By Alexis Okeowo

"Can you imagine that the worst place in the world to be gay is having Gay
Pride?" Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera asked a crowd of cheering gay men,
lesbians, transgendered men and women, and queers somewhere in between. It was
Saturday afternoon, and we were on the shores of the giant, cloudy Lake
Victoria in the Ugandan city of Entebbe, where L.G.B.T. activists had decided
to stage the country's first Pride Parade. Nabagesera, a lesbian activist
covered, for the occasion, in glitter and neon spray paint, with homemade angel
wings, was being half-sarcastic. A barrage of media coverage has painted the
country as a hell for gays—a place where they are suffering and being attacked
constantly—and, despite the need to combat such threats, L.G.B.T. Ugandans were
tired of hearing a story that ignored their nuanced experiences of both joy and
hardship. But Nabagesera was also sincerely pleased: a crowd of nearly a
hundred people had come out, fears of arrest notwithstanding, to celebrate
their existence. The air was thick with confetti, paint fumes, and
I've spent a couple of months this year working on a story about gay rights
here, as an Alicia Patterson Foundation fellow, and was surprised to see that
the narrative had made yet another unexpected turn. Though activists are in the
middle of a lawsuit they filed against ethics and integrity minister Simon
Lokodo, who has been on a zealous effort to shut down all gay-advocacy
workshops and non-profits allied with L.G.B.T. activists, spirits were high to
the point that a Pride event was not just wanted, but needed. Uganda's Pride
was a weekend-long event, made up of film screenings, a fashion show in drag,
and all-night (and into the morning) parties. Two hundred and fifty tickets had
been sold, though, as a vivacious trans woman named Cleo told me, fifty-some
people showed up on Thursday and Friday, because many were still wary about
gathering in large groups. "We couldn't have done this kind of thing two years
ago, and for those that were here back then, they almost can't believe things
are safer and better now," Cleo said. The first two days went off without a
hitch, and more people, predictably, showed up for the evening bacchanals.
I took a bus from Kampala, the capital, to Entebbe on Saturday morning with a
number of the participants. A trans woman named Bad Black showed me glamour
photos taken of her at an L.G.B.T.-friendly studio in town: in them she is
wearing a wig, dresses, and lingerie. Bad Black, who helps run a foundation
that helps H.I.V.-positive L.G.B.T. Ugandans, was wearing typical male attire
for the bus ride, but wore gold earrings and had short, fluffy curls. She can't
dress as a woman on a daily basis, but planned to change once we got to the
lake. Nature, a cheerful trans woman sitting in front of us, plucked a photo to
admire it and remarked, "Hmm, photos do lie." The bus erupted into laughter.
Several people, adorned in rainbow-patterned scarves and armbands, pulled out
makeup compacts and started to apply bright eye shadow and lipstick. We made
noisy stops along the highway to pick up more attendees, and passersby, curious
about the laughter and music, peered inside.
The botanical grounds around the lake are a languid picnic destination for
families and couples, but relatively secluded: an ideal location for a parade
that was still on shaky ground, safety-wise. At the area reserved for the
festival, participants wore yellow wristbands to identify themselves to each
other and let loose. People swam, drank, and danced as a D.J. played loud
music. I met people like Akram, who operates a "gay-video library." Activist
Frank Mugisha, who appeared dressed in a sailor's costume with a rainbow sash
and called himself Captain Pride, told me, "I just wish I had a switch to turn
on that would make everyone who's gay say they are gay. Then everyone who is
homophobic can realize their brothers, their sisters, and their aunts are gay."
He confessed that he was shocked to see so many people in attendance.
As the parade began, in a convoy of marchers and cars blasting more music,
people held up signs like "African and Gay. Not a Choice." Children who lived
nearby flocked to the parade, and adults stared, clearly stunned, and, in some
cases, amused. The marchers chanted, "We are here" (a reference to those who
say that there are no gays in Africa), and danced and sang in a chorus that was
at once moving and exciting under a rainstorm of ribbons and flags. Nabagesera'
s German shepherd trotted around in a rainbow-colored handkerchief. A woman
named Claire said, "Even if Lokodo came today, he could not stop us."
But Lokodo did come, or at least the police did. Hours after the parade ended,
police raided the gathering, supposedly because they had heard a gay wedding
was taking place, and arrested three participants, detained a photographer, and
demanded statements from others, reminding all of the threats that gays still
face. The station police chief eventually released them, and celebrations
continued in Kampala. On Sunday, closing events went as planned. One
participant, Ambrose, who was in charge of selling Pride-themed T-shirts,
explained that the dynamics of being gay in Uganda have changed: "This is who
we are. We are here to stay. And we are not going anywhere."


Pubblicato da Lorenzo Bernini