“Jane” is 34 years old and grew up gay in her native Uganda, enveloped by an atmosphere of hatred towards homosexuality. After years of persecution, she was smuggled out of Africa and resettled in Europe where she is making a new life for herself. Watermark is unable to use her real name or the country to which she has relocated. Revealing too much information could place her and those who helped her at risk.
Working together closely with Olympia Quaker Meeting, Watermark was able to secure an exclusive interview with “Jane.” What follows is her story in her own words:
“What was it like to grow up gay in Uganda? I was always fighting agianst it, because I knew it was something bad in me. It was the devil in me. I was always fighting against it …
“My mom found out when I was around 14. We have this cultural ‘thing’ in Uganda – you know… (Editor’s note: there is widely accepted beauty treatment in East African countries where young girls stretch each others labia to make them longer.) My mother had a maid to help her and we did this thing together – I felt in love with her. I reacted so much that the girl told my mother then she knew I was a lesbian.
“She took me everywhere to get this out of me; she took me to churches. Then one day someone told her to find a bush-doctor. He gave me lots of medication but told my mother that that would only control it for a short time and that she needed to find a man for me.
“So one morning my mother and my auntie just told me that that day I was going to be married. They had found me a much older man that had been married before and was way bigger than me. In my culture you cannot talk back when elder people speak. It was horrible.
“From that day I shut many of my feelings down.
“Years and years later I had become a widow and was running a small business selling clothes. One of the customers became a really good friend and when I watched her trying things on and chatting, all my feelings started to come back to me. Then one evening we went out and at end of the evening she kissed me goodnight. Suddenly I was very sure; I knew that she had the same feelings as me. From that point onwards started our relationship.
“For a year we kept it secret and were very happy together. Then one day disaster happened. The landlord, who used to come during the week, decided to come on the weekend. It was daytime, but we were still together. He burst into the room and almost immediately started to scream at me and beat me up. In the turmoil, my friend managed to run away. The noise of the landlord had alerted the neighbours who now all wanted to kill me. They started to beat me and scream at me.
“I was lucky because somehow the police found out, pulled me from the angry crowd and took me into custody. I don’t know who alerted the organization that rescued me nor how they were able to set me free. But they got me free from the police and it was clear that I could not stay in Uganda.
“All my life I had lived in the same small town, where I sold clothes and knew everybody. Now all these people would rip me apart. I have not managed to hear from my friend since I fled, but I believe she escaped the crowd. I am still upset how I lost her.
“Since my escape I have not communicated with anyone in Uganda. I arrived in this country totally alone and very, very scared. It was months later that I heard that being gay is allowed here. Then my life improved and I made friends.
“I can never return to Uganda. Even if the government changes and wants to improve the situation for LGBTI, the people in my village will still find a way to kill me. I have not much hope for LGBTI rights in my country. The only thing other countries can do at the moment is to help people who need it to escape.
“I did not have very good experiences with church in Uganda. But now I know that I am born gay and that God made me like this, just like he makes other people straight.”