In Dis/patches from the Foreign Office, Sajdeep Soomal explores newspaper articles, legal cases, and other ephemera stored in The ArQuives’s international collection.
There are newspaper articles in the file that reveal how the Canadian state, LGBTQ+ media and The ArQuives itself have engaged with contemporary LGBTQ+ Ugandan activists. The most moving is a personal email from the “Federal for Lesbian and Gay of Uganda” dated December 10, 2004 that asks for financial assistance to help cover the legal expenses of fighting the criminalization of homosexuality. I couldn’t find a reply, just a printed copy of the email with the word “Uganda” loosely circled. Another thing that caught my attention was a series of newspaper clippings about the Canadian government’s decision to deny visas to eight Ugandan participants of the 2014 LGBTQ+ human rights conference at the University of Toronto. After sustained public outcry from local LGBTQ+ activists, the Ugandan gay activists were eventually granted visas to attend the short conference. Unfortunately the Canadian government continues to routinely deny visas to LGBTQ+ activists over fears that they will claim refugee status upon arrival (even though that rarely happens). In this video, Xtra! speaks with Ugandan gay rights activist, Richard Lusimbo, on why it was so important for him to attend the conference at WorldPride Toronto. I was also struck by the September 2010 cover story of Xtra! Vancouver, dedicated to an interview with Ugandan lesbian journalist Val Kalende, puts the contemporary situation well. Scrawling out in bold font, the headline reminds readers about the importance of “DISMANTLING THE MYTH THAT HOMOSEXUALITY = WESTERN CULTURE.” As the Christian right in Uganda paints homosexuality as the influence of a moral decaying Western culture, there is a push on the ground to highlight the LGBTQ+ past of the place they now called Uganda.
It’s a well-known fact that before the British Protectorate of Uganda assumed control in 1894 and instituted cookie-cutter anti-sodomy laws in 1904, the Kingdom of Ganda was run by a young bisexual man. It is also known that same-sex relations were common in the precolonial Great Lakes region of Africa. While the ever-intervening “West” is a looming, contested character in contemporary Ugandan LGBTQ+ politics, there are some who are writing about sexuality in Uganda beyond colonial terminology and practices. Scholar Tushabe wa Tushabe writes about “the exchange same-sex erotic energies from a saying in Rukiga language spoken by Bakiga in southwestern Uganda, “okugira omukago mukika nikwokunywaana oruganda.” The documents held in the Uganda file give us a glimpse into the ever-evolving world of queer life in Uganda and its intersections with U.S. and Canadian politics.