Rachel Adams is a freelance journalist and photographer. She has travelled to Africa, Europe and Latin America documenting revolutions and rebellion. Among her projects is one on documenting gay prides across the world. Her photographs on Uganda’s first gay pride were recently exhibited in UK at Homotopia, an arts festival. (Let me know if you want anything else highlighted here in particular)
– Why did you choose to go to Uganda?
I’d heard there was a gay pride event going on and was impressed that it was happening in a country that has become known as ‘the world’s worst place to be gay.’ I thought it was a good news story to cover and I’ve covered a few different prides around the world so thought it would be interesting to compare. Also I had a friend there who could put me up for a couple of weeks.
– What struck you most Uganda’s first gay pride? How was it different from others you’ve attended?
It was a four day event, with an opening party, a film festival, a fashion show and of course the parade and after-parties. The events were conducted at secret locations and it took a lot of effort to gain the trust of the organisers and to find the places where the events were taking place. The size of the parade – around 50-60 people – was very small compared to other prides I’ve been to, which number around 30,000 visitors. It felt very grass-roots, very necessary and political, not commercial, overpriced and unrepresentative like Manchester for example.
– You were arrested at the pride. Tell us about your experience. (How did you escape and what did you learn about what it takes to survive / escape arrest?)
I was ‘arrested’ by a soldier who seemed to be on a bit of a power trip. Although he couldn’t give me a reason for arresting me, he was looking to make some kind of a point. He had seen me taking pictures and didn’t like it. He asked for my ID and since I only had a photocopy of my passport with me he said I must be in the country illegally. I was driven to the police station on the bike of a motorbike by a female police officer (after seeing 2 trucks of male officers we insisted a female one be contacted to take me to the station for safety). The Ugandan activists all tried to stop me from being arrested but the officer wouldn’t back down. I tried to get the number and his name from his ID card but after a while he wouldn’t show it to me or let me write it down. At the police station I had to lie and say that I wasn’t taking pictures and didn’t even have a camera so that nobody in the photographs was put in danger if the police identified them. The soldier pretended he had recorded me on his mobile phone saying I’d taken photographs but when I asked him to playback the recording he made an excuse. The activists phoned the British Consulate and the Inspector General of Police and the soldier’s seniors got in touch with a man called Simon from the British Military who came to ‘get me out.’ There were about 10 other people (international and Ugandan activists) detained as well but all let go without charge.
I learnt that it is important to have a good group of people to support you in these situations. The activists knew exactly what to do – they phoned the British Consul, the IGP, and they took control of the situation by taking the mickey and entertaining the police officers. They know their rights and they know more than the officers they are dealing with. The leading activists are well-versed in these situations but non-activists (including me!) are not as aware of their rights and of what officers have the right to do.
Luckily I wasn’t hurt at all but some of the performers were chased by police and one of them was badly beaten.
– Uganda just recently fell short of legalising a death penalty for homosexuality. How do you see the future of homosexuals in Uganda?
The anti-homosexuality bill that was proposed in 2009 is due to be tabled in parliament any day now. The death penalty for ‘aggravated homosexuality’ has reportedly been taken out, but it still contains clauses like life sentence for homosexuality and parents and landlords facing possibly prison sentences for not reporting their gay children / tenants.
– Do you plan on returning to Uganda soon?
I’m in Uganda now covering the bill.
– What are your future projects related to homosexuality?
It would be great to cover more prides and to put together a body of images that show the stories behind each one. I would also like to continue the documentary project I started a few years ago, collecting personal stories on audio and making portraits of women who have changed the world. I also love clubbing shots and as long as I carry on going to gay clubs and enjoying them, I’ll carry a camera and capture the attitude and style of some of the world’s best and most outrageous dressers.
[*Editor’s Note : Photographs courtesy of Rachel Adams]