by Miranda (pictured)
At 36 years, one would imagine I almost had realized my career dreams and had overcome all the challenges I went through growing up in a very poor conservative catholic family.
This was not true as the jobs of 16 women including myself are no more as I narrate our ordeal.
We are a group of girl-friends, all lesbians, and were all working in the corporate world till just a couple of weeks ago when news spread like wildfire that we engage in what some people here in Uganda prefer to call “unnatural relationships”. All of us worked for the same institution, although we were spread in different branches across the country, including the head office.
No one would imagine that my employment at this prestigious multi-billion dollar corporation would come to an end the way it did. Considering that I was third in the hierarchy within the human resources department and also in charge of the several student interns, that would ordinarily give the impression that I would be treated differently, but this was not the case.
We are all well-educated and well-grounded in our careers, with the majority holding masters degrees. We are in that category of Ugandan society one would envy, considering the good jobs that we held and the attendant salary and fringe benefits that accompanied them.
One of the employees at the head office where I worked peeped into my computer. Apparently I had not signed out of my email when I stepped out for a snack that afternoon. We were seriously organizing a weekend retreat to Bulango Island and the email contained all the details about our outing. We had actually paired up the attendees and listed them by name because each has an intimate girl-friend.
One mistake we regret in our email exchanges was the straightforwardness we used since we trust each other and the group is closed. We did not at any time think that our private communication would get in the hands of a non-member. We were wrong on this and I feel guilty personally that my carelessness brought all the other 15 women to this big trouble.
Little did I know when I came back from a quick snack lunch that my email was read by an unauthorized person. I confidently sat down and went straight to my tasks.
Unfortunately the email that contained our private group conversations had been forwarded to our Deputy Executive Director who is a sworn and devout Catholic lady. Hardly had I sat on my desk for 40 minutes that I received a call from her. I did not even have the slightest imagination that there was anything wrong because I always had official interfaces with her.
On entering her office, I observed a tough facial expression which was unusual. I exchanged pleasantries and did not even hear her reciprocating. Hardly had I asked her the reason for her inviting me to her office than I heard a knock on the door. It was another woman in our group, but from the finance and administration department. I heard her calling our head of human resources department to come over and join us in this meeting.
Before the head of human resources came over, two other women also in our group entered the office.
Now the Deputy Executive Director invited us to the board room because her office was not spacious to accommodate the people that were in the meeting.
Inside the board room, the Deputy Executive Director informed us that she had information that we were engaging in relationships with fellow women. We spontaneously looked at each other in wonderment. She added that she was really angry at that information and saw no reason why we should continue working with the institution. She explained that our continuing at the institution would cause disrepute. She informed us that she knew there were another 12 women within the same institution but in different branches also engaged and belonging to the same group of friends. Up to that point, my mind was confused and I had hard thoughts as to who gave her our secrets.
The head of human resources sprung up and advised that she did not see any shortcut for us to jump out of our trouble without leaving our jobs. She gave us two options: one to resign, and the advantage of this alternative would be to move out without raising any eyebrows within and without the workplace, and the second one was to be sacked with disgrace.
We who worked at the head office knew the Deputy Executive Director as someone who did not have any kindness for LGBTs having at one time advocated for a special policy that outlaws them at the institution.
We four women listened for most of the meeting and only chipped in when we informed her that resigning was not what we had in our minds. We were determined to fight on, including engaging lawyers. However we were mistaken on this as the Deputy Executive Director informed us that she planned to call another meeting the following day in the afternoon with all culprits, including those from up-country branches..
We left her office and each one of us went back to our respective departments. We exchanged sms on phones about our dilemma and how we planned to go over it.
Before we left office in the evening, I received a phone call from a close friend from the procurement and logistics department informing me that she had been instructed to prepare herself for the following day’s meeting in which the topical discussion was going to be about women employees who are having intimate relationships with fellow women at the institution. She wanted to find out whether I knew about such a meeting. I attempted to feign ignorance about it, however, admitted that I had also been invited for the same.
The following day by 2 p.m., all had been set for the meeting, and 14 women had turned up who are my group members, with only 2 who we were informed were sick and could not travel. Five other heads of departments and the Deputy Executive Director were in attendance.
The Deputy Executive Director called the meeting to order and in no uncertain terms informed us that 14 women in the meeting are victims of the sacrilegious vice of homosexuality. She further said that she had received an email that contained plans and schedules of activities including parties, outings, and also mentions who is in love with whom. She reiterated what the head of human resources had mentioned in the last meeting – that the only safe way out of the bigger trouble was for us to resign instead of either being sacked or forcing the police to take action.
To cut the long story short, we had exchanges and at the end of the meeting the bosses had a clear wind of our intention not to resign.
On 12th May 2015, I received a call from the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) inviting me the following day by 9 a.m. to explain the activities of our group. Two other women had also been called. We were at the place on time and we were ushered into a room where we found two men and one woman waiting for us. The officers exchanged pleasantries with us and straight away one of them asked us to introduce ourselves and what we do. We obliged and the officers asked us how many women are in our group.
I frankly told them that we are 16 and are all in love. This meant we were eight couples. So the lady officer inquired whether we knew that according to the penal code it was illegal to be involve in an affair with a person of the same sex. She called it an unnatural relationship. We all kept quiet on this and she probed further. The whole interrogation lasted six solid hours with two 30-minutes intervals of break to relax and have a snack.
Little did we know that we were going to spend some days and nights inside jail cells. Toward 6 p.m., the meeting came to an end and the officer in charge thanked us for fully cooperating. We were told to follow the lady officer on our way out for further details and to our surprise when we reached another block, she handed us over to another lady officer who she told to keep us under key and lock.
At that time, we knew that our predicament had taken a new twist. We had to surrender our bags and all the valuables therein and also remove our shoes. All our items were recorded in a book. At 8 p.m. food was brought in but we didn’t feel like eating. We were terrified. None of our relatives knew where we were and we didn’t even want them to know.
The following day in the evening, 13 of our colleagues joined us in the cells and coincidentally five were brought to the same cells we were in and eight were put in other cells.
On the third day, we were all taken to a room and the officers we found there informed us that we are legally entitled to a free police bond and that we would all be released and must report to the unit at regular intervals. We felt a sigh of relief.
Bond papers were brought and we were informed that we should each have a surety. So we had to make calls to various relatives and friends to come over and stand surety for us.
So by 3 p.m., we were all free and had to think pretty fast about what our next move would be. We received tons of messages on our phones – some from sympathizers and others that were rebukes. One message that captivated my mind and also indicated that our lives were in danger was from a man reading thus “You bitch, how dare you share your fucking love with a fellow bitch. I will ensure that you get damn punished harshly for it”.
At that point I knew the Rubicon had been crossed and we had to think fast to avoid any likely harm – including but not limited to changing our places of abode. Three women and I moved in together in a single-roomed house and the rest also shared in groups of four in different locations around the city.
Fortunately through our contacts we got information that there was someone who could assist us to move out of the country. We got the phone contact and rang the person who informed us that he needed to also find out from his benefactors how funds would be organized to have the women move out.
We did not tell the person who coordinated our travel that we were 16 at first in fear that he would be overwhelmed. We thought it would be prudent for him to have us four move out first and then let him know that we have more colleagues in waiting.
Although we were salaried people we didn’t have much money with us.
We are now excited that funds have been found to have us four leave.
We are making a passionate appeal for support to have 12 women in our group also move out to avoid the likely danger and harm to their lives.
We are very grateful to those fellow Ugandans who have helped us escape, and to Friends Ugandan Safe Transport that funded our movement out of the country.
On behalf of the women who were sacked from work for their sexual orientation
Now that Miranda, Naira, Laura & Jayne are out, the 12 women Miranda wrote about who are still in Uganda have been able to raise $840.00 of the $2220.00 needed to get them out of Uganda – at $185.00 each. There are also another 14 lesbian former students, bringing the total this conductor is helping to 26 women we need to raise a total of $3970.00.
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