This is the seventh in a series of articles from Uganda by Xtra freelance reporter Kaj Hasselriis.
Sam Ganafa, president of Spectrum Uganda
(Benedicte Desrus / Sipa Press)
The leader of one of Uganda's main gay rights organizations is urging queers in his country to stay in the closet.
"I know I'm suffocating them but there's no better option than that," says Sam Ganafa, president of Spectrum Uganda. "I know what I've been through and I don't want others to go through it, too."
Ganafa has been outed many times by newspapers in Uganda that delight in identifying people's homosexuality against their will. His most recent outing happened less than two months ago, in Kampala's Red Pepper tabloid.
The paper gleefully announced: "Red Pepper has landed on a list of city tycoons and professionals who dig deep into their wallets to have the stinking vice (of homosexuality) maintained in Ugandan society."
Ganafa was first outed in 2005, when a different paper — The Mirror — printed his first name and place of employment. At the time, there were 14 men named Sam at the large telecommunications company where Ganafa works. They all came under suspicion for being gay. But it didn't take long for Ganafa's co-workers to identify him.
"Life became very difficult," says Ganafa, a 48-year-old who speaks in soft tones. "I got an abrupt change of duties." Ganafa was demoted, docked pay and forced to turn in the keys to his company car.
Ganafa's family shunned him, too. "My relatives still harbour bitterness against me," he says. Many of Ganafa's gay friends also stopped hanging out with him. They didn't want to be suspected of being gay, too.
YOUNG ACTIVIST TELLS TALE OF BEATING, PRISON & DEFIANCE
Blessed Busingye was kicked out of his local supermarket in Kampala, Uganda for being gay.
But that's nothing compared to some of the other anti-gay experiences Busingye has endured — and he's only 21.
The negative reaction to Busingye's homosexuality didn't cause him to retreat into the closet — it politicized him. "I was empowered," he says.
Perhaps worst of all, Ganafa stopped feeling safe in his own home. After one of his outings, someone attached a note to the front door of his house. It said, "You're bringing bad omens to the village." A few days later, a noisy band of motorcyclists cut the power to Ganafa's house and circled it over and over again, shouting homophobic threats. Ganafa moved out for a week and remains fearful of coming home in the dark.
"Outing is primitive," says Ganafa. "It sows the seeds of hatred and homophobia. Nothing good comes to the people who are outed."
Yet, now that he's been outed so often in the Ugandan press, Ganafa is used to people knowing he's gay. "For me, there's no more need to hide. I think the population knows." He has even kept his job. "Some people thought I would give up," he says. "To their surprise, I did not."
Ganafa's most recent public outing prompted two other gay men to come out to him — a co-worker and a young man in Ganafa's village, who wrote him a letter. But Ganafa says he counselled both of them to stay quiet about their sexuality.
"I feel I'm not doing the best service by telling people to stay in the closet," he says. But with the looming threat of harsh legislation against queers, Ganafa feels it's the safest advice. "It's painful, but we're still at a crossroads."
WHAT DO UGANDA'S TABLOIDS SAY ABOUT GAYS?
Reading a Ugandan tabloid that outs queers is like taking a time machine back to 1960s North America and experiencing the crazy, laughable anti-gay attitudes of that era.
In 2007, one of Red Pepper's outing articles was headlined "Homo Terror! We Name and Shame Top Gays in the City."
It ran alongside this disclaimer: "Warning! If you are faint of heart, please stop here because the dossier we are unleashing today leaves no stone unturned. It narrates how the gays network and hook members to their group, what their parties look like, favourite hang out joints plus how they shaft. You will be shocked!"
About Sam Ganafa, Red Pepper said: "He once got married and had kids before divorcing his wife to settle for young boys. He is the leader of the gay ring in Uganda. He is their chairman and ambassador. He organizes everything that they do and is well known to foreign gay societies."
The 2007 article appeared in a special section of the paper called Weird Sex Investigation. It named several dozen other gay Ugandans and described them in similarly hysterical, homophobic ways.
COMING UP: Did you sign an online petition against Uganda's anti-gay bill? If so, your virtual signature is being presented to Uganda's Parliament on Mon, Mar 1 — along with the names of 400,000 other people from around the world. Read all about the presentation next week on Xtra.ca.
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