This is the second in a series of articles from Uganda by Xtra freelance reporter Kaj Hasselriis.
Every major city in the world has a gay hangout — a place for queers to meet, drink and cruise.
Even a city where homos are under attack, like Kampala, Uganda.
My search for a gay bar in Uganda’s capital started on the internet. But it wasn’t as easy as Googling “Kampala gay bar,” getting a name and doing a map search.
First, I found a gay dating site where a few dozen guys in Uganda have profiles — none with photos. I created my own ad. An hour later, I got a text: “Hi dia am isaac.”
We agreed to meet at Garden City, Kampala’s only shopping mall. There, Isaac told me a chilling story: One night, one of his friends was making out with his boyfriend at home. Then the friend’s parents walked in. The father beat his son’s boyfriend to death, then told authorities it was a robber.
I asked Isaac if there was a safe place for Kampala’s gay community to meet. He said the city had a lesbian-owned bar that, once a week, has a gay night. He described where it was but said he’s never gone because one of his family members lives nearby.
Isaac lives in fear that someone might see him going in.
Fortunately, I don’t have that problem. So, following Isaac’s instructions, I hired one of Kampala’s ubiquitous motorcycle taxis to take me to a school near the city’s main university. When the boda driver dropped me off, I walked down a long, dark, lonely stretch of gravel road until I found a neon sign with the name of the bar.
Tingling with excitement, I passed an armed security guard and walked in. The bar was like a giant open-air beer tent, surrounded by a tall wooden fence. On one side was a stage, where a portly emcee was trying to coax people to sing karaoke. On the other side were pool tables. And at the very back was a small bar area with a DJ booth. There, about 20 men were gathered, laughing and putting their arms around each other.
But that kind of affection isn’t unique to gay men in Kampala. It’s not uncommon to see straight men walking down the street, hand in hand.
Was it really a gay night? There were no rainbow flags to ease my doubt.
I ordered a Moonberg beer and stood in the centre of it all, conspicuously. As I tried to fine-tune my Afro-gaydar, a group of guys beckoned me to sit with them on wooden stools.
“Is this a special night?” I asked.
“Yes,” one of the men answered.
“Do you come here every week?” I asked.
“Yes,” they all said.
It was pretty obvious we were skirting around the same issue, until one of the guys asked a question of his own: “Are you gay?”
“Yes,” I responded.
They all smiled. Welcome to the club.
Under an enormous, yellow moon, I met a ton of new friends. The first was a tall, flamey travel agent who introduced himself as Long Jones. Then, I met a cute bulldyke with a shaved head named Stosh, a young guy in casual business clothes named Blessed and a short, nattily dressed boy in a sweater vest and cap who spells his name “Ryan” but prefers to go by “Ree-ann.”
If it bothered them to be living in one of the world’s most homophobic countries — facing what could be one of the world’s most homophobic laws — they didn’t show it.
Everyone I met seemed unbelievably happy.
Soon, the bar filled up. In total, about 75 homos mingled and danced to Justin Timberlake. And in the centre of it all was the bar’s owner — a fierce-looking lesbian wearing a white track suit and the most beautiful pony-tailed mullet I’ve ever seen.
A couple of hours later, after I filled my cell phone with half a dozen new numbers, Ryan hugged me goodbye and I hopped on a boda to return to my hotel.
I’ll be back next week. In the meantime, I have new friends to meet for coffee. Stay tuned for their harrowing tales of homosexuality in Uganda, in the days ahead.
BLESSED’S STORY OF DEFIANCE
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