'I have a right to be there': Why Ugandan gay rights activist won't leave
Published Tuesday, June 24, 2014 12:15PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, June 24, 2014 1:00PM EDT
Days after Uganda's president signed into law an anti-gay bill that punishes sex between homosexual couples with a maximum sentence of life in prison, Richard Lusimbo was outed in the most public of manners.
He was alerted by a friend that his picture was splashed across a tabloid newspaper under the headline: "How I Became Homo."
"I just went silent, I didn't know what to do," Lusimbo recalled of that day.
Within minutes, his Facebook page was full of hate messages, and his family began to call and blame him for being gay.
"What really shattered me was my family couldn’t really understand this," he told CTV's Canada AM on Tuesday. "They wondered why did I go and speak with the newspaper and give them an interview.”
But Lusimbo said he never gave tabloid newspaper Red Pepper an interview, and the information in the article came from an outside source.
“They just chose to out me,” he said, adding that some of his family members knew he was gay, but others did not.
"They felt I brought shame to the family,” he said. "No one speaks about sexuality issues at home."
Lusimbo, a well-known LGBTI activist who works for a sexual minority advocacy group in Uganda, is currently in Toronto to take part in the WorldPride Human Rights Conference running from June 25-27. The conference is part of WorldPride 2014.
Lusimbo was originally denied a visa to enter Canada to attend the conference, but officials later reversed their decision.
Nearly five months after the article was published, Lusimbo still lives in fear.
Despite the threat to his life, Lusimbo said he has no intention of leaving Uganda.
"Uganda is home. It's where my family is. It's where my livelihood is. It's where I've grown up and there's a lot of work to be done," he said.
Lusimbo said by leaving the country, he wouldn't be able to help those who are gay and can't speak out against the oppression and violence they're faced with.
"I have a right to be there and I also have a right to contribute to (Uganda's) development," he said. "Looking at all that, I'm strengthened to go back, regardless how the situation is right now."
Asked if he's willing to die in his quest to champion gay rights in the country, Lusimbo said he chooses not to think about it.
"I always say that if anything was ever to happen to me, and I define that as death or being arrested, whatever it will be, that will be my time."