A taxi driver reads the news of Uganda's new anti-homosexuality law in Kampala. Photo: Getty
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“If homosexuality is ever legalised in Uganda I’ll be on the next flight home”

Edwin S is an LGBT refugee from Uganda, now living in South London. Here, he describes how he left behind everything he knew and loved so he could live in freedom and safety.

It was around 1992 when I realised I was gay. There was a lot of confusion. I loved life in Uganda before then.

Mum reacted very bad. Very bad. I didn’t expect it. I’d “let the family down” she said. As time passes, I wonder whether I made the right decision telling her. But you have to. At one point in life, you have to. And in Uganda, if you do, you suffer the consequences.

I’ve hardly spoken to mum since. My father died a few years ago but mum still lives in Uganda. I think she’s in her sixties. In Africa it’s not in our culture to ask how old a parent is. You will get told off.

I had one brief relationship in Uganda, which lasted two months. It wasn’t one of those relationships where you can tell a friend or your family, it was very, very secret because it’s something you’re not allowed to do. The consequences would have been fatal.  There would have been tears.

A beating maybe. But when they punch you in Uganda, it’s a real punching.

My relationship with Charles was not something I could be proud of. The love was there. But when you lack that kind of openness of expressing your love, there’s something missing. The fear of the consequence was always there. It was like a sitting time-bomb. It ended when I left Uganda and I haven’t heard from Charles since. I don’t even know if he’s still alive.

In Africa neighbours don’t complain if you play loud music, they enjoy it. In Africa you don’t have to make an appointment to see someone, you just drop in. In Africa cooking is in the open; I could tell if somebody was roasting chicken or pork because I could smell it.

In the evening I would hear the birds from my homestead. I would hear the stray dogs bark and the music from South Africa and the Congo. I would rest in the courtyard with relatives in the dry summer heat.

At the Ginga Kalori boys’ school I would play football with my Muslim best friend, Isma. We would put two sticks in a car tyre and wheel them, racing home. He died not long after I left. I never had the chance to tell him.

I left behind the things I grew up with, the things I was used too: the people, the environment and the Ugandan culture. You know you’re used to an environment when you close your eyes and you still know how to navigate. I lost all of that. But I was free and safe.

I had been an activist for a while. There was a political campaign and I was involved in the LGBT opposition group. On the radio I heard stories of gay couples being beaten and killed by police. We got caught up. Beaten up. I was always on the other side as a young boy, trying to fight against Museveni’s government.

I was lucky because I survived. Being submitted to cover up what I am was the saddest thing.

I arrived in the UK in 1995.

The accent was difficult: I knew they were speaking English but it was different. The way we speak English back home is quite different. It’s not “What’s your name”, it’s “What.is.your.name”. I remember one day I said “Good morning, sir” to a gentlemen and he gave me a strange look. In Uganda every grown-up is a sir or madam. Here it is different.

The other thing: I met a black guy on the bus and spoke to him in my native tongue. I thought everyone that was black spoke my language. I was wrong…

But here I am in heaven. You can do whatever you want with your partner. You can kiss in the street and hold hands. You don’t have to look over your shoulder to see who’s watching you. You can be what you are here. You can go to Gay Pride. Whatever you can think of doing you can do it here. No complaint.

Actually one complaint. Matoke (a Ugandan national dish). You can get matoke here but it’s not the same. In Uganda everything is fresh. When you order fish, it’s been caught at seven in the morning and it’s on your plate by one. You see chicken running and somebody cuts it and puts it on the fire. But here, everything is frozen.

There is freedom to campaign here. If there’s something I do not like, I can protest and demand answers. A few weeks ago with Peter Tatchell, we went into the Ugandan embassy in London and submitted a letter. It demanded the repeal of the anti-homosexuality bill. Homophobia in Uganda is an import. Homophobia came from the west.

If homosexuality is ever legalised in Uganda, I’ll be on the next flight home.

East or west, home is best.

Edwin S is an LGBT refugee living in South London. He moved from Uganda as a teenager. He is now the director of the African LGBTI Out & Proud Diamond Group. This week the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, signed a controversial law allowing those convicted of homosexuality to be imprisoned for life. Ugandan politicians celebrated.

Interview by Ashley Cowburn

Campaign pictures/Office of Jorge Sharp
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Meet Jorge Sharp, the rising star of Chile’s left who beat right-wingers to running its second city

The 31-year-old human rights lawyer says he is inspired by Jeremy Corbyn’s alternative politics as he takes the fight to the Chilean establishment.

Bearded, with shaggy hair, chinos and a plaid shirt, 31-year-old Jorge Sharp does not look like your typical mayor elect. But that does nothing to stop him speaking with the conviction of one.

“Look, Chile is a country that solely operates centrally, as one unit,” he says. “It is not a federal country – the concentration of state functions is very compact. In reality, most of the power is in Santiago. There are many limitations when it comes to introducing significant changes [in local areas].”

In October, Sharp upset Chile’s political status quo by defeating establishment rivals in the mayoral election of Valparaíso, the second city of South America’s first OECD country. He is taking office today.

Often compared to Podemos in Spain, Sharp’s win was significant – not only as yet another example of voters turning against mainstream politics – because it denied Chilean right-wing candidates another seat during local elections that saw them sweep to power across the country.

As the results rolled in, Conservative politicians had managed to snatch dozens of seats from the country’s centre-left coalition, led by President Michelle Bachelet, a member of Chile’s Socialist Party.

Sitting in one of Valparaíso’s many bohemian cafes, Sharp accepts the comparison with Podemos gracefully but is keen to make sure that Chile’s new “autonomous left” movement is seen as distinct.

“What we are doing in Chile is a process that is difficult to compare with other emerging political movements in the world,” he says. “We are a distinct political group and we are a modern force for the left. We are a left that is distinct in our own country and that is different to the left in Spain, in Bolivia, and in Venezuela.”

Sharp’s Autonomous Left movement is not so much a party rather than a group of affiliated individuals who want to change Chilean politics for good. Considering its relatively small size, the so-called Aut Left experienced degrees of success in October.

Chilean voters may have punished Bachelet – also Chile’s first female leader – and her coalition after a number of corruption scandals, but they did not turn against left-wing politics completely. Where they had options, many Chileans voted for newer, younger and independent left-wing candidates. 

“We only had nine candidates and we won three of the races – in Punta Arenas, Antofagasta and Ñuñoa, a district of Santiago,” he says. “We hope that the experience here will help us to articulate a national message for all of Chile.”


Campaign pictures/Office of Jorge Sharp

For Sharp, the success of Jeremy Corbyn, Donald Trump and the pro-Brexit movement are due to people fed up – on a global scale – with their respective countries’ mainstream political parties or candidates. Given that assumption, how would he describe the cause of his own election success?

“The problem in Chile, and also for the people in Valparaíso, is that the resources go to very few people,” he says. “It was a vote to live better, to live differently. Our project for social policy is one that is more sufficient for all the people. It’s a return to democracy, to break the electoral status quo.”   

Sharp – like many – believes that the United States’ Democrat party missed out by passing up the opportunity to break with the status quo and choose Bernie Sanders over the chosen nominee Hillary Clinton. “They would have been better off with Sanders than Clinton,” he believes. 

“The [people] in the US are living through a deep economic crisis. These were the right conditions for Trump. The people weren’t looking for the candidate from the banks or Wall Street, not the ‘establishment’ candidate. The way forward was Sanders.”

Turning to other 2016 geo-political events, he claims Brexit was a case of Britons “looking for an answer to crises” about identity. Elsewhere in South America, the tactics of former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe – who led the “No” vote campaign against peace with the Farc – were “fundamentally undemocratic”.

In the future, Sharp hopes that he and the rest of the Autonomous Left will be better-prepared to take power in higher offices, in order to further reform social policy and politics in Chile.

“For these elections, we weren't unified enough,” he concedes. “For 2017 [when national elections take place], we will have one list of parliamentary candidates and one presidential candidate.”

And while Sharp clearly sympathises with other left-wing movements in countries throughout the world, this is not a call for a unified approach to take on the rise of the right.

“Every country has its own path,” he finishes. “There is no single correct path. What we need to do [in Chile] is articulate a force that’s outside the political mainstream.”

Oli Griffin is a freelance journalist based in Latin America.