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Gay Ugandan man seeks safe haven in Manitoba

Faces death or prison because of sexual orientation

In the photo, a handsome but tired young man stands in the shade of a tree. The vibrant pattern and colours of his dress shirt are faded. He's turned slightly away from the camera, scanning the horizon for danger.

It's daylight and he's a gay man in Uganda, afraid of being lynched.

Homosexuality in the East African country is considered a crime. A photo of Peter -- not his real name -- appeared in homophobic tabloids in Uganda next to headlines such as Hang them. The Free Press is not publishing the picture or the victim's name to avoid adding to the danger publicity is bringing to the man.

"He can't go anywhere," said Horst Backe, the spokesman for a Winnipeg group trying to help Peter.

"Has no money, because he has no work," said Backe, with Reaching Out Winnipeg, a program whose volunteers help people facing persecution and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The 30-year-old Ugandan has reached out to Backe and the Winnipeg group for help.

Uganda has revived a 2009 Kill the Gays bill. The homophobic religious rhetoric in Uganda has been funded and fomented by U.S. evangelicals, international media report. "There's a lot of money behind it," said Backe.

The Ugandan speaker of parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, said in late 2012 Uganda had "no space for gays" and she vowed to push the bill into law "as a Christmas gift." It was amended to remove the death penalty and put over to the current session of parliament. The current bill proposes life sentences be handed out to people convicted of engaging in same-sex intercourse and three-year sentences for those convicted of failing to report a homosexual offence.

Peter can't get a job or housing in Uganda because of his sexual orientation. Because he's been outed and in danger of being seen during daylight hours, the university-educated man must wait until dark before he leaves the place in Kampala Canadian donors have paid for.

"This is the real face of the homophobia this bill will generate and strengthen," said Backe. The Winnipegger is part of a group of five who sponsored a gay Iranian refugee in Turkey to come to Canada a year ago.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people can be punished in as many as 78 countries with imprisonment, sometimes life imprisonment, or public torture by their government, Reaching Out Winnipeg says.

Peter contacted Reaching Out Winnipeg as a last resort. He hasn't fled Uganda because there is no safe country nearby that will give him refuge, said Backe.

"He was told by UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) if he went to another East African country... they will have to turn him away." Backe said Peter wouldn't be able to claim refugee status in those countries for being persecuted for his sexual orientation.

Backe said he's asked Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to issue a special visa to get Peter to Canada.

A spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration said Monday he needed more time and information to look into Peter's case.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

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