Uganda was once one of the friendliest countries in the world, according to a survey by the global network InterNations – in which people who live abroad permanently network. Because of its beauty and tropical climate, Winston Churchill called Uganda ‘the pearl of Africa’. However, every country and every community has strengths and weaknesses, has successes and struggles with problems. But Uganda is ready for a change much as it was described in a great summary of 555 meaning.
But like in many other countries in the world, this can be changed – through great efforts in education, through dialogue and personal exchange in tourism and in the business world. Uganda still has a lot to do in order to ensure the civil rights of all LGBTQI * people (lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals, and intersexuals, as well as anyone else who does not conform to heteronormativity). But a start has been made and some progress has already been made.
Article 21 of Uganda’s constitution makes a clear statement on equality and freedom from discrimination. It guarantees all citizens protection against discriminatory legislation. However, despite this clear constitutional mandate, we are seeing the government continue to suppress the LGBTQI * community in Uganda, for example with the notorious draft of an anti-gay law (the so-called “Kill the Gays Bill”) that came into force in 2014, however, was annulled by the Ugandan Constitutional Court in the same year. The death penalty was actually applied for a short period of time. However, it was not carried out.
Despite the existing criminal law and the prevailing negative attitudes of people in Uganda, the LGBTQI * community continues to fight for their rights. There is a growing, strong civil society in Uganda that is tirelessly campaigning for the rights of LGBTQI * people to have access to health services, the legal system and prior knowledge of their rights.
Homophobia affects tourism
The Ugandan government is known for promoting tourism both domestically and abroad, but its stance towards the LGBTQI * community is seriously harming the tourism business. When the President signed the bill against homosexuality in 2014, giving it legal force, many tourists postponed their trip to Uganda, others cancelled entirely. It didn’t feel right for them to spend their money in a country that discriminated against people and thus support the country’s economy. Even now, travellers are cancelling their vacation as a result of negative media reports.
When I founded my travel company, I wanted to help elderly people in need as well as young people who are being marginalized. With a foundation that is financed by the company and through donations, we take care of the health care of older people, we advise them and help to meet their basic needs. It is not easy for young people to find a job in Uganda if they are stamped as part of the LGBTQI * community. That is why we offer marginalized people jobs and training positions, and LGBTQI * members a safe working environment, both in the travel company and in the foundation.
Guests must also be able to feel safe. We advise our customers accordingly before and during their trip. We also speak to tourist service providers to ensure that our guests are safe in the hotels and lodges where they stay. In Uganda, tenderness is not usually exchanged in public. So we advise travelers to refrain from doing this because it is not part of our culture, not even for heterosexual couples.
Tour operators work together with activists from the LGBTQI * movement to ensure a safe environment for LGBTQI * travelers in the country. Thanks to continuous advocacy from the Ugandan Tourist Office and Ministry of Tourism, there are commitments that all guests are protected and welcome. The International LGBT + Travel Association (IGLTA) helps attract more allies in the tourism industry so Uganda can be a vacation destination for everyone including LGBTQI travellers.
If more LGBTQI * travelers come to us, people in Uganda will learn firsthand how LGBTQI * tourism can benefit them. Interactions and conversations between travelers and guides or employees in hotels, restaurants and shops will slowly but surely lead to a rethink in Uganda. I often say (ironically) to people: “Homosexuals are so bad for Uganda! They create jobs, give food and clothing to the needy, pay taxes to the state and take care of the health care of the poor. ”I want to make it clear what homosexuals do for all, no matter who they are or who they love.
Travelers also learn more about Uganda and how people live, and they have a huge impact on the societies they visit. The ‘International LGBT + Travel Association’ has already brought about improvements worldwide. That will also happen in Uganda.