After Uganda Parliament passes anti-LGBTQ bill, a trans activist fights for her safety in the U.S.

A roundup of conversations we're having daily on the site. Subscribe to the Reckon Daily for stories centering marginalized communities and speaking to the under-covered issues of the moment.

After Uganda passed an Anti-Homosexuality Bill that further criminalizes the identities and behavior of LGBTQ+ people, Ugandan LGBTQ+ rights activist Beyonce Karungi is fighting for a safe return while she temporarily remains in the U.S.

Karungi is the co-founder of Trans Equality Uganda, an organization that fights for gender diversity, human rights and non-discrimination in employment, and was visiting New York City for the 67th UN Commission on the Status of Women conference back in March.

She was scheduled to return to Uganda after the conference ended on March 17th when the Ugandan Parliament passed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, “that entrenches the criminalization of same-sex conduct.”

Because Karungi’s short-term visa doesn’t allow her to work or earn income in the U.S., the GoFundMe fundraiser aims to raise enough money to support Karungi’s living needs (food, airline-change fees, routine and gender-affirming medical care) and revise her visa for a “longer, sustainable stay.”

A $5,000 goal has been set while Karungi waits until she is able to safely return and continue her work in Uganda.

As of Thursday morning (EST), a little over $4,500 has been raised.

Karungi has not responded to Reckon’s inquiry on whether she intends to stay in the U.S. permanently due to the bill’s passing.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the bill is a revised and “more egregious version” of Uganda’s 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act, which enforced life imprisonment for sexual relations between same-sex individuals and outlawed the “promotion of homosexuality” but was struck down by a constitutional court saying that it was wrongly passed by Parliament.

This new bill makes “aggravated homosexuality” punishable by death if someone is found to be engaging in same-sex acts involving children or people with disabilities, having sex while HIV positive and incest between same-sex individuals.

It also imposes a life sentence on consensual same-sex relations among adults, institutes complete censorship on LGBTQ issues, criminalizes anyone who fails to report someone they suspect of participating in same-sex acts to the police, and criminalizes activities promoting homosexuality with up to 20 years in prison.

HRW Uganda Researcher Oryem Nyeko noted how intensely this bill criminalizes people “simply for being who they are,” further infringing on the rights to privacy, freedoms of expression and association.

“Ugandan politicians should focus on passing laws that protect vulnerable minorities and affirm fundamental rights and stop targeting LGBT people for political capital,” said Nyeko to HRW.

In an April rally outside of Uganda House, the Permanent Mission of Uganda to the United Nations in New York City, Karungi expressed how the passing of this bill is going to make living conditions tougher for an already marginalized population.

“It’s becoming more and more difficult for trans women, especially ones living with HIV,” she said. “It’s going to be challenging to access meds because of this bill.”

LGBTQ+ individuals living with HIV in Uganda face heightened discrimination due to their diagnosis, compounding the prejudice they already endure based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Many [trans people] are sex workers, and they can’t go to work because they’re being attacked, they’re being stripped naked,” said Karungi during the rally. “They’re always raided all the time by the police, so we need support to be able to help them get intermission during this period.”

And is why Karungi has reason to believe that it would be dangerous for her to return.

“It is unlikely she would be allowed outside of the airport,” said the fundraiser organizer, Morgan Garcia. “And with emboldened anti-LGBT sentiment, she fears attacks like she has experienced in the past.”

It’s unclear how much time remains on Karungi’s short-term visa.

Several news outlets have reported on demonstrations and actions in the U.S. in support of LGBTQ+ individuals in Uganda, highlighting the importance of global solidarity.

One of the facilitators of a New York protest denouncing Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill stated how important it is to fight for queer rights regardless of race or nationality.

“White people in Western and white-majority countries have a duty to show up in solidarity for our Ugandan queer and trans siblings,” said AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC) communications manager, Jason Rosenberg, to TheBody. “Because it’s important that we recognize the historical role Western countries have played in colonization and imported hate.”

Rosenberg helped facilitate pro-LGBTQ+ protests decrying the “inhumanity” of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill outside of Uganda House in New York City onThat April 25, as part of the Human Rights Not Hate: Global Day of Action.

“It’s no coincidence that Uganda’s anti-LGBTQIA+ bill is on the table while over 400 anti-trans bills are sweeping across state legislatures,” he said. “This is an organized effort from right-wing religious extremists that want to eradicate queerness. And we have to meet their organized efforts with direct action.”

As of May 2, Uganda’s Parliament has officially passed one of the world’s strictest anti-LGBTQ bills, awaiting Uganda President Yoweri Museveni to sign it into law, something he vowed to immediately do once it reaches his desk.

Naina Rao

Naina Rao

Naina Rao is Reckon's daily news reporter. She formerly worked at NPR producing for Morning Edition and the Culture Desk, and has experience covering Religion, Arts & Culture, and international news. Naina is fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, proficient in Malay, and is working on her Hindi.

The Reckon Report.
Sign up to receive the Reckon Report newsletter in your inbox every Tuesday.