Q&A: Serginho Roosblad, Uganda’s Secret LGBTQ Parade
In August 2014, a Ugandan court repealed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which punished homosexual behavior with life in prison.
Despite this, LGBTQ Ugandans are still fearful of holding their gay pride parade in public. Instead, they gather in a secret location,and only invitees are allowed attend.
Video journalist Serginho Roosblad was commissioned on Storyhunter by Fusion to go behind the scenes at Uganda’s “secret” gay pride parade.
We talked to him about his experience making the short documentary:
Storyhunter: What made you want to cover this story?
Serginho Roosblad: In 2014, I met a Ugandan gay rights activist in Amsterdam, my hometown, during pride week. A day before the parade, she got the news that the Anti-Homosexuality Act in her country was repealed. It was such a special moment to share with her. Now, one year later, in Uganda, I wanted to follow up with the activist who’s now become a friend, during the pride parade in her home country.
SH: Was it difficult to find people who were willing to open up to you?
SR: It actually wasn’t very difficult. In previous years, there had been instances where the press would film people without their permission, or without attendees knowing they were press. Pictures eventually ended up in the national and international press.
This year, the parade was at a secret location and was by invite-only. Press was welcome, but had to register in advance. They also briefed us beforehand. We all got a sort of badge we needed to wear around our necks so that we would be recognizable to the participants, in case they did not want to be filmed.
But those who were willing to speak were very open and vocal. Coming out of the closet is such a difficult thing to do here. I think that those who have gone through that process find it rather easy to talk to the media, as they’ve already exposed themselves to the risks.
SH: What are some of those risks?
SR: Despite the fact that there have been some positive changes, like the anti-homosexuality act being repealed, life for many LGBTQ Ugandas is still very difficult. Some members of the community have to move out of their houses if their neighbors find out they are gay. Those who do come out face serious backlash from their families. Some are beat up by family members, others are sent to ‘therapy’, where they use any method ‘therapists’ see fit to “make people straight” again.
And then there are problems when it comes to finding employment. In a country where youth unemployment is very high, LGBTQ Ugandans also deal with discrimination, making it even harder to find jobs.
SH: Did you ever feel that you were in danger during the parade?
SR: I never felt that I, or any of the participants, were in danger. The organizers said they made arrangements with the police to ensure everyone’s safety. When I got my accreditation from the organizers, I was briefed on how to go about filming people — always asking for permission if I wanted to film them from up close. At the same time, the participants were informed ahead of time that there would be media and that they would film the parade, so that it was possible they could be captured in wide shots of the parade.
SH: Is Uganda making strides when it comes to gay rights?
SR: It’s now been a year since the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which would condemn homosexuals to life in prison, was repealed. A national LGBTQ magazine, ‘Bombastic’, was launched. There’s been a decrease in (arbitrary) arrests of gay people and the infamous rectal exams by the police to determine whether people have engaged in ‘sodomy’.
This year, they celebrated Pride for a whole week with different events in the capital Kampala.
SH: How prominent are LGBTQ groups in Ugandan society?
SR: Because of the work these organizations have done over to fight the anti-gay law, these groups have become quite known. They’re quite active on social media as well, helping those who struggle with their sexuality and are looking for answers.
SH: Do you think their work is paying off? Are opinions in Uganda towards LGBTQ changing at all?
SR: I don’t really think opinions are changing yet. Recently I saw a lady walking in the town of Gulu in northern Uganda wearing a t-shirt saying “No to Homosexuality and Lesbianism in Uganda. Lev.18:22”.
In Uganda, many people did not react positively when marriage equality became possible in all states in the U.S. Often LGBTQ Ugandas and pedophiles are seen as the same. The common mindset is: “We need to protect the children of Uganda” and “Gay people need to be stopped”.
SH: What stories do you usually focus on?
SR: Since I arrived in Uganda, in January 2015, I’ve worked on many different stories. From a profile on Uganda’s top female comedian Anne Kansiime for AJ+ through Storyhunter, to a story on people who were displaced in the west because of oil drilling for Voice of America.
This isn’t the first time I’ve focused on homosexuality in Africa. Earlier this year, I worked on long interview with a gay rights activist for an upcoming Dutch book.
In particular, I’m interested in stories of people who fight for their rights and what they believe in.
SH: Finally, what gear did you use to shoot?
SR: I used a Canon 70D to shoot, with a Rode shotgun mic on top.
Serginho Roosblad moved to Uganda in early 2015 after working as a producer and reporter for RNW, the Dutch world service’s Africa desk in Capetown. He has covered stories like the recovery of the northern part of the country after years of terror by the Lord’s Resistance Army, to lighter stories on a shortage of Ugandan chefs.