I didn’t know I was gay when I was younger; I just knew that I wasn’t attracted to girls. In Kampala, nobody mentioned homosexuality; growing up, I never met anyone who was openly gay. You only heard about it on the radio, distantly, in passing.
“Why can’t they leave this country?” callers asked when the topic was raised. “Find an island for them!”
At 19, I went to university and met a man — the first person I wanted to be with. He told me that we could be partners, but only in secret because homosexuality is illegal in Uganda.
After I finished my advanced degree in accounting, I moved to the city with gay friends I’d met at school. We all loved fashion and talked about cute guys. But we were only fully honest with each other. Of course, we couldn’t completely hide who we were; people suspected us of being gay. The way they looked at us – we knew they’d beat us if they found us in a dark corner. In some areas, strangers threw stones or boiling water. They shouted, “We hate you, and next time we’ll hurt you!” Certain shopkeepers wouldn’t serve us.
Still, we were young and starting out our lives. Our community was small and secret, but close-knit. I got a good job as a waiter at a Muslim luxury hotel. Everyone knew I was an excellent server, but eventually, rumors about my sexuality began to circulate.
“Are you a gay?” a co-worker asked.
“Anyone could be gay for all we know,” I said. “Even you.”
Soon enough, they fired me. It hurt me terribly to be dismissed from work I’d done so well, but I didn’t know that worse days were ahead.
I got a new job at another restaurant. With my pay, I went shopping and met a sweet, handsome salesman. He told me that we could start dating – but first, he began to ask me for money. I always gave him something, and he always disappeared. We never slept together.
One Monday, my day off, he called me.
“Are you at home?” he asked. “Can I come by?”
I had a weird feeling on that call. My heart weakened. I didn’t want to see him. But I ignored it and told him to stop in.
He arrived and before I could offer him a drink, he stripped off his pants and shirt. My shirt was already off because it had been scorching hot. I heard banging at the door. I thought it was the houseboy who did some errands for me, so I opened it. And my breath left me.
Six men stood there: one with a gun, one with a video camera, and one with a machete. I turned to the guy I’d been seeing. He had set me up.
Before I knew what was happening, I began to fight them, but it was seven against one. They pushed in, and the man with the machete slashed me, cutting me from shoulder to armpit on each arm. I began to bleed, so much blood.
“I’ll cut off your arms,” he said.
I knew of this gang: They had killed one gay man before and brutally beaten another. They had robbed them and blackmailed one with a video.
“I’ll give you all my money,” I said. “Let me live.”
They wrapped my wounds in rags, and took me to the ATM. I drained my account for them. They left me bleeding on the street in the sun.
My friends found me and took me to a hospital. My kind boss gave me a month off, since I couldn’t lift my arms to carry a tray.
The physical pain was terrible, but the fear was worse. I believed the men would come back, push into my house, and kill me. I began working the dinner shift again. Scared of the night, I hired a special taxi to take me home. I could not sleep. I was isolated. Uganda was no place for me.
I found a tourism conference in Port Elizabeth online. I registered and paid the conference fee with money I made from selling all my belongings. With the conference invitation, I applied for a tourist visa. I never planned to attend the conference; I just needed to get to South Africa.
With my visa in hand, I bought a one-way bus ticket and left Uganda. I knew it would be forever. We passed overland for a week. I was tired, lonely. I watched Zimbabwe and Zambia go by, my mind on the past.
I entered South Africa on New Year’s Eve 2009. On January 1, 2010, I traveled from Johannesburg to Cape Town. I saw this beautiful city from the distance and I thought, “This is where I’m supposed to be.”
I’ve been here for over two years now, living with gay refugee friends. It hasn’t been easy. I work three days a week at a small shop but I’ve had trouble getting a job because I only have temporary asylum, which I renew every six months. I need to get permanent papers to get proper work so I’ve come to PASSOP for help.
I dream of my perfect life here in South Africa. I want to get a job in accounting or marketing because I’m a trained professional and I have degrees. I feel so useless now; I want to have a purpose and contribute to something. I’d like to be a citizen. I’d like to have a partner one day. And if I could get enough money, I would buy a lovely house on the beach.
But even now, with all the struggles, this is the only place for me. When I got those injuries, I thought my life might be over. But I have a new life here now, and some rights, and I am fear-free. That’s why I must stay in South Africa; I simply have no other option.
If you want to help Roy, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or (0027) 021 762 0322.
(Roy’s story was compiled and written by PASSOP volunteer Justine van der Leun.)