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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 7, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 40
Uganda's only Gay bar closes
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Uganda's only Gay bar closes

By Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Uganda's only Gay bar, Sappho Islands, closed on October 2 after only one year in business.

The bar's landlady was not particularly sad about losing a tenant, however. The 'bar brings people who look strange,' she told LGBT activist Frank Mugisha.

Named after history's first known Lesbian, the Greek poet Sappho, the bar opened in Kampala, Uganda's capital, in August 2010.

In its brief life span, Sappho Islands hosted two historic events. The first was the funeral party of activist David Kato, murdered in January. The second was a celebration of the legal victory over Rolling Stone, the Ugandan tabloid that threatened to out Ugandan Gays and Lesbians.

Activist Kasha Jacqueline said on Facebook that she was 'heartbroken'.

'We surely need a social space with all that we go through & check the cute smiles on people's faces at Sappho and imagine what they are gonna feel after the closure. It's really a pity,' she said.

Last year, when the bar opened, LGBT rights activist Val Kalende wrote about the significance of explicitly LGBT social space.

'I have lived among LGBT communities for the past eight years and I know how much having a social life means to LGBT folks. I have learned from listening to people's stories that sometimes anti-gay laws are not what LGBT persons are most concerned with. They are concerned about being able to meet people like themselves, laughing and forgetting their daily struggles even for a single time. I have been to LGBT social evenings and seen how folks do not want to go back home after the party is over. They value the only time they can be happy and have a good time.

'The opening of Sappho Islands is to me a political statement. Looking how far we have come, I cannot ignore the fact that the Stonewall revolution in the U.S.A. sparked off from a bar. When I first heard about Sappho Islands, I saw progress. I celebrated change.'

The bar opened in defiance of the notorious 'Kill the Gays' bill, which is still being considered by Uganda's parliament. The measure would make one-time same-sex relations punishable by life in prison, and 'repeat offenders' could be put to death.

While Sappho Islands was not a target for Ugandan police during its brief time in business, the country's officials have insisted that LGBT citizens have no legal right to public protections.

'While the Constitution, under Chapter Four, guarantees rights of persons, it also imposes duties and obligations on them to ensure that in the enjoyment of such rights, they do not infringe on the rights of others. Those who practice and/or support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) issues continue to push for their recognition as a right,' Uganda's U.N. mission said in a statement.

'In Uganda, there is an overwhelming consensus that such practices are untenable, and thus culturally and legally unacceptable. It is our considered opinion that such practices remain a matter of private choice. There should be no promotion of those practices.'

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