A gay rights activist from Uganda gets the green light for political asylum

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and it’s The World. When Ugandan John Abdallah Wambere was last on our show a few months ago, he tried to convey just what it’s like to be a gay activist in a country that’s made being gay illegal. He described how a friend of his, gay rights advocate David Kato, was bludgeoned to death with a hammer and how he himself was outed with photos and headlines by a Ugandan newspaper. Wambere also received death threats and in February he fled to the US. This week, Wambere found out that US authorities have greenlighted him for political asylum. He says when he heard the news, he was overwhelmed. John Abdallah Wambere: I felt like running, jumping, skipping. I felt like I should raise my hands up and fly and shout out to the world. All sorts of things were running in my mind. Werman: Anti-gay laws, of one form or another, have been on the books in Uganda since the 1950’s and this new anti-gay act was signed into law last February but was struck down on a technicality and now lawmakers in Uganda reportedly want to reintroduce it, they’ve made that vow. What’s happening deep in Ugandan society. Do you think tolerance is increasing or is it just becoming a more and more intolerant society? Wambere: Tolerance has not decreased at all. I would say it is increasing. The current generation is the only generation that is going to change the future of Uganda. But it will also go with a lot of education because I think the major factor that has brought a lot of hinderance is ignorance and having stereotyped ideas about who gay people are. Werman: Last May when we spoke, you were really concerned about the decision in your asylum case and what that might mean for your daughter, who’s still in Uganda. What has her reaction been to all of this? Wambere: Basically, I’ve not had any discussion with my daughter regarding all that has happened to me, all that I’m going through right now. I want to deal with one step at a time. I just want to ensure custody. Right now, my family is doing all they can to just ensure she’s safe. Werman: John, I assume that, all things being equal, you would prefer to be living safely in Uganda right, your home? Wambere: Very much so, yes. Werman: So visualize for us your dream living in a Uganda that you could live in in the future. You’d be openly gay. What does it feel like? Paint the picture for us. Wambere: I would imagine in the next couple of years, me going back to Uganda perhaps and maybe the media coming out and saying “He’s back. Uganda’s homosexual who was in exile” or “who sought asylum is back,” that kind of thing. So, I would imagine walking with my daughter after, of course, I’ve opened up to her, she was understanding that this is who I am. I want her to be proud of her father and be able to speak out to defend the rights of the sexually marginalized people. I want her not to be judgmental but to be able to speak out in case people confront her with questions that her father is gay or this and that. I would also love to see me and my daughter walking the streets of Kampala free and enjoying our evenings together, perhaps doing errands together, and happy. Werman: Ugandan gay rights activist, John Abdallah Wambere, who’s been greenlighted for asylum in the United States. Congratulations and thanks for joining us. Wambere: Thank you so much.