This is the fifth in a series of articles from Uganda by Xtra freelance reporter Kaj Hasselriis.
Pastor Martin Ssempa gives a speech at the Feb 15 anti-gay rally in Jinja, Uganda. For more images, see the gallery at the bottom of this story.
(Benedicte Desrus / Sipa Press)
It wasn't quite the "Million Man March Against Homosexuality" that organizers promised, but its size was still impressive — and troubling.
In a small town in southeastern Uganda called Jinja, 350 people demonstrated against gay rights on Monday. Young and old, they carried crudely made signs with homophobic messages:
- "Homosexuality is a curse, it leads to death!!"
- "Let's kick sodomy out of Uganda"
- "God hates homosexuality"
- "Homosexuality is evil, I hate it"
- "Sodomy is not what we need"
- "I say no to homosexuality"
- "Islam stands against homosexuality"
- "Say No. Man to man homosexuality is a curse!!"
- "Remember Sodom"
- "It is time to stop homosexuality"
- "Sodomy = hell"
Many of the protesters' signs targeted one man in particular — US President Barack Obama — for speaking out against a Ugandan bill that, if passed, could lead to the execution of gays and lesbians, the abolition of pro-gay organizations and the imprisonment of allies who try to hide the identities of queer friends and family.
One anti-Obama sign showed a drawing of the US president with fangs in his mouth and horns coming out of his head, along with the words "No pact with the devil."
Trevor Snapp, an American freelance photojournalist who witnessed the march, said, "If someone had been called out for being gay, they would have been ripped to shreds. Just the mere mention of homosexuality made people freak out, fall down and start shivering. It was really intense, kind of like a frenzy."
After the march, a rally was held. Christian and Islamic preachers made homophobic speeches linking homosexuality to pedophilia. Oddly, though, Snapp said that the protesters' reactions didn't always seem hateful. "People actually seemed giddy with the naughtiness of it all. Homosexuality just isn't talked about in Ugandan society."
According to Snapp, the crowd was made up of two groups of people: middle-class churchgoers and poor, shoeless villagers who were encouraged to join the mob. "Underlying all of this is poverty," he said. "Poor, uneducated people are being incited and manipulated by powerful preachers."
Snapp also saw three white men at the event who were identified to him as American Evangelicals. Yet most of the speakers blamed countries like the United States, Canada and Great Britain for spreading homosexuality. Snapp said one of the main messages was: "The West is giving aid to Africa but forcing it to become homosexual."
"There's a really clear desire of people to say 'Fuck you' to the west," he said, "and gays are being used as the scapegoats. The power of fear and scapegoating is exciting for these preachers, and they're sinking their teeth into it."
Another, bigger demonstration is being planned for Wednesday in Kampala, Uganda's capital. "If this bill goes through Parliament," said Snapp, "it'll get passed, no question. No one wants to be seen supporting this."
Read Kaj Hasselriis' next update from Uganda later this week. Get the latest update as soon it's posted:
<< Check out some images from the rally