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Human Rights in Uganda

Michael Hollander and Allissa Pollard:
Gay and Lesbian Rights

Hollander and Pollard
Pollard, left, and Hollander, right, with Dr. Tamale, dean of the Faculty of Law at Makerere University and a gay rights activist

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Contact: Rob Seal

As a result of widespread cultural condemnation of homosexuality, many gay and lesbian Ugandans are omitted from the government’s efforts to confront the HIV/AIDS epidemic, according to a pair of students.

Third-year law students Michael Hollander and Allissa Pollard researched gay and lesbian rights in Uganda, talking to activists within the community and with aid workers.

Pollard said she didn’t initially understand why the homosexual population wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the same educational materials provided to the general public. But, once in Uganda, she discovered that many such materials use language that seems to deliberately omit gays.

“When you read information there, it will specifically say that the disease can be transmitted when a man and a woman have sex, period, full-stop,” she said.

The Ugandan government, which is generally praised for its efforts to combat the disease, has “really left the gay community out of those programs,” she said.

Hollander and Pollard said many Ugandans interpret a law against sodomy as a law against homosexuality.

“A lot of times you would go to a government agency and say ‘Are you dealing with problems in the gay and lesbian community,’ and they would say ‘Why would we do that? It’s illegal to be gay,’” Hollander said.

Anticipating some resistance, the pair spoke with NGOs and activist groups before trying to talk to government officials.

Hollander said his efforts to meet with officials at the Ugandan AIDS Commission were met with snarky comments and rudeness when they discovered his line of questioning. A parliament member also rescheduled several meetings and then cancelled, he said.

Even some NGO workers were reluctant to publicly discuss the relationship between homosexuality and the disease, the pair said.
There is a belief in the country that homosexuality is a “Western thing,” Pollard said. Some even think that Westerns are paying Ugandans to be gay, she said.

Because of this cultural suspicion, many outside aid groups tread lightly around gay and lesbian issues, and provide their services quietly, Hollander said.

“They don’t want to feed into that myth by having Western groups helping internal groups,” he said. “So they find it’s better to provide services on the back-end.”