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Saturday 18 May 2019

photo essay

Where love is illegal

Seventy-two states around the world – including two thirds of African nations – have banned homosexuality and impose harsh penalties on transgressors. Here are the harrowing testimonies of gay people trying to live as themselves under repressive regimes

By Robin Hammond

Seventy-two countries around the world have criminal laws against sexual activity by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people.

That’s 72 countries where people who love each other must do so in secret. While the laws of each country vary, the brutality of punishments is shocking in all of these countries. They include fines, imprisonment, torture and sometimes even death.

Sadly, discrimination and hatred is not limited to countries that outlaw love. Worldwide, violence and prejudice against the LGBTQI+ community is rampant, targeting those who simply wish to live openly as themselves. Media outlets detail laws, crimes and atrocities – but too often we don’t hear from the people who dare to love in places where their love is illegal.

Led by Robin Hammond and his non-profit organisation Witness Change, Where Love Is Illegal documents and captures personal testimonies of survival from the LGBTQI+ community around the world.



Yves Serges, aged 37. One morning in January 2011, he was awoken by the voice of his cousin. He looked out the window to see his cousin surrounded by about 15 men. He was crying. Yves opened the door and the men rushed inside. They dragged him out, put him on the back of a motorbike and drove away. They stopped, stripped him and started beating him all over his body with planks . He was forced to sit on an empty beer bottle so it entered his rectum. They started interrogating him: “You are a faggot. Tell us who you have sex with and where we can find them?” Yves refused to answer. The kidnappers put him into three large truck tyres up to the height of his chest. They took petrol  and poured it over his head and body.  At that moment, people from his neighbourhood arrived and some  family members saved him from the lynching. While Yves has recovered physically, he has been left traumatised. He has difficulty forming relationships.


Transgender women Dolores, 24 (right), and Naomi, 25. After spending an evening at a club they were stopped at a police checkpoint. Because they couldn’t produce ID they were taken to the police station. A police woman recognised Naomi and told the other officers: “I know this one, she is a homosexual.” In the cells they were severely beaten by the police. The beatings continued every day for a week until they were sent to provisional detention. They stayed there for three months awaiting trial. They were found guilty of homosexuality, and sentenced to the maximum of five years. When sentencing, the judge said they had admitted to drinking Baileys – “a woman’s drink – further evidence of their homosexuality. Human rights campaigner and lawyer Alice Nkom appealed the conviction and won. Dolores and Naomi had spent 18 months in prison. Dolores says: “Prison is the worst place I have ever been. And I was obliged to undertake any kind of activity to survive.” 



Annobil (not his real name), 41, is a gay man and an LGBT healthcare advocate. He says he has been attacked and forced to move house many times because his community suspected him of being gay. Annobil is HIV positive. Despite the difficult experience, he says he has hopes of living a full life. He says that it isn’t HIV that is the real threat but the stigma of being LGBT and HIV positive. He says health providers need to give care and not stigmatise HIV positive men who have sex with men. “Stigma is killing people in our community because people point fingers at him, that this is who you are. So the stigma alone are killing us … We are all human beings. If we are positive, that doesn’t mean your world is at end. You have life. So the nurses should rather help us so that we can get care from them. ‘Cause when I go there, you don’t give me care, then better I stay home and die ’cause I don’t want anybody to know. So if I stay home and die, I’m gone.”


AJ (left), a lesbian woman, and AD, (names withheld) a transgender man, have been in a relationship since 2012. In 2014, they decided to have a child. AD says: “He’s our everything, our life and our future. Sometimes when we are settling our differences and he walks in on us, in the heat of everything, he smiles and then takes all the tension away. I could say he’s the pillar of this relationship.” In Ghana, their partnership is not legally recognised, so if something happens to AJ, AD would have no rights to their child. AD said: “It gets tiring having to pretend that we are not a couple. We cannot be seen in town, like holding hands, or act like a couple with our baby. It doesn’t work that way so, yes, we do hope that we do get there someday where we can get to be married and then live the way heterosexual couples live.”


Angel (not her real name), 38,  is a transgender woman and a performer. Because of her gender identity and sexuality, she says she has been kicked out of her home, lost jobs, been the target of hate. “I was naturally born feminine and my parents and family loved me so much. But, when they realised my sexuality, everyone started to see me as evil. I was taken to churches, special places, because they felt I was possessed.” She says: “People judge us so much that you really sit down and think, do these people see us as humans? Do they see us as humans or do they see us as animals?”


Biggy (not his real name), 23, is a gay man and a student studying political science. One night, when leaving a party he and some friends were confronted by a group of men and Biggy was questioned about the way he presented himself: “They say: ‘Why are you behaving as if you are female?’, and then: ‘You are guys, why are you doing that? Why don’t you go and play football and all that things?”  When they didn’t respond the men attacked them. “They starting using weapons to hit us. But, as we were shouting, a woman came to our aid. And then the woman rescued us.” Talking about why he can’t be open about his sexuality he says: “Coming out boldly would be a problem and, even if you do, you must have the courage and do that. You either lose some of your friends, your work and people pointing hands at you and call you a sort of name. And you can even lose your job in Ghana.”



Mo (left), 41, a transgender man and a police detective. He says: “Jamaicans are very intolerant and homophobic. Nonetheless, I live my life fearlessly. You can never know when you can become a target … so I am always in defence mode.” Mo is in a long-term relationship with his lesbian partner, Pinkie, 30, and they live together. Pinkie says she does not face discrimination common to LGBTQI+ people in Jamaica. She attributes this to her feminine appearance. She says, though: “In Jamaica, most people don’t have a mind of their own. They just want to hear one person say: ‘All right – you’re a lesbian, you need for dead.’ It’s like the entire crowd come down on you, ‘you need for dead’. There’s just not somebody to have a mindset to say: ‘You know, leave her alone’.” 


All his life, Bobby Brandon Brown (right), 23, has been the victim of homophobia. Ostracised by his family, Bobby became homeless. On several occasions he’s had sex with men so he can have somewhere to sleep. He has attempted suicide several times. When this picture was taken he was in a relationship with 19-year-old Persian Unapologetic (left), a 19-year-old transgender woman and makeup artist, who has not spoken to her family since leaving home two years ago. She recently reached out to her mother who told her not to speak to her, ending the phone call by saying: “You don’t have a mother or a father.”


Transgender/heterosexual Noelle, 24, (last name withheld) says she moves with great caution around Jamaica. While there are parts of Kingston where she feels safe, in others, she says, she must “navigate spaces” carefully, knowing that she can be attacked because she presents as a woman.


Beyoncé, a Ugandan refugee in Nairobi, where she is supported by an LGBT support group, Nature Network. Beyoncé left Uganda after her family discovered she was transgender. “I ran away from Uganda because my family and the community found out that I’m gay. I was beaten [almost] to death, but I survived. But my family continued to look for me. They also went to the radio station. They say that whoever sees me they should contact them or kill me.” Even in Nairobi she finds intense discrimination. “In Nairobi it’s very difficult as transgender. People are homophobic. People try to threaten you. People try to attack you, because they can’t allow gay people in their country. There’s a high risk for LGBT to get HIV, because their clients may say: ‘I’m paying you $20, but I don’t want us to use condom’. This person, the LGBT refugee, he may, because he needs the money, so he will risk his life. I hope my future it will be like … to have a freedom, to be who I am and to do something that I can do when someone can’t stop me. When someone also can love me, where I can be loved.”


Tasha, 21, a Ugandan refugee in Nairobi, where she is also supported by Nature Network. Tasha is a transgender woman who presents as female. Because of this she is targeted and does not often leave her apartment. “I’ve never enjoyed my life here in Nairobi, that is what I have to tell you. Because from Monday to Monday, from January to January, I’m always indoors. I only move out if it’s really important, because I’m scared for my life. Being in the same place, same house, same room from today, tomorrow, the other day, daily. It really bothers our mind. At times you feel like you wanna take poison.” Tasha says many Ugandan refugees end up in sex work to afford food and shelter. “I, personally, I’m not doing sex work, but most of the people, most of my refugee friends, are engaging in sex work … We’ve had Ugandan refugees dying of Aids because they have gotten it here in Nairobi. And most of the time when they get these diseases, as refugees we cannot afford the hospitals and stuff.  At the end of the day they end up losing their life because of practising sex work. They never want to disclose it to anyone, because they are scared of discrimination … I don’t wanna lose my life. I’m still young. I still have a future out there.”


Lucky (right) and John, Ugandan refugees living in Nairobi. Lucky and John lived together in Uganda until John’s parents found out they were in a relationship and attacked Lucky. They hid with a friend and saved enough money to flee to Kenya. They were registered separately as refugees and they were able to find some sanctuary with Nature Network. “The life now in Nairobi, because of the Nature Network we have, the little money we are getting, it helps me someway, somehow, and the Nature Network come in, they pay us rent here, they buy us food.” Faith has been an important part of keeping them strong through their trials. “If it wasn’t God’s help, we would have already died, because I remember the time when the parents came to attack him [Lucky], and then, they wanted to kill him. God loves us, so he managed to protect us all the way from Uganda up to here. We are together.”


Joseph (not his real name), a Somali living in Kakuma refugee camp in north western Kenya since 2004. Joseph was ostracised by her family for “behaving like a girl”. She identifies as gay and a trans woman. Homophobia in the refugee camp is a great source of insecurity, she says. Speaking of two gay friends, she says: “One has been killed and another friend has been tortured and has escaped the place.” Constant persecution  weighs heavily on her, as does her HIV positive status. “I never talk to anyone about the disease. HIV people are not welcome in the camp. Those are reasons why I was hiding my disease from others for long.” She says: “I am expecting nothing from this world. There is no cure for this disease… At the moment I am just waiting for death. I could not go to the hospital for treatment. I was persecuted everywhere, even inside the hospital. The local government and NGOs could not help me, but I am still alive, I still cannot believe that I am still alive with the disease.”



Nathalie (not her real name), 41, describes herself as a woman who used to be a man. “I’m very happy the way I am, I love myself as a girl. I hate people considering me a transsexual, I’m a full girl!” She is from Aleppo, Syria. She was effeminate as a young man which gave her great problems, especially during military service. After it, she was imprisoned and tortured in a military jail for nine months. She became deeply depressed and tried to commit suicide by jumping from a balcony. After the war began, her house was destroyed and people turned on each other. “No one loved us as a family because of who I am.” People from the LGBT community were targeted. “I knew a gay guy that they caught. They slaughtered him and placed him in the garbage. When I heard his story, this incident affected me so much. He was my friend.” She and her family decided to leave the country. Her mother has always accepted her. “My mum is my life, she suffered with me so much. She is like my soul.” Nathalie now lives in Beirut with her mother and sister, hoping to be resettled. “I want someone to hold me, I want a hand on the heart and a country that offers me security. I will die before I go back to Syria.” 


Gad (not his real name), 33, from Homs, Syria. Gad arrived in Lebanon in July 2014. “I left Homs because my neighbourhood was under attack; it was bombed many times. I moved to Lebanon to try to find a job. I found work at the hammam giving massage.” Hammams are known as places where gay men go for sex. “I was obliged to work like this so I can assist my parents in Syria. One evening we were raided by the police. A policeman came in undercover, asking for a “massage extra”, meaning sex. The receptionist refused but 20 soldiers and police entered. They took all those who worked in the massage rooms, and started beating those of us from Syria. Everyone inside, staff and clients, were arrested, 27 of us, and taken to the Hbeish, the morality police.  They punched and kicked me. They put a black cloth bag over my head. They continued to punch and kick me. I would never know where it was coming from. They were doing the same to the others. Sometimes we were alone in a room, sometimes there were two or three of us. We could hear each other being tortured. This went on for three days.” 


Jessy, a 24-year-old transgender woman born in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. “All my life, all of society have treated me in an inhuman way. It got worse as I got older, especially at work and in university. When I was small my parents saw me playing with a Barbie doll with a girl. They beat me. There are taboos – boys shouldn’t play with girls. My father said I was like a donkey, a dog. ‘You’re a disgrace,’ he said.” Jessie knew she was a girl, though. “When I was six or seven years old, when my family was away, I used to sit in front of the mirror and put makeup on like my mum. Sometimes my family caught me – they would insult me and beat me.” From a young age she was a victim of sexual abuse. “My uncle raped me when I was 11 and told me not to tell anyone about this. He raped me three times. I felt destroyed. I couldn’t tell anyone about it because no one would believe me because he was this religious person.” Her family did not accept her at all. “My brother has always been ashamed of me. Five or six times, with the support of my father, he tried to kill me. Once my father tried to strangle me but I managed to escape and run away.” 


Sally has been in Lebanon for seven months. “I ran away from Syria because I was running away from Isis. One of my family members is now with Isis. Because of him I ran away here. He was in charge of investigations. They want to catch and kill the gays. My last partner was kidnapped and interrogated. I’m 90 per cent sure they killed him. To kill someone they will choose the highest building and push him from it. They are worse than the Syrian investigation services. The gay people are treated as if they have a contagious disease.” Sally says her friend will be forced to name all the LGBT people he knows, including Sally. Then they will be hunted down. “Some of my other gay friends were captured and stoned to death, one pushed from the roof of a building, one was shot in the head – because of their sexuality. They had no proof – in Islam they say you have to have three witnesses, and caught in action, but they didn’t have any. They just killed them because they knew they were gay. I can never go back to Syria. The door of my parents and my country has been shut in my face.”  


Drag performer and human rights advocate Shelah, 40,  at home in Kuala Lumpur. Shelah was a radio presenter for BFM before she was taken off air after the station received complaints from the censorship commission. “They still haven’t told me why I was taken off the air.” Shelah is asked to perform for corporate events, but would never be allowed on national television. “In some respects things are going backwards,” she says. “There are sectors of the Malay community that look at the LGBT community as a big no no. There is no differentiation in the minds of politicians between Malay and Islam. They feel like LGBT people are a challenge to the Malay identity. The funny thing is that 20 years ago, drag queens were visible. Malaysia is in the middle of a racial, political, sexual identity crisis. We are not fighting for LGBT issues, we’re fighting for basic human rights – the right to be!”


Mitch Yusmar, a 47-year-old trans man, with his partner of 17 years, Lalita Abdullah, 39, and their adopted children, nine-year-old Izzy and three-year-old Daniya, at home outside Kuala Lumpur. Mitch is the senior manager of Seed, an NGO that helps homeless people in Kuala Lumpur. Lalita is the regional learning and development manager for an oil and gas company. Their relationship is not legally recognised and they live with the insecurity that their family could be torn apart should something happen to Lalita, who is the only recognised parent. In predominantly Muslim Malaysia, the law currently provides for whipping and a prison sentence of up to 20 years for homosexual acts involving either men or women.


Abinaya Jayaraman, 33, a transgender woman. Until she was 19 she considered herself a normal boy. She went to see a doctor who told her she had a female soul trapped in a male body. At first she strongly rejected the idea. She wanted to tell her mum but didn’t think it was possible. “I was so scared to tell her, and I started to cut my arm due to depression. I used to hate myself, and I used to hate God. ‘Why did you create me this way?’ It took me more than three years to accept who I am. In June 2008 she told her mum: ‘Ma, I’m not a boy, I’m a girl. Please understand.’ Abinaya’s mother slapped her face. One evening in 2009, Abinaya came home after work. “All my relatives were there. I asked: ‘What’s going on?’ My mother told me: ‘We’re going to look for a wife for you.’ I was shocked.” Her mother said: “Don’t worry, once you have a child, everything will be OK.”  The pressure continued until, in April 2009, she took a cocktail of pills in a suicide attempt. She was in hospital for three months. Her mother didn’t visit once. Abinaya’s family continued to refuse to accept her gender identity. She was thrown out of the house. 



 Katia Mariza Teixeira Matos (left), 29, lives with her girlfriend Becky Mathambe, 28. Becky’s family knew her sexuality and was accepting of her relationship with Katia. Katia’s family was not. Becky said: ”It was a surprise, because the family was not ready. Her family said she’s a woman so she had to raise a family with a man.” When Becky went to South Africa, Katia’s family encouraged her to date a man. When Becky returned to Mozambique they returned to their relationship. Becky said to Katia: “Let’s raise a family, have our things, and show to the world that two women are capable too. It’s not just a man who can give a woman a good life. We have strength too, we have determination, so let’s go ahead.”


Tyfane, a transgender woman, talks about growing up: “I lived my entire childhood listening to offensive words from my parents, friends, classmates, neighbours.” Tyfane works as a peer health educator teaching safe sex. She knows that transgender women are at high risk of contracting HIV, especially those who do sex work, however, to survive she also has sex for money. “If I’m broke indeed, I’ll do the sex work. But my routine is not about sex work.”


Eshan Regmi, 29, describes himself: “My biological identity is intersex. My gender identity is male. I am heterosexual.” He defines intersex as “those whose internal or external reproductive organs do not match the traditional definition”. He says: “I was born in 1989 as a daughter in a lower middle-class family. I was a brilliant student. At the age of 13, I began developing masculine characteristics. My parents were in great pain.” This is when the discrimination began. “Society began calling me different things. They looked at me differently, and started whispering as soon as I walked by: ‘Is this a boy or a girl?’ and laughed at me. My friends did not allow me to sit next to them or play with them. Teachers pulled my hair or pinched my breast. I left school. I started spending time alone. I cried a lot. I felt I was alone in this world. Why is God punishing me? I tried committing suicide several times. My parents were saddened to find me in this condition.” Eshan eventually came across Blue Diamond Society, an LGBTI organisation and started to learn more about the issue. 


Transgender woman Sunita Thing, 36, with her heterosexual husband Shankar Koirala, 34, and their sons Sudip, 13, and Dipesh, 10. When she was 12, Sunita knew she was different, but knew no better than to obey her father when, at 17 she was asked to marry a woman. It didn’t feel right and she tried to kill herself. Soon her first child was born, and then a second. She had started to become aware of the LGBTQI+ community through the Blue Diamond Society, and realised she was trans. “After meeting several people like me at Blue Diamond, my happiness knew no limit. I started changing on a daily basis.” She then met a man. “His name is Shankar and I fell in love with him. We started living together.” This brought conflict with her wife. “I realised that it was impossible for me and my wife to live together, because we thought differently. We got divorced and I got my children’s custody. I introduced myself as a transgender women and changed my role from their mother to their father. My sons have accepted me as their mother and Shankar as their father.” Now they present as any other family. “We live as husband and wife, like any other couple. We are happy. It has been 11 years.”


Buje (not his real name) who is gay. In December 2013 he was taken from his home by a vigilante group aligned to Bauchi city Sharia courts, who suspected him of being gay. They slapped him and beat him with electric cables. He was held in prison for over 40 days. He made several appearances at the Sharia court. After being beaten in prison he confessed to committing homosexual acts. He was lashed 15 times with a horse whip. Since Nigeria’s president signed a harsh law criminalising homosexuality throughout the country in 2013, arrests of gay people have multiplied, advocates have been forced to go underground, some have sought asylum overseas and media demands for a crackdown have flourished. Three young men were recently flogged 20 times in a northern Nigerian courtroom for being gay. Some consider them lucky. The penalty for gay sex under local Islamic law is death by stoning.


Ishmel (left) and Gabriel (not their real names) who are gay. Like Buje, above, in December 2013 they were taken from their homes by a vigilante group linked to Bauchi city Sharia courts, who suspected them of being gay. They slapped and beat them with electric cables. They were held in prison for over 40 days and appeared at the Sharia court. They were lashed 15 times with a horse whip but then acquitted of committing homosexual acts as there were no witnesses. Sodomy is punishable by death under Sharia but requires four witnesses. 


Yunus (not his real name) who says he has been imprisoned and tortured because of his sexual orientation – he is gay. Through his group Hope Alive Initiative, he does his best to support other young gay men who have suffered persecution. Since Nigeria’s president signed the law criminalising homosexuality, arrests of gay people have multiplied.



Lesbian couple ‘O’ (right) , 27, and ‘D’, 23. One night they were coming home after a jazz concert. As they left the  subway they were alone apart from two men in front of them. They kissed. They came out of the subway and suddenly ‘O’ felt a blow to the back of her neck. “Fucking lesbians!” the stranger yelled. He  punched ‘D’ in the face. ‘O’ tried to defend her but was punched too. ‘O’ screamed at the attackers: “What are you doing? We are just sisters.” He replied: “Don’t lie, I saw you kissing and you are spreading LGBT propaganda.” This referred to the law against LGBT “propaganda” towards minors introduced in 2013. He kicked and punched ‘O’ and ‘D’, screaming “No LGBT”, and finally, “If I see you again I will kill you.” /the other man was filming the attack with his phone. ‘O’ says: “Now, in Russia, holding hands is dangerous for us. But if the goal of these attackers was to separate us, they failed. They only made our relationship stronger.”  Since the 2013 law,  attacks against gays have risen. Videos of gay men being tortured have been posted online.


Darya Volkova, 23. One night in  2011, Darya was attacked on her way home from a driving lesson. For two months before that she had received threats on social media: “Death to lesbians”, “Burn in hell”, “If you won’t shut up we will find you – we know where you live”, “We will kill you”. These were in response to her coming out as a lesbian and her street activism. As she walked through a park she heard footsteps behind her. Two men blocked her path wearing balaclavas. They started to push her, shouting: “Death to lesbians”. One man struck her with a baseball bat. She was kicked and beaten  unconscious. One of the men stabbed her in the stomach. She lay bleeding for around four hours before she was found. She was rushed to the hospital. Several times her heart stopped after surgery. After being discharged, she went to the police. “They just laughed at me,” she said. “They said: ‘You got what you deserve … we don’t serve lesbians here’.” She was scared and moved away. from the area. The attack was never  investigated. 


Grisha Zaritovsky, 32,  who until 2011 worked as an after-school theatre teacher. Away from work he was involved in LGBT activism although few people at his work knew of his sexuality or activism. In October 2011 he was involved in a protest against the proposed law banning “propaganda” for “non-traditional sexual relationships”. He was arrested with one other activist. The police leaked his arrest to the media and it was reported on Russian news websites. Three weeks later he was asked to leave the school. He agreed, he says, as some of his colleagues there were gay and he thought if he fought the decision they could also get dragged into the issue. Grisha regrets not fighting harder to keep his job. He is frustrated that as an activist he puts himself at risk, gets arrested, then everything remains the same. Grisha now works as a drag queen dancing, singing and performing stand-up in two gay clubs in St Petersburg.


South Africa

Jean Yannick (not his real name), 38, from Gabon. “I left Gabon because I was attacked earlier this year.” He was stopped while driving home. Four men forced him to take them to his house where, in front of his French partner, they gang raped him. The next day Jean went to the police. “We can’t help someone like you because our culture doesn’t have gay people, and if those people come to kill you, we can’t do anything. If you want to be gay you should leave the country.” The police chief took a pair of scissors and cut Jean’s shoulder length hair short. He was kept in police cells for 13 days. He was released with no case opened against his attackers. Jean and his partner went to the French embassy and asked for a visa to enter France. The embassy staff said they would not give him refugee status based on persecution of his sexuality. Jean’s partner encouraged him to go to South Africa as he didn’t need a visa. They made a plan to meet in South Africa, where they would get married and travel to France to live. 

Milli, 35, who in April 2010 went to stay with a friend. While waiting for her friend to return home, she asked the landlord for a light for her cigarette. He dragged her into his shack and said: “You think you are man! I’m going to make you pregnant and I’m going to kill you.” He strangled Milli with a piece of wire until she lost consciousness, “and then he did what he was doing, for hours. I tried screaming.” Neighbours kicked in the window and held the man until the police arrived. He was released on bail (of about US$40) and went on the run. Free Gender, a black lesbian organisation, based in the township of Khayelitsha, searched for the rapist by posting pamphlets. It took a year to find him. Asked why the police didn’t search for him, Milli says: “They don’t have time to listen to you when you go to them. When it comes to homosexuals, they take their time. I just thank God that I am alive.”


Olwetu, 20, with her partner Ntombozuko, 31. They face verbal abuse every day in the township of Khayelitsha. They are called “tomboys” and “witches”. Twice Ntombozuko has been violently attacked because of her sexuality. The first time was in 2010 when she was out with friends. A group of drunken men started shouting: “Here’s these bitches trying to steal our girls.” The three men then attacked. Ntombozuko was knocked to the ground and beaten. Her friends were beaten as well. The second time, in 2013, she was walking home late one night when a group of men attacked her. A car came down the road and they ran. It was then that she saw the blood on her shirt. She now lives in fear of the streets outside her front door. “Even now, I’m not feeling safe when I walk in the street.” She says the love of her partner has helped her to recover. They have been together eight months and hope to marry.


Lindeka, who survived three violent homophobic attacks, all in Cape Town townships. One resulted in her leg being broken and in another, she fended off a man who attempted to rape her. On all three occasions homophobic abuse was thrown at her and used as a justification for the attack. “You must stop acting like a man,” one attacker said. “You are taking our girlfriends, you don’t have a dick. It’s a piece of shit that you are doing.”  “Come, let me show you, ’cause you never got it [sex],” another said. Lindeka says: “My best best friend was raped and killed because she was a lesbian. He knew she was going to tell, so he killed her. I’m afraid every night. I don’t know if there is someone out there waiting for me. I don’t trust any men – it seems to me they are all the same, they may seem friendly but inside, they are full of evil.”



‘J’ and ‘Q’, who are too afraid to reveal their identities, describe the circumstances they find themselves in. “[We] are a lesbian married couple though not recognised because in Uganda society lesbianism is an abnormality, an outcast, a disease that needs to be cured … We have been attacked verbally by people (men) who have noticed we are a couple … ‘You need to be raped to rid of your stupidity of liking a fellow girl.’ We can’t publicly say we are married, especially since the bill had been passed and thus caused more awareness and polluted very many Ugandans minds against the LGBTIQ community, which has also made living in Uganda as a lesbian a dangerous thing.”


Kamarah Apollo, 26, a gay activist, demonstrating how police regularly bind young gay men with ropes to extract confessions. He lists the discrimination he has faced. “In 2010 I was chased from school when they found out that I was in a relationship with a fellow male student. I was also disowned by my family. I left home with no option but to do sex work for survival and fight for our gay and sex workers’ rights. I was also arrested several times because police officers thought I was promoting homosexual acts in Uganda. I have been tortured by homophobic people and police officers, tying me with ropes and being beaten, pierced by soft pins, nicknamed, a lot of psychological torture. I was raped in the police cell by prisoners. After all that, I decided to start an organisation with some campus students called Kampuss Liberty Uganda. I also appeared in newspapers as a promoter of homosexuals, so it’s hard fto get a safe place to rent. I was fired from work because I am gay.” 

Simon, 22, who is gay, describes being attacked by people in his village: “Me and my boyfriend were in our room having sex then one of the neighbours in the next door heard our screams.” The neighbour went to the police, telling the entire neighbourhood what was going on. The police forced open the door: “Police found us all naked and threw us out, handcuffing us. Immediately the mob started beating us with stones and sticks with nails. Later police took us away through the whole village naked, dragging us on stones which pierced our bodies, causing severe bleeding. No first aid was given to us and the police threw us in the cells. They told inmates that we were gay. The inmates started beating us. I thank God that I didn’t die because the pain was too much. On the next day at 10am we were taken to hospital. The doctor who came  was my former boyfriend, who felt pity for me. When the doctor was leaving work, he told me and my boyfriend that he was not going to lock the back door, and any of us who had the strength could escape and run away. He gave us painkillers to use on our way.” Simon and his boyfriend separated, hoping they would have more chance of escape alone. Simon fled to Kampala. He has not seen his boyfriend since.


About the photographer

Robin Hammond has dedicated his career to narratives of marginalised groups through long-term photographic projects.

He is the winner of two World Press Photo prizes, the RF Kennedy Journalism Award, five Pictures of the Year International (POYi) Awards, the W Eugene Smith Award for Humanistic Photography, the recipient of six Amnesty International awards for Human Rights journalism, and named by Foreign Policy as one of the “100 leading global thinkers”. His work on homophobia and transphobia, Where Love Is Illegal, has become a popular social media campaign and has been exhibited around the world.

Hammond is the founder of Witness Change, a non-profit organisation dedicated to advancing human rights through highly visual story telling.

Born in New Zealand, he has lived in Japan, South Africa, France and the UK.

All Photographs Robin Hammond/Panos Pictures