In this open letter, a Ugandan man who has been assaulted for being gay pleads to be resettled to a safe country. As in many African countries, homosexuality has been legislated against in Uganda; in 2009, one politician even attempted to introduce the death penalty.
KAMPALA, Uganda – If I die, at the very least you will know something about my life. You will have something to say at my funeral.
Sometimes, I wake up and I think I am already dead. I have to actually let my consciousness settle in for a moment. I am not sure if I am scared of dying in my sleep. Perhaps it would be peaceful, and I would be free of the nightmare I am living now.
With these permeating thoughts, I wake up these days. I am surrounded by walls. Then, the headache starts. It’s a dull painful pressure that seems to be pushing against the walls of the flat where I am seeking refuge in Kampala. My vision narrows more and more, till I am looking through a tunnel enveloped by darkness, desperate for an opening of light at the end.
I now see the world through the bars of my bedroom windows, having been chased to a hiding place. I am in prison. I have been socially convicted of a crime worse than my recurring nightmares of waking up dead. I was born gay.
I had no choice in the matter. I was born as gay as the people murdered in a nightclub in Orlando. I am as gay as the symbolism of the LGBTQ+ flags held by activists in India fighting antiquated laws that punish homosexuality. I am as LGBTQ as the transgender woman Hande, murdered last month in Turkey. We are collective outlaws and ghosts of histories that will be rewritten, while our omissions, pain, oppression, repression, marginalization and battles to live will become part of cold statistics. That is where I am right now. I am between being a living being and a number.
I wonder if my family that had fled to Uganda from Rwanda during the 1994 genocide (where 800,000 lives became statistics), knew that when they exiled me from home at 16 years old for being gay, I would become a statistic, too? Would they still have done so?
What my parents did not realize at the time is that, like them, I, too, would fight to survive. I walked miles to Kampala with a small bag of my belongings. I survived hunger. I survived sexual exploitation by European tourists – men who were twice as old my 16, 17, and 18-year-old body. I survived the nights of wondering if this was all that life offered. I survived the nights where a voice responded to my question of, “Why me?” with a unforgiving answer of, “How dare you, you’re still alive.”
I transformed my success in surviving against all odds into a passion for creating. I lived my dream of becoming a stylist for the East Africa Fashion week. I was on my way to making it past survival, when I was identified and “outed” in Red Pepper, a chronicler of homophobic rage published as a daily newspaper in Uganda. They published my picture that they downloaded from my Facebook profile – without my permission.
I had made it! But I didn’t know I had made it on to the page of the anti-gay newspaper until two men who had been following me in a market, grabbed me. These two men held me while others took turns punching, kicking and spitting on me. My blood dripped onto the dirt, as if to defile my existence. Wavering between consciousness and a near death, I watched each drop of blood fall. It seemed like eternity. Then, the last punch sent me out of the grip of the two men who were holding my limp body. I felt a foot kick into my chest – a painful reminder that I was still alive. One man reached into my pocket and said, “Now we can find you anytime, homosexual,” as he took my wallet.
I survived several more of these episodes.
My phone went off day and night, “We know where you are, dirty homosexual” – ring after startling ring. “We see you in the ripped jeans, we’re going to skin your homosexual ass,” they promised.
I survived because I looked out the window first. I was home before dark. But one time, I had my guard down. I walked out in morning, forgetting to look. I saw men waiting for me. I went back into the house and waited. In the end. I decided to go out anyway. They stalked me. I was brutally beaten – this time even closer to death. I wanted to call the police, because being imprisoned for being a homosexual was better than enduring these assaults. Then I remembered the stories of what it was like to be serving time in prison for being a homosexual. I decided against going to the police.
My Facebook image and that paper follow me everywhere. Isn’t “making it” wonderful?
Yet again, I have decided to survive. A friend took me in, and I have been indoors since I walked in the door. Now I look at freedom through the funnel of a window between walls that appear to be caving in. Tomorrow, I will be moved to a new prison. I will look through life through a new window. The day after tomorrow, I will be transported again. And then again. I will see freedom through the funnel of a new window. Worse, I might just become a statistic.
I am 20 years old. I have a name that I cannot share. I have an identity for which I am being punished. It has been second by second of an impossible existence. Am I still alive? I wonder.
I need a way out.
*Irakowze is a pseudonym given to the author of the article to protect his identity.
Ugandan rights groups Price of Silence and Pride Uganda have launched an international campaign, #Rights4Irakowze, to seek asylum for Irakowze in Canada.
This article originally appeared on Refugees Deeply, and you can find the original here. For important news about displacement and forced migration, you can sign up to the Refugees Deeply email list. Photograph courtesy of Refugees Deeply.