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Ugandan gays who fled persecution still feel danger in neighboring Kenya

Sunday, August 17, 2014
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A Ugandan man is seen during the third Annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride celebrations in Entebbe, Uganda, on Aug.  9, 2014.Rebecca Vassie, AP

A Ugandan man is seen during the third Annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride celebrations in Entebbe, Uganda, on Aug. 9, 2014.

NAIROBI, Kenya — When a Ugandan court overturned the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act this month, rights activists worldwide claimed a victory. But not gay Ugandans who fled persecution to live in a refugee camp in neighboring Kenya.

“The reaction shocked me. I went there. I thought it would be a celebration, but … nothing,” said Brizan Ogollan, founder of an aid organization that works in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp. “They knew at an international level and at the diplomatic level, the decision is going to have impact, but at the local level, it won’t really. You can overrule the law, but you can’t overrule the mind.”

Of the 155,000 refugees at Kakuma camp, 35 are registered with the U.N. refugee agency as LGBT Ugandans who fled because of the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, which became law in February.

The now-overturned law called for life jail sentences for those convicted of gay sex and criminalized vague offenses like “attempted homosexuality” and “promoting homosexuality” in a country where being gay has long been illegal.

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Since the law was first proposed in 2009, public opinion in Uganda has grown increasingly anti-gay, said Geoffrey Ogwaro, a coordinator for the Civil Society Coalition for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, which is based in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. Many gay Ugandans have lived in constant fear of arrest. Some were imprisoned. Landlords evicted tenants. One man tried to run over his gay son with a car, Ogwaro said.

“Unfortunately, the law’s nullification has actually polarized society more,” Ogwaro said.

Members of parliament have started petitions to resurrect the legislation, although President Yoweri Museveni is reported to have requested the parliamentarians to reconsider.

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