was in Uganda, I knew nothing of their existence. And that is the problem; bridging the gap between the average person and the lowest person at the grass root levels. But how can they do this and provide all their services to even the lowest person if the government will not protect them? They keep shifting from one place to the other and work underground.
So I think that as much as it hard for us to access their help, it is hard for them too to carry out their operations successfully with all these interruptions.
What are your plans regarding LGBT’s here in the Netherlands?
When I had just come to the Netherlands, I was afraid. I had been tortured physically and mentally. Worse still, my asylum request was denied by the IND and I was given 28 days to leave the country. I had no one to talk to and always stayed closeted in my room. To make matters worse, I got some bad news and I felt like the world had come crushing down.
When I went to the first meeting of UGOM, it was like a joke. I had thought to myself “let’s just go and see what these guys have to say.” So I fearfully attended the meeting. But when I arrived there, I found people like myself, who had gone through the same things I had gone through and we really had serious issues to solve and debate upon. I felt encouraged and supported because who better to talk to than someone who has walked in your own shoes? I still have a long way to go, but right now I am more relaxed, out and aware of my rights as a LGBTI human being.
So we hope to unite, support, council, encourage and give awareness to the LGBTI community. To tell them that we have been there, we know what you have gone through and are still going through. But there is light at the end of the tunnel.