Intersectional Impact of Tensions Affecting LGBTQIA+ persons’ mobility in Uganda

Tatiana Morais/ December 19, 2023/

Tatiana Morais [1] and Afsoon Hansia [2]


This blogpost explores the tensions resulting from colonial legacies produced by the Ugandan legal framework in relation to the LGBTQIA+ community. It argues that the criminalization of LGBTQIA+ persons in Uganda has been facilitated by the intersectional impact of homophobia, colonialism, capitalism, and religion.


Internally Displaced Persons, Refugees, Uganda, LGBTQIA+, intersectionality.

1. Introduction

Many countries around the globe criminalize same-sex relations. Based on extensive literature review, including grey literature and open source, this paper focuses on the Uganda case, due to its extensive media coverage.[3] This paper focuses, mainly, on the absence of internal relocation alternatives for Ugandan LGBTQIA+ persons, and the pivotal role that resettlement to other countries plays. LGBTQIA+ persons in Uganda face tensions and oppression while considering relocation within the country, hence this text focuses on the impossibility for LGBTQIA+ persons in Uganda to consider internal relocation. In fact, these persons are in a unique paradox as they are increasingly susceptible to persecution, but are unable to become internally displaced persons (IDP) due to the country’s legal norms that criminalize and persecute LGBTQIA+ persons, especially through Anti-Homosexuality Bills introduced by the Parliament in 2010, 2014 and more recently in 2023.[4] To address such paradox, we will delve into Uganda’s legal framework (section 1). The following section focuses on the spatial tension arising from overlapping legal systems sending opposite socio-legal messages (section 2). Finally, section 3, identifies tension in time grounded on the Ugandan criminalization of same-sex relationships as resulting from an echo of the imperial and colonial period in Uganda which is being manifested in the present social and legal landscape of Uganda. To conclude we will examine the intersectional impact of both tensions which affect LGBTQIA+ persons’ mobility in Uganda (section 4). 

Same-sex relations are criminalized under the Ugandan Criminal Code. Anti-Homosexuality Bills were introduced by the Parliament in 2010, 2014 and more recently in 2023. While the Anti-Homosexuality Act (passed in 2013 but nullified by the Constitutional Court in 2014) aimed to broaden the criminalization of same-sex relations in Uganda, the 2023 Bill aimed to limit the participation of LGBTQIA+ Ugandans in public life and in advocacy activities.[5] Moreover, and similarly to other countries,[6] during the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities enforced anti-gathering measures, using them as a pretext to target minorities and socially marginalized groups.[7] These events have raised concerns about Uganda’s compliance with international human rights law. 

This is not the first instance of Uganda facing criticism for raiding LGBTQIA+ shelters and carrying out arbitrary detentions,[8] but the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a renewed excuse for such human rights violations. Whether justified by pandemic restrictions or other pretexts, the human rights violation against LGBTQIA+ persons in Uganda highlight the impact of their social construction as ‘internal others’ (or as ‘external others’, i.e., migrants, refugees) as a result of Ugandan ‘necropolitics’.[9] In fact, Uganda’s necropolitics targeting LGBTQIA+ community, encompasses not only physical death but also social death, political and economic death,[10] through laws and policies that seek to perpetuate the destruction of members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Moreover, these violations underscore the growing challenges in considering internal relocation due to widespread persecution against LGBTQIA+ individuals throughout the country which have an intersectional impact due to multiple and intersecting identities of LGBTQIA+ persons in Uganda. 

2. Spatial Tensions

At the heart of Uganda’s oppressive and intersecting systems lies a spatial tension.[11] This consists in the intersection of various socio-legal systems within a specific territory, resulting in conflicting socio-legal messages concerning the LGBTQIA+ community. Delatolla has explored this concept of spatial tension, specifically in relation to social patriarchal oppression.[12] In this specific case, we use ‘spatial tension’ to express a tension between legal regimes and policies within the same territory. Hence, we use spatial tension to underscore the tension between global policies established through Uganda’s membership in the United Nations system and the African Union system, and the policies implemented by the Ugandan government concerning the LGBTQIA+ community. On a global level, the UN system offers protection to LGBTQIA+ individuals through instruments such as the 2007 Yogyakarta Principles and the Human Rights Council Resolution 17/19 on Human Rights and Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in 2011. At regional level the African Union safeguards the rights of LGBTQIA+ persons through instruments including the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the Maputo Protocol and the African Commission’s landmark resolution 275 on protection against violence and other human rights violations based on real or imputed sexual orientation or gender identity. However, at the national level,[13] social and political homophobia are dominant in Uganda as shown by the criminalization[14] of same-sex relations and the murder of LGBTQIA+ activists.[15]

Considering the State-level persecution experienced by the LGBTQIA+ community in Uganda, and Uganda’s international obligations, it is evident that there is a breach of Uganda’s international obligations. Consequently, and due to the State-level and community-level discrimination and violence, persecuted LGBTQIA+ individuals, who flee to another country, are eligible for international protection under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, (hereafter Refugee Convention, 1951). Article 1(A) of the 1951 Refugee Convention, includes the concept of a ‘particular social group’ which allows for the inclusion of discrimination, violence, marginalization, and persecution based on sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for protection.

Furthermore, Uganda is part of both the African Union system (regional system) and part of the United Nations system (global system), yet within its national territory, members of the LGBTQIA+ community are persecuted. This tension is reinforced by Uganda’s decision to close the United Nations Human Rights Office to avoid scrutiny over Human Rights in Uganda.[16] As a result, there are overlapping socio-legal systems at play, in the same territory, sending conflicting messages while creating socially and legally persecuted internal ‘others’ (or ‘external others’, in case of migrants and refugees). 

3. Tension in Time

Regarding tension in time, it results from the criminalization of “carnal knowledge” in same-sex couples in the Uganda Penal Code of 1950, with up to imprisonment for life. Such criminalization was inherited from the British colonial period.[17] Many political, cultural, and religious leaders in Uganda argue that homosexuality is “unAfrican”[18] but the process of socially and legally constructing members of the LGBTQIA+ community as internal others within a legal context began with British Victorian laws in colonial Uganda which criminalized same sex conduct and behavior.[19] These laws were eventually further incorporated into state law after Uganda’s independence. 

Thus, we use tension in time, to express colonial and imperial legacies in the contemporary Ugandan legal system, regarding the persecution of LGBTQIA+ community. This idea is similar to the concept of tension as defined by Delatolla. Although, Delatolla does not explicit utilize the term ‘tension in time’, this analysis aligns with the notion of a historical connection rooted in “imperial and colonial governance”.[20] Therefore, the legal framework in Uganda concerning same-sex couples can be traced back to the colonial era under British Victorian Law, which was later incorporated into Ugandan law after gaining independence.[21] In other words, the current version of the Uganda Penal Code regarding same-sex couples represents an echo of the imperial and colonial period, manifesting in the present social and legal landscape of Uganda.[22] Before the European imperial and colonial period in Africa and Asia, there were diverse and multiple understandings regarding gender and sexuality. As Delatolla noted “a sense of fluidity in social and legal boundaries” was dominant.[23] Thus, as stressed by Delatolla, colonial powers not only regarded the colonized territories as “others” but compelled them to replicate the oppressors’ prejudice, discrimination and violence against LGBTQIA+ individuals within their occupied territories.[24] These imperial and colonial practices aimed to establish and maintain social structures that marginalized, racialized, and gendered various segments of the population in the colonized territories.[25] This framework continues to reverberate through time, representing a remnant from the imperial and colonial period that persists in the present version of the Ugandan Penal Code.

Such colonial and imperial legacies carry forward a project of homocolonialism[26] seeking to establish heterosexuality as the desirable norm.[27] Simultaneously, this project is related to homocapitalism,[28] a scheme under which foreign aid provided by Evangelic missionaries was used both to fund the “Kill the Gays Bill”[29] and to spread homophobic propaganda against members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Thus, in Uganda, the LGBTQIA+ community has been harshly oppressed and ‘othered’ through growing anti-homosexual sentiment imported through American Evangelism.[30] This use and exploitation of foreign aid, religion, and people’s spiritual beliefs to spread anti-homosexuality propaganda disrespect Uganda’s self-determination as a nation and the Ugandan people’s self-determination as a “collective identity”.[31] In essence, the weaponization of God and people’s spiritual beliefs, in reference to the intersectionality of capitalist and religious Western identities, has fueled a proxy war between cultures[32]taking place on the battleground of Africa for neo-colonialist purposes. In other words, colonialism rested upon a complex interplay of social, legal, religious, and cultural discriminations that continue to shape the experiences of LGBTQIA+ individuals in Uganda today.

This tension builds on homocolonialism which is reinforced by other systems of oppression such as religion and capitalism through homocapitalism[33] to uncover the origins and root causes of the persecution faced by the LGBTQIA+ community in Uganda. It also allows us to consider whether LGBTQIA+ individuals in Uganda can become IDPs and explore the possibility of internal alternative relocation. Consequently, many LGBTQIA+ persons end up fleeing persecution to other countries. Among other factors, homocolonialism and homocapistalism, reveal multiple and intersecting systems of oppression at play and the level of violence present in the Ugandan society towards LGBTQIA+ community, making it a hostile environment to this particular segment of the population. This illustrates sufficiently the difficulties, persecution, and violence that LGBTQIA+ community faces, greatly limiting their options for becoming IDPs and finding internal alternative relocation.

4. Conclusion: The Intersectional Impact of Tensions Affecting LGBTQIA+ person’s mobility in Uganda

As it stands, the intersectional approach emphasizes the systematic and structural oppression embedded in Uganda’s homophobic policymaking. This oppression stems from spatial tension and tension in time, which identifies multiple and intersecting systems of oppression, such as homophobia, colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy, and religion. The LGBTQIA+ community in Uganda experiences increased social marginalization due to multiple and intersecting discriminations. Thus, it faces significant obstacles in considering internal relocation within Uganda, due to the absence of viable internal relocation alternatives for this community. This results from Ugandan agenda, which criminalizes same-sex relations. Consequently, many LGBTQIA+ Ugandan persons consider resettlement to other countries. As Uganda progresses towards policies that protect all its citizens regardless of sexual orientation, the international community can assist LGBTQIA+ Ugandans who are IDPs by easing the burden of proving their LGBTQIA+ identity for asylum claims. Additionally, support from programs like the UNHCR W.A.R. Program can offer a temporary safe haven for IDPs from the LGBTQIA+ community. Ultimately, the case of Uganda illustrates that a peaceful, and a prosperous society cannot exist when a segment of society is targeted due to their sexual orientation. Through international encouragement, Uganda can eventually turn the tides to support fundamental human rights while making strides to protect their most socially and legally marginalized, oppressed, and persecuted citizens.

How to cite this blog post:

Morais, Tatiana and Hansia, Afsoon, “Intersectional Impact of Tensions Affecting LGBTQIA+ persons’ mobility in Uganda”. NOVA Refugee Clinic Blog, December 2023, available at:

[1] Tatiana Morais is a research associate at NOVA Refugee and Migration Clinic and at CEDIS – Nova School of Law. Tatiana earned her Ph.D. in Law from Nova School of Law and was the recipient of Fulbright Grant, FCT scholarship and FCT studentship. She was a Visiting Researcher at University California, Santa Barbara, University of Bristol and College of Law and Business at Ramat-Gan. Afsoon Hansia (Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara) works as a research and data consultant in the healthcare industry. Her academic research interests include the intersection between interpersonal communication; public health and culture.

[2] The authors would like to express their gratitude to colleagues and Professors who provided feedback and comments to earlier versions of this paper: Jeremy Sarkin, Veronica Corcodel, Ulrike Krause, John Marnell, B Camminga, Barbarba Bompani, Daniele Saracino, Simon Weiser and, Katharina Heilmann. 

[3] R. Garrido, Algumas notas acerca do indeferimento do pedido de asilo de pessoas LGBTI+, NOVA Refugee Clinic Blog, Abril 2021, disponível em

[4] Ibid. See also, Katie McQuaid, ‘There is violence across, in all arenas’: listening to stories of violence amongst sexual minority refugees in Uganda’ [2020] The International Journal of Human Rights, 24: 4, 313-334.

[5] Ibid. See also, B Camminga and John Marnell (eds) Queer and Trans African Mobilities, (Zed Books 2022).

[6] Sarah Repucci and Amy Slipowitz ‘The Impact of COVID-19 on the Global Struggle for Freedom’ Freedom House Special Report(2020) (13.12.2023). Department of Global Communications ‘UN supports LGBTI community during COVID-19 pandemic’ (2020) (13.12.2023).

[7] OHCHR, ‘COVID-19: States should not abuse emergency measures to suppress human right – UN experts’ (2020) (13.12.2023).

[8] Human Rights Watch ‘Uganda: Stop Police Harassment of LGBT People’ (2019) (13.12.2023).

[9] Guillain Koko; Surya Monro; Kate Smith, ‘Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) forced migrants and asylum seekers: Multiple discriminations’ [2018] Queer in Africa, 158-178. See also B Camminga, ‘(Trans)’Gender Refugees’ moving to and through an imagined South Africa’ [2017] Shifting Borderlands, pp. 359-377.

[10] B Camminga, (n 9).

[11] Andrew Delatolla, ‘Sexuality as a Standard of Civilization: Historicizing (Homo)Colonial Intersections of Race, Gender, and Class’ [2020] International Studies Quarterly, 64: 1, 148–158.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Lydia Boyd, ‘What’s driving homophobia in Uganda’ The Conversation, (2019) (13.12.2023).

[14] Nandita Bose and Jarrett Renshaw, ‘Uganda Bill one of the World’s most extreme anti-LGBTQ laws – White House’ (2023) Reuters, 

[15] Human Rights Watch, ‘Uganda; Brutal Killing of Gay Activist – Amid attacks, officials threaten Death Penalty for LGBT People’ (2019)

[16] Samuel Okiror, ‘Uganda condemned for ‘shameful’ decision to close UN human rights office’ (2023) The Guardian (13.12.2023).

[17] Joe Oloka-Onyango ‘Debating love, human rights and identity politics in East Africa: The case of Uganda and Kenya’ [2015] African Human Rights Law Journal 15, 28-57.

[18] B Camminga, ‘LGBTQI+ and Nowhere to Go: The Makings of a Refugee Population Without Refuge’ [2021] African Security, 14:4,370-390.

[19] Oloka-Onyango, (n 17). 

[20] Delatolla (n 11).

[21] Oloka-Onyango (n 17).

[22] Ibid.

[23] Delatolla (n 11). 

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Andrew Delatolla ‘Homocolonialism: Sexual Governance, Gender, Race and the Nation-State’ (2021) E-International Relations (13.12.2023).

[27] Delatolla (n 11). 

[28] Kristopher Velasco, ‘A Growing Queer Divide: The Divergence between Transnational Advocacy Networks and Foreign Aid in Diffusing LGBT Policies’ [2020] International Studies Quarterly, 64: 1, 120–132.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Jan Huebenthal, ‘Reimaginings, Circulations, Displacements: Exporting AIDS-Phobia in the Global South’ (2019) Injury and Resistance: Centering HIV/AIDS Histories in Times of Queer Equality, [Ph.D. dissertation], 264-277 with permission from author.

[31] Velasco (n 28).

[32] Kapya Kaoma ‘Globalizing the Culture of Wars: U.S. Conservatives, African Churches & Homophobia’ (2009) (13.12.2023).

[33] Velasco (n 28). 

Share this Post

About Tatiana Morais

Tatiana Morais earned her PhD in Law (summa cum laude) from NOVA School of Law. She also holds a LLM in Human Rights (magna cum laude) from Minho University and a LLB from University of Lisboa. Tatiana has a strong background on migration and gender issues and qualitative methods. From 2017 until 2019, she has done fieldwork in Greece, Israel, and Uganda on SGBV targeting refugee and asylum-seeking women, from an intersectional standpoint. To conduct her PhD research, Tatiana was the recipient of FCT scholarship; FCT studentship; and Fulbright Grant. She was a Fulbright Visiting Researcher at University of California, Santa Barbara. A Visiting Researcher at University of Bristol and a Visiting Researcher at College of Law and Business, in Ramat-Gan. Her research impact includes recommendations for legal reforms regarding sexual harassment, made in collaboration with and based on the expertise of members of UMAR ["Assédio sexual no trabalho: uma reflexão a partir de ordenamentos jurídicos"]. And recommendations for legal reforms regarding sexual violence, in collaboration with and based on the expertise of members of APMJ ["Os primeiros impactos da Convenção de Istambul: da relutância do legislador nacional em adoptar a falta de consentimento como elemento do tipo legal do crime de violação"]. Both sets of recommendations were taken into account in subsequent legal reforms introduced at national level. Previously, Tatiana worked as a lawyer; as a project manager, as a legal advisor and as a legal trainer on the following subjects: “Gender and Migration: SGBV from an intersectional standpoint”; “Sexual Violence - legal framework”; “Domestic Violence - legal framework”; among others. Tatiana is admitted to practice as an attorney in Portugal and is a certified legal trainer (CCP).