LGBTQ+ advocates and Leilah Babirye, a visual artist who fled her native Uganda to New York in 2015 after being publicly outed in a local newspaper respond to the recent Ugandan anti-LGBTQ+ bill.
For years countries, especially those in Africa are known to pass bills incriminating and criminalizing the queer community some of, which could be based on religious and traditional values.
On March 21, Uganda’s parliament passed a bill that would criminalize those identifying as LGBTQ and compels citizens to report those who do to authorities. Following this announcement, Uganda’s anti-LGBTQ+ bill became the most of the harshest measures of the legislation. Those include the death penalty for certain same-sex acts and a 20-year sentence for “promoting” homosexuality which could eventually criminalise those advocating for any LGBTQ+ rights. obliged people to report homosexual activity was amended to only require reporting when a child is involved. Failure to do so is subject to five years in jail or a fine of 10 million Ugandan shillings (£2,150). Anyone who “knowingly allow[s] their premises to be used for acts of homosexuality” faces seven years in jail.
This eventually attracted the attention of many Ugandans living within and outside the country who have called attention to the general public about the harsh and inhumane act imposed on them. One of them is the Ugandan writer and feminist Rosebell Kagumire who according to The Guardian warned in a tweet that the law could deny queer Ugandan’s housing, education and “other fundamental rights” and could be used “by your enemies, and government included … against anyone”.
They also highlighted Clare Byarugaba, an LGBTQ+ advocate in Kampala who suggested the latest bill could have the same fate. “The anti-gay bill is dangerous, regressive and full of hate, and will be thrown out on its day in court,” she tweeted. “It doesn’t belong in Uganda’s history books.”
Flavia Mwangovya, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director said: “The Ugandan president must immediately veto this law and take steps to protect the human rights of all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Amnesty International also calls on the international community to urgently put pressure on the Ugandan government to protect the rights of LGBTI individuals in the country.”
The Ugandan artist and activist Leilah Babirye writes on her instagram feed about the anti-LGBTQ+ Bill, “We human rights activists condemn the Ugandan bill for introducing capital and life imprisonment sentences for homosexuals.”
Babirye adds on social media that there is “no turning back. We shall fight with all we have. We are also ready to interpret the whole story of the Bible with the quotes used to penalise the LGBTI [Q] community… shame upon all members of parliament in Uganda.”
“This deeply repressive legislation will institutionalise discrimination, hatred, and prejudice against LGBTI people, including those who are perceived to be LGBTI, and block the legitimate work of civil society, public health professionals, and community leaders,” Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s director for East and Southern Africa, told the BBC.
About Leilah Babirye
Leilah Babirye’s multidisciplinary practice transforms everyday materials into objects that address issues surrounding identity, sexuality and human rights. The artist fled her native Uganda to New York in 2015 after being publicly outed in a local newspaper. In spring 2018 Babirye was granted asylum with support from the African Services Committee and the NYC Anti-Violence Project.
Composed of debris collected from the streets of New York, Babirye’s sculptures are woven, whittled, welded, burned and burnished. Her choice to use discarded materials in her work is intentional – the pejorative term for a gay person in the Luganda language is ‘ebisiyaga’, meaning sugarcane husk. “It’s rubbish,” explains Babirye, “the part of the sugarcane you throw out.” The artist also frequently uses traditional African masks to explore the diversity of LGBTQI identities, assembling them from ceramics, metal and hand-carved wood; lustrous, painterly glazes are juxtaposed with chiselled, roughly-textured woodwork and metal objects associated with the art of blacksmithing. In a similar vein, Babirye creates loosely rendered portraits in vivid colours of members from her community.
Describing her practice, Babirye explains: “Through the act of burning, nailing and assembling, I aim to address the realities of being gay in the context of Uganda and Africa in general. Recently, my working process has been fuelled by a need to find a language to respond to the recent passing of the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda.” In 2021, she held her first European solo show at Stephen Friedman gallery during London Gallery Weekend.
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