(WB) The executive director of a Ugandan advocacy group says his country’s government continues to use the coronavirus pandemic as a guise to target LGBTQ people.

Turinawe Samson, executive director of the Universal Love Alliance, a group that works to promote acceptance of LGBTQ people in Uganda, spoke with the Washington Blade on April 27 from the country’s capital of Kampala.

Samson spoke with the Blade less than a month after 19 LGBTQ people were arrested at a Kampala shelter and charged with violating coronavirus-related social distancing rules. A court on Monday ordered their release after prosecutors dropped the charges.

“They went and found these LGBT people in their shelter and arrested them and whipped them in public, forcing them to accept they are LGBT people,” said Samson.

Samson told the Blade the shelter was “well-known.” He also said not everyone who was arrested lived there.

“They used the cover of these directives from the president to attack and beat these LGBT people,” said Samson.

A nationwide lockdown in order to curb the pandemic in Uganda took effect on March 18. President Yoweri Museveni on Tuesday announced his government in the coming days will begin to allow public and private transportation to resume and restaurants and hotels to reopen with limited capacity.

Samson told the Blade the lockdown has had a disproportionate impact on Ugandans with HIV because the lack of public transportation has prevented them from receiving necessary medications.

“This puts them at danger,” he said.

Samson told the Blade that many Ugandans with HIV have run out of food and money because their relatives who typically support them are not working. He said Ugandans with HIV receive their medications from health centers where they are registered, but the lack of transportation has made this access much more difficult.

“The LGBT community is now at risk,” he said.

Samson said the Universal Love Alliance has been able to provide a month’s worth of food to 41 clients and portable stoves with which they can cook it. Samson told the Blade that Ugandan authorities have authorized his organization to use its car to bring one person at a time to health care centers for treatment and deliver medications to people with HIV.

“It is saving lives,” he said, noting pregnant women have also called him to bring them to the hospital. “This car is opening a way for us … it is doing miracles.”

Anti-LGBTQ Christian evangelicals from U.S. view Uganda as ‘a good market’  

Uganda — an African country that borders Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan — is among the dozens of nations in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

President Yoweri Museveni in 2014 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which imposed a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. The statute was known as the “Kill the Gays” bill because it once contained a death penalty provision.

Uganda’s Constitutional Court struck down the Anti-Homosexuality Act on a technicality, but not before the U.S. cut aid to the country and imposed a travel ban against Ugandan officials who perpetrated human rights abuses. The Ugandan government last October denied reports that it would reintroduce the “Kill the Gays” bill.

Samson pointed out to the Blade that Uganda is a predominantly Christian country and many religious leaders have ties to American evangelicals who he described as “cultural warriors.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights in 2012 filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBTQ advocacy group, against Scott Lively, an evangelical pastor from Massachusetts.

The lawsuit alleges Lively exploited homophobic attitudes in Uganda and encouraged the country’s lawmakers to support the “Kill the Gays” bill. A federal judge ultimately dismissed the case.

“They influence faith leaders here in Uganda and these faith leaders they take up out of the teachings from their fellow faith leaders in the U.S. and bring them here to Uganda and preach against LGBT people based on the teachings of the Bible,” Samson told the Blade as he discussed the Universal Love Alliance’s work with Ugandan religious leaders.

“We found it necessary that if we were to work for inclusion and acceptance of LGBT people, it is very important that we first change the attitude of Christian faith leaders,” he added.

Samson added Christian fundamentalists from the U.S. have decided to focus on Uganda and other countries where their teachings are not “considered to be dangerous, outdated, archaic and degrading.”

“They have seen Uganda and Africa in general as a good market for their outdated and dangerous teachings which are rejected in the United States,” Samson told the Blade. “What they have done is come here and created allies in preaching against LGBT people and promoting propaganda that demeans and presents LGBT people as dangerous, not fit to be human beings, not fit to be in any community.”

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