“Back home, you can’t express yourself as a lesbian – you can’t hold hands or kiss”
At home, in Uganda, I had a friend who was like a family friend and a school mate – we grew up together, like sisters. In school we used to be together everywhere and also at home. Eventually, we were in a relationship. But back home you can’t express yourself as a lesbian – we couldn’t express it by holding hands or by kissing. So we fell in love with each other but it was not easy.
I had another friend at the same school – a boy – a neighbour also. And one day during our holidays, he called me to come to his house to listen to music. I didn’t think anything of it – I just thought I’d go and listen to music. But when I got in the house, he gave me a drink and it was like orange juice. So I drank the orange juice but when I tasted it, it tasted different to normal. So I asked: ‘What type of orange juice is this?’ – and then I blacked out, almost immediately. During that black out, that’s when he raped me.
At some point during him raping me, I woke up. By this point it was dark and he told me to go home and I didn’t really take the whole thing seriously. I felt like there was something wrong but I wasn’t sure what and I couldn’t tell my parents. I started crying but I couldn’t tell them what had happened. And I didn’t really know myself what had happened…
I felt there was something wrong but I wasn’t sure what and I couldn’t tell my parents
After a few months, my Mum found out that I was pregnant and my parents were so upset, they wanted to beat me. They told me to get out of their house, that they didn’t need me at home because of the shame I brought to the family and they told me to go to my auntie’s.
My parents were ashamed of me but they also knew that I needed to continue my studies – so I went back to school after one year. And in the process, I met the girl again. And we started again. But quite soon, I think my parents figured it out and they became suspicious. They couldn’t say anything because you can’t in Uganda. So instead they forced me to get married to the man who was the father of my child.
My parents figured out I was a lesbian but they couldn’t say anything so instead they forced me to get married
I tried to refuse but back home you can’t refuse. So they forced me to marry him.
It was a hard situation staying in that marriage but on the other hand, his house was in the same area – and so not far from my girlfriend. She came to me often and we continued the relationship. My husband worked away a lot, he’d regularly go away for two weeks at a time and so during those times, I would be with my girlfriend.
I always knew when he’d be away and I got good at timing it. But one day, he came back after one week instead of two. And he found us in the house – and he started beating us. He was shouting & shouting: ‘They’ve been telling me but I didn’t believe it’.
When we ran out of the house, the community also came and they started beating us too. They were shouting and beating us and calling us lesbians.
Because of the noise and the beatings, the police came and put us in their car and asked us why we were being beaten. But we couldn’t say anything. The police had heard the community shouting that we were lesbians – but, of course, we denied it. They took us to the police centre anyway and beat us more.
The police had heard the community shouting that we were lesbians – but, of course, we denied it.
During the beating, they bought out my girlfriend’s brother and he asked them to take us to the hospital before interrogating us further – because we were bleeding and bruised. But then my husband came and he said how he’d found us and why he’d beaten us. He said we were lesbians – and followers of Satan.
After that, they hand-cuffed us and took us to hospital and separated us – and then we went back to jail. We couldn’t see each other for two weeks. Eventually, we escaped with the brother of my girlfriend, bribing the policeman to let us go.
But I couldn’t go back to the same place. It was too dangerous to go home. So my girlfriend’s brother booked us a Bed & Breakfast in another village. And that was the last time I saw her – I don’t know if she’s still there or not.
I couldn’t go back to the same place. It was too dangerous to go home.
While I was there, I realised I had to do something. We had an undercover group – a lesbian group – who used to meet in the pub and support each other. I couldn’t think what I should do so I called one of my friends from there and I told her I needed help. I didn’t tell her what happened but she asked me where I was and directed me to her house. She said she’d help me and that I could stay with her. So I stayed there for about a week. But after only a few days, we saw the policemen coming towards the house and I had to hide in the garden, in the banana plantations.
Eventually, I came back out and my friend said that they hadn’t come in, that they were just passing by. But by then, I was scared. We guessed that someone knew I was there, in her house. So she decided we needed a plan. She said she had a friend she could speak to who would help me get out of the country. And by that time, I had nothing to say even – I was happy with whatever came my way. In that situation, you are just happy to be leaving. You don’t ask any questions.
By that time, I had nothing to say even – I was happy with whatever came my way.
So in the morning, I went with the agent and we came to the UK. That was in 2004, in February.
It was difficult. I had no family in this country and I wasn’t working so I couldn’t think of anything to do. Through a woman I met at church, I met a guy who had a spare room and he said I could stay. When you are in need and you are looking for somewhere you can’t ask all the right questions, like ‘where’s your wife’ or ‘why do you have a spare room for me’? Because you are desperate for something.
So I went. And I stayed with the guy.
But he started taking advantage. He tried to rape me and we fought and fought. After we first fought, he wanted to throw me out. But it was like: ‘Now where am I going?’ I had nowhere to go. I went out one night but I couldn’t sleep there – I was running, I was on the street, I had no papers and I didn’t know anyone here. And when you first come to this country, anyone you see on the street seems like a policeman. So I went back – he raped me a couple of times, and we’d fight. You know being with a man when you’re not interested, you’re fighting, fighting. And I couldn’t tell anyone what was happening. No one knew what was happening at night, no one knew that I couldn’t sleep at night, that we fought all night.
He started taking advantaged. He tried to rape me and we fought and fought
After a few months, this guy filed an asylum application, on my behalf, without my knowledge. I didn’t know anything about it until the Home Office replied and I saw their letter. I was really upset. I had been hiding, not going anywhere because I was so scared of being deported. I knew what would happen if I got deported – where I would be going, what I lived through back home.
After a few months, this guy filed an asylum application, on my behalf, without my knowledge
We had a big battle over that. But eventually I accepted that he did it to help me – that he wanted to make it a surprise. I was going through rape and that was not easy and it reminded me of home and everything that happened there. But he offered to pay everything and we went to a solicitor – and we filed an application for me as his dependent.
I had accepted being a dependent to this guy I was living with. But the terms in Africa and the terms here are different. So when they say ‘dependent’, I didn’t know whether I was depending on him for accommodation or what, but I accepted. And I signed whatever I signed. But I didn’t understand the process or the meaning of ‘dependent’.
So that application went and it was refused. And something in me kept saying ‘be open’, ‘be open’. But it was the one thing I couldn’t put on the application. I couldn’t say I was a lesbian because I was completely dependent on this man and he was paying the legal fees and everything. In the end, he found out anyway and he left.
Eventually, I met a group of supportive friends at the Metropolitan Community Church and they helped me come out. I even found a girlfriend there. But by that time, when I submitted an asylum application, stating my sexuality as the primary reason, the Home Office did not believe it. In the interview, they said that me and my girlfriend were just helping each other get asylum by claiming to be in a relationship. I’ve had so many applications refused now that they won’t even grant me an appeal process.
By that time, the Home Office did not believe me anymore
How many years have I been here now? Sometimes I feel like I am tired. I’ve done mostly whatever they’ve asked – whatever evidence they’ve asked for I’ve provided – but still they don’t believe me. They ask me why I didn’t come out before. If they knew the community I was in, there was no way I could come out. I didn’t know how to come out – I didn’t even know where to start from.
I’ve thought about falling in front of a train, I’ve thought about this for a long, long time. I don’t really know what’s holding me back. Maybe the thought of my kids, that I might see them one day – even though I probably never will.
The organisations help because they give you ideas, they help you decide what to do and they comfort you and sometimes you feel like you are not alone. But it is difficult not to feel hopeless. Now I am becoming old, all the years I’ve been here – now, even if I got asylum, what would I do?