Words: Finbarr Toesland
The following is an abbreviated edition of our special investigation into the human rights abuses carried out against men suspected of being LGBT+ across the world included in the October issue of Attitude.
It was 6.30 in the morning when Jackson Mukasa started hearing shouting outside their home in the Ugandan capital of Kampala.
At first it sounded like people going to work and school, but it quickly became clear that something wasn’t right.
“This is where gays are living! This is where gays are living!” Jackson recalls a mob chanting.
“My friend opened the door and they rushed in. They thought maybe we were naked or having sex and told us to pack everything up and leave the area, saying we might recruit young people into homosexuality,” Jackson recalls.
Members of the crowd began beating Jackson then the police took both of the suspected gay men in for questioning, prolonging their ordeal.
“They took me to a clinic and didn’t tell me what was happening.”
Soon after, Jackson was forced to undergo an anal examination.
“He forced me to bend and spread my legs, then he put a device inside my anus.”
By the time the test was finished, Jackson was distraught and outraged by the violation and physical assault carried out by the authorities.
Now identifying as a trans woman, who cannot present as such in daily life, Jackson describes how, during the procedure, the doctor shouted derogatory remarks, such as: “Why are you doing this, you should be a son of God!”
Jackson Mukasa shares his story as part of a special invesitgation in the October issue of Attitude
Jackson adds: “He was forcing his fingers into my arse, he wanted to prove whether my arse was loose or tight. It was too, too, too traumatising and it was too, too, too painful.”
Unfortunately, Jackson’s story is far from unique. Anal exams are forced upon on both men and transgendered women in parts of Africa and Asia, including Cameroon, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkmenistan, Tanzania and Zambia, as well as Uganda, to “find evidence” that the victim has engaged in homosexual activities.
Male same-sex sexual activity is prohibited at least in practice if not in law in all of these countries, although life for LGBT+ people in Lebanon is a little freer.
More than 70 nations or territories have laws against sexual relations between members of the same sex and forced examinations have become a frequent method of sexual assault in those countries that foster an unsafe environment for LGBT+ people.
Many African leaders regularly brand same-sex relations a Western import, rooted in colonialism, and the subject of homosexuality remains taboo.
There are, however, signs of progress. Kenya’s Court of Appeal recently ruled that it is illegal to force citizens to undergo anal examinations, while Tunisia’s National Council of the Medical Order issued a statement last year, calling on doctors to stop conducting all forced anal probing.
Clearly, Western governments have a limited scope of influence when it comes to LGBT+ rights in Africa, with inadequate recommendations to decriminalise same-sex acts having little impact in repressive nations such as Uganda, where anti-gay sentiment is practically universal — 96 per cent of Ugandans disapprove of homosexuality.
Supporting LGBT+ people who see their fundamental rights violated should be at the top of the agenda for all countries who value basic human rights.
Even as the queer community faces often seemingly insurmountable challenges throughout the world, stopping these pernicious and degrading examinations is a genuinely achievable goal.
“It’s important for pro-LGBT+ governments to look for winnable issues — this is one of them”, explains Neela Ghoshal, a Nairobi-based senior researcher in the LGBT rights programme at the Human Rights Watch.
“You can convince a government even if it believes that same-sex conduct is not acceptable, that [it isn’t] acceptable to carry out a form of torture or sexual assault on those suspected of being LGBT+ people.”
Read our full investigation into the forced anal examinations of gay men across the world in the October issue of Attitude, out now.