For over a year now Rights Evidence Action – REAct has substantively changed the lives of Ugandan members of the LGBT community. Formed in May 2014, REAct has managed to relocate members of the LGBT community who have faced all forms of persecution including banishment from homes by the family and friends, arrests by police who say homosexuality is unnatural behavior, mob justice by the public who are simply homophobic among many other forms of harassment. REAct has also managed to support members of the community improve access to health services and facilities through providing alternative support if one is denied access to health services at any health center due to their sexual orientation.
At a meeting held between REAct and International HIV AIDS Alliance team led by Caroline Defferary, Grants Manager SHARP and Gavin Reid, Regional Advisor SHARP in Africa at Sexual Minorities Uganda headquarters in Kampala Richard Lusimbo the Research and Documentation Officer at SMUG also the head of the REActors said at the beginning of the project there was a challenge due to lack of funds but REActors (Members on the REAct team) managed to support members of the community who were being persecuted for being Homosexual.
“Under REAct we now handle cases from the security committee that are brought to SMUG and members of the community that are in trouble are documented and given immediate help in form of housing and welfare like feeding.” says Richard Lusimbo. He adds that REAct has improved response and advocacy and this can be seen through the number of cases documented by REActors. “Police and government are now more aware and cautious of how to deal with cases that involve members of LGBT community and there’s general appreciation of REAct by members of the community.
Bob Bwana the administrator Ice Breakers Uganda says REAct is important because people get immediate support. “Back then people would have to find alternative and at times risky alternatives of accommodation while their relocation cases were being worked upon. Thanks to REAct persecuted members of the LGBT community get immediate help.” says Bob.
Brant the Clinic and Resource Center Manager at Ice Breakers Uganda also a REActor says through REAct he has gotten to learn more about members of the LGBT community. He adds that there’s an increase in the number of members of the LGBT community being banished from home by family members, and a number of cases of mob justice where members of the LGBT community are beaten in bars. He merits REAct for helping with documentation of LGBT persons through working on cases and recording the data in the database.
Jimmy a paralegal at Rainbow Health Foundation thanked International HIV AIDS Alliance for the support made towards REAct. “REAct has really helped the LGBT persons especially those that live in the rural western region of Uganda who were always being interrogated by police for being who they are.” says Jimmy. He adds, “The main challenge I face while working with REAct is that most members of the LGBT community in rural western Uganda are afraid to come out and talk about their stories because they thing I will publish them in the media and endanger their lives.”
An employee of Spectrum Uganda who preferred anonymity told stories about victims he has helped through REAct. He said “Women have a problem with reporting about sexual harassment because they fear reproach.” He gave an example of how a sex worker faced mob justice after a truck driver sexually abused her. When he went to report the matter to police, they laughed at the female sex worker and almost arrested him saying he was the perpetrator. He also mentioned increased cases of black mail where gay men where blackmailed and threatened to be outed.
Douglas Mawadri the Legal officer at SMUG says when we go to document victims they ask for money. “They think I am going to sell their stories for money and yet this documentation is for their own good.”
Gavin from International HIV AIDS Alliance said the meeting was frank and spoke about how collectively we’ve been able to respond to some cases. “It is amazing to see the willingness to learn and adapt that the community is doing.” Says Gavin.
Caroline from the International HIV AIDS Alliance notes that it is a great opportunity to hear first-hand personal stories about challenges faced by REActors and the cases they work upon. Caroline with passion in her eyes said “REAct is close to my heart and is the first program that we launched, it is incredible to see that it is being implemented and making a change in the lives of the LGBT community in Uganda.”
Rights – Evidence – Action (REAct); developed by the Alliance, is a human rights monitoring and response system that records and manages information at the community level. REAct documents human rights-related barriers in accessing HIV and health services. This is in order to provide adequate individual responses and to inform quality human rights-based HIV programming, policy and advocacy at national, regional and global levels.