Ugandan Court Strikes Down Controversial Anti-Homosexuality Law

The court overturned the country's Anti-Homosexuality Act on technical grounds. NPR's Eric Westervelt speaks with Ugandan gay rights activist John Wambere about the ruling.

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ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Eric Westervelt.

We're going to go now to Uganda, where yesterday a Ugandan court struck down the country's strict and controversial Anti-Homosexuality Act. The Ugandan court said the law was null and void because the process of passing the law violated the Constitution. One man here in the U.S. was paying especially close attention to the court proceedings - John Abdallah Wambere. He's a gay rights activist from Uganda. And in May, he applied for asylum in the U.S. Back then, he spoke to us and said, living in Uganda was simply too dangerous.

JOHN ABDALLAH WAMBERE: I have nowhere to go. Home is not safe and it's not even a place I would want to think about.

WESTERVELT: After the news of the court ruling we called Wambere in Cambridge, Massachusetts where he's currently staying. He told me that, because of the time difference, he stayed up all night watching for news out of the Ugandan courtroom.

WAMBERE: I tried to get to bed by midnight and I noticed that I would not sleep because I was very anxious and (unintelligible) to really to get to know what the outcome was going to be. And I kept going on until 6 a.m. East Standard Time. That's when I went to bed.

WESTERVELT: So when you finally heard about the ruling what was your reaction?

WAMBERE: I was overwhelmed. But also, I was very happy because I've always believed in the judiciary system in Uganda. And I saw a new dawn in the struggle and the fight for equality.

WESTERVELT: Now the Ugandan court tossed out the Anti-Homosexuality Act as it's called, basically on a technicality. Are you worried at all that the Parliament might just pass the law again?

WAMBERE: I should say, right now I have mixed feelings. Because even if they do not decide to go back or continue with this particular act, the state has not come out to guarantee protection of its citizens. So I'm just saying I have mixed feelings.

WESTERVELT: So for gay and lesbians in Uganda John, the worry seems to go far beyond, you know, fear of police harassment. Remind us of the kind of threats LGBT activists face today in Uganda.

WAMBERE: I think, like you just said, the issue of the police may be put aside but the reality comes when a society - the homophobic persons, the anti-gay groups - decide to continue speaking out and inciting mob violence, speaking messages of hate. We still see that the public is a major force to deal with.

WESTERVELT: John, do you fear that there could be a backlash now against LGBT Ugandans because of the court's ruling?

WAMBERE: Mostly likely from the general public I expect to hear a backlash. I'm most likely to see more people being attacked. I expect this because of the bitterness they have and trying to still resist that we do not accept homosexuality in this country as Christians, as Africans, as Ugandans. They will still just want to show that they do not want to accept it.

WESTERVELT: John, you're currently for asylum in the U.S. because of the treatment of gays and lesbians in Uganda. Has this ruling made you consider returning to your home?

WAMBERE: I thought about it. And I still have my own questions. But I'm still so doubtful about my safety because turning back this law, or ruling it out as null and void, is not going to erase away the damage that has already been put forth. There is no way you can go and settle yourself in such a community and you'll think that you'll be able to live peacefully without any harm. So it does not really make me think or change my decision on my asylum process, until I totally know that there is total protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queers in Uganda.

WESTERVELT: That's John Wambere. He's an LGBT rights activist from Uganda. He's currently living in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

John, thank you for speaking with us.

WAMBERE: Thank you so much.

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