An inside look into the oppressive Uganda 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Bill and its devastating impact – Screen Shot
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An inside look into the oppressive Uganda 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Bill and its devastating impact

On Tuesday 21 March 2023, MPs in Uganda passed a new bill that makes identifying as LGBTQIA+ illegal and punishable by life imprisonment. It also states that, for the first time, friends, family and members of the community would have a duty to report individuals in same-sex relationships to the authorities.

The 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Bill is one of the toughest pieces of anti-gay legislation in Africa, and while homosexual acts were already illegal in Uganda, this latest bill introduces many new criminal offences and potential punishments.

Although the final version of the legislation has yet to be officially published, according to the BBC, elements including the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality,” property owners facing imprisonment for using their premises as a “brothel,” and potential prosecution and imprisonment for journalists broadcasting, distributing and publishing any content that “promotes homosexuality” are currently all being discussed in parliament.

Fox Odoi-Oywelowo, a longtime member of Uganda’s ruling party and President Yoweri Museveni’s legal adviser for more than 15 years, was one of the only two MPs who voted against the controversial bill. In an exclusive interview, Odoi-Oywelowo shared his reasoning with openDemocracy. “You cannot claim to be a human being if you do not respect human rights,” the politician stated.

“Homophobia has never been part of traditional African societies. Perhaps they had a lack of understanding but they let them live in peace,” he added. According to Odoi-Oywelowo, one of the bill’s objectives was to protect the “traditional,” “moral” and “religious” values of Uganda.

Instead, what this now shows is that there is only one set of religious values being upheld despite the fact that the country is host to individuals who hold a number of faiths, including Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Pagans. Some members of the LGBTQIA+ community have accused Christian fundamentalism as the root of the draconian new bill.

A week before the bill passed through parliament, the Guardian revealed that human rights groups had recorded a surge in attacks on LGBTQIA+ Ugandans, adding that the nation had become an increasingly hostile environment. Transgender people were said to have been disproportionately affected.

Cleopatra Kambugu is a Ugandan activist who advocates for sexual and gender minorities. In 2021, she made history as the first transgender person in the country to have their gender officially recognised by the government.

SCREENSHOT spoke with Kambugu five days before the Anti-Homosexuality Bill had been passed. At the time, the activist described how the manner in which the bill was being debated was harmful. “The whole discourse around it showed no interest in being objective. The government’s position was evident and in doing so, it creates an atmosphere that makes people feel emboldened to act on their feelings about people who are LGBTQI+,” she said.

This is not the first time Kambugu has been on the receiving end of homophobic comments. In 2016, she was the subject of a film titled The Pearl of Africa which captured “a story of love, hate and being transgender.” Later on, when the Ugandan government passed its Anti-Homosexuality Act in 2013, prohibiting same-sex relations, the activist was outed by a tabloid newspaper, which then resulted in her having to flee to neighbouring Kenya for safety.

“The language of nature versus nurture is used to disqualify people like me,” she explained, “however for us [as a country] this is a good starting point to start approaching this ancient conversation. For Uganda, this is very progressive, we’re moving the debate from ‘let’s kill them and imprison them’ to ‘let’s figure out how this arises’.”

Kambugu is referring to the parliamentary debates and commentary made by Dr Sylvia Tamale, a retired law professor, who recently contested the bill. Speaking before parliament, Tamale advocated for the bill to be scrapped and not given the “light of day.”

“The discussion of imprisonment, and even the death penalty, makes it seem like being queer is the worst thing,” Kambugu concluded. After the bill passed, SCREENSHOT reached out to Kambugu once more for an updated commentary but has yet to hear back.

Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa, has described the legislation as “deeply repressive” and called for President Museveni to urgently veto the decision.

Moreover, Labour MP Charlotte Nichols has urged the UK to put pressure on the Ugandan government to reverse the decision, as well as ensure safe and legal routes for Ugandans who need to leave the country to access asylum support, as reported by PinkNews.

Speaking to openDemocracy, the aforementioned former advisor to the President, Odoi-Oywelowo, shared that he expected everyone to protect the rights of his children, and that therefore voting against the bill was simply his duty.

To date, same-sex relations are banned in more than 30 African countries.

Drag queen Tia Kofi on dark disco house 80s music, Eurovision 2023, and the US anti-drag agenda

When RuPaul’s Drag Race first announced that it was launching a UK edition, I was ecstatic. Although the US seasons have always been in their own right culturally iconic and high-key entertaining. I have to admit that I was thrilled at the prospect of getting to watch the quintessential British humour play out in the workroom. I live for the sarcasm, what can I say?

Now, four seasons down, it’s clear to see that, while all talented, some queens have made more of an impact than others. And one queen who’s definitely made their mark is London-based performer Tia Kofi.

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Having been in the drag game for more than a hot minute, Tia became one of the fans’ favourites of RuPaul’s Drag Race season two and since having left the show, they’ve become a tour de force. SCREENSHOT was recently lucky enough to sit down with the entertainer and while they beat their face in preparation for a big night, we chatted about all things music, Eurovision, and—you guessed it—drag.

Unpacking Give a Gig Week and Tia’s budding music career

To kick things off, I wanted to learn more about Tia’s involvement with Youth Music’s Give a Gig Week—an annual week-long event which features a series of fundraising concerts and aims to raise money to support grassroots music projects to stay open and continue helping young people to begin careers within the industry.

Having spoken with former Rizzle Kicks artist Jordan Stephens about his own involvement with the charity, I was interested to learn more about how Tia first came across the non-profit organisation.

According to the performer, they’d first heard about Youth Music through a friend and were immediately interested in becoming involved somehow due to the fact they’d always dreamed of being able to record music and had never imagined they’d be able to. Helping a charity showcase extraordinary talent and provide opportunities for people was something Tia felt very passionate about.

The drag queen recalled: “I used to write songs when I was younger and I’d think ‘Oh, I really want to be in a pop group or something’ but I just never thought I’d be able to do it. But then I started performing drag in a three-piece group, which was my dream because we got to sing pop songs in front of audiences.”

It’s evident that song-writing was a massive outlet for Tia, and while they’d always hoped it would be a part of their future career, they never thought anyone would want to actually enjoy or listen to their music. Drag Race’s national stage might’ve been a launching platform, but it also gave Tia greater confidence to pursue a dream they’d held onto for a long time.

The 32-year-old explained: “Our season of Drag Race picked up a lot more than maybe people were even expecting. So that was very wild and overwhelming. And at times, you make questionable decisions in your life (I am talking about dating). But you know, it’s been amazing. I absolutely can’t complain about anything, because the platform and opportunities that have come from it are things that I never really dreamt that I’d be able to do. It’s just been really incredible.”

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Speaking about some of the inspiration behind their songs, I was eager to learn more about how they view their own music. Tia released nine singles over the past two years, performed in the West End and at the end of 2022 had amassed over 963,000 streams on Spotify spanning across 165 countries. Safe to say, they’ve had a pretty busy 24 months.

“I’ve always loved the music of the 80s and that kind of sound and so I like to refer to a lot of my music as dark disco house. A lot of people view it as this really up-tempo and super fun dance music but when you listen to the actual lyrics, it’s maybe not the most uplifting,” the performer mused.

For Tia, one of the most gratifying things has not only been getting the opportunity to perform, but also to go and visit their local LGBTQIA+ venue and realise that the owners are casually playing their music. And, in terms of people maybe misunderstanding the inspo and thought behind a song, it’s not something that particularly bothers them—if anything, it’s something they love about the craft. “That’s the beauty of creativity. An artist can paint  a portrait with all the intention in the world, but people might receive it differently and that’s a really special thing.”

Eurovision 2023, baby!

One of the most exciting aspects of Tia’s career is their involvement with potentially the most iconic entertainment event of all time: Eurovision.

This year’s annual European celebration will be held in Liverpool and Tia will have a front row seat to all of the action, particularly considering the fact that she’s become the BBC’s go-to Eurovision spokesperson after getting involved with a lot of the coverage and promo for the past two years.

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Lest we forget their iconic appearance on The Bridge of Lies recently where they showed off some seriously impressive knowledge about the song contest.

According to the entertainer, they’ve always been obsessed with the event, noting: “It’s one of my favourite things because in the same way that Youth Music is great and creating projects which will  bring people together and provide people with opportunities, Eurovision was literally created following World War II and served as a means to bring Europe back together. So, the idea that music can heal and bring people together like that has always fascinated me.”

With this in mind, Tia is thrilled the UK are finally starting to take the competition seriously and is definitely excited to see how this year’s pick Mae Muller will fare at the highly anticipated event.

Drag culture and the recent erosion of LGBTQIA+ rights in the US

In 2021, Tia featured in a Netflix documentary which captured the reality of being a drag artist, and the ways in which drag culture has shifted in the UK—from niche nightclubs, to mass content drivers.

In Be Here, Be Queer, Tia revisits their old university theatre in Nottingham and, as some trips down memory lane can be, they found it really “bittersweet.” They explained: “I had always performed at school so going into a wider community at university, particularly at a time when it was very undiverse as a group of people, was difficult. And by the end of it, I actually didn’t end up performing a lot. There just weren’t a lot of opportunities.”

Tia went on to recall how they primarily participated in the tech and stage management aspects of the theatre and even remembered a situation where they auditioned for a show and was told by someone in the theatre, “oh, you were the best one, you should play this part. But you’d be playing Meg’s brother, and she’s white, so you can’t do it.”

For someone so creative and so enthusiastic to participate, Tia found it incredibly frustrating that the theatre was clearly more concerned with backwards realism, than showcasing someone who’d put their heart and soul into the performance. “No one actually thinks they’re sitting in the living room. We were just 18, 19, and 20-year-olds pissing around and pretending this is real,” the performer noted.

For Tia, drag was an incredibly valuable avenue for expression and acceptance—and it existed within a world far more diverse than they’d previously operated in. “I think everyone who goes into drag is doing it as an outlet. That’s the main thing: it’s a creative outlet for so many marginalised groups, and anyone who wants to participate in it can do so.”

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Something I felt was important to touch upon in my conversation with Tia was their thoughts on the recent anti-drag bills appearing across the US. And what’s become clearer and clearer over the past year or so, is that Republican lawmakers are piece by piece stripping back the rights and freedoms of LGBTQIA+ individuals in an unprecedented manner.

By using sensationalised buzz phrases like “the protection of children” and “sexualised performances,” right-wing politicians are succeeding in making the world a far more dangerous place for anyone who refuses to conform to their heteronormative and cisgender standards.

As Tia sees it, “this entire thing is a scapegoat.” “I think people need to realise that this is not just one issue. At the moment, everything is focused on drag and drag queen story hour, but there are bills that are coming into play where they want to devolve power back to states about how they issue marriage licences, which they can only do because the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in the first place,” the performer stated.

They continued on to finally note: “So while it might sound like an insane leap, the fact that abortion rights were thrown out has the direct potential to lead to states individually having the right to decide whether or not two men can get married or even if there can be interracial couples. Right wing politics might, at the moment, sound like they’re just targeting drag queens, but that’s truly not what it’s about. It’s about being able to target and reduce the rights of everyone.”