After a sold-out first night, the Queer Kampala International Film Festival (QKIFF) in Uganda — “the only LGBTQ film festival organized in a country where homosexuality is illegal” — was raided and shut down by police this weekend despite the police recently receiving LGBTQ sensitivity training, according to the Uganda LGBTQ film festival’s organizers and human rights workers.
This year marked QKIFF’s second year after a successful inaugural year. Because of Uganda’s rabidly anti-gay political climate — police also shut down the nation’s 2017 Pride event — QKIFF’s organizers keep the screening venues a secret, only telling attendees their location two hours before each screening.
QKIFF 2017 struggled this year to find a venue — venues associated with LGBTQ people run the risk of losing business or being shut down by angry locals, so most commercial theaters in Uganda wanted nothing to do with QKIFF. But QKIFF eventually found a secret warehouse venue that they converted into a theatre.
Why did police raid the Uganda LGBTQ film festival?
At 2 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 9, shortly before QKIFF’s afternoon screening, organizers received a warning that police would arrive at the venue within a half-hour to arrest attendees and organizers. (So much for sensitivity training.) The police later arrived with AK-47 rifles and also shut down Human Rights Tattoo, an art project occurring at the same time and location.
Although no one was reportedly arrested, QKIFF founder Kamoga Hassan believes a fellow Ugandan LGBTQ organization tipped off the police. He said that he felt like he let down the venue owners and would still have to pay for the venue and other festival costs despite the event’s premature conclusion.
Three lawyers from the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) attended QKIFF 2017 to watch for any problems. The organization is the one that had been training local police on LGBTQ issues. HRAPF reached out to police and don’t understand why they raided the event. The organization said they hoped to re-establish contact and to avoid such future incidents.
Being openly LGBTQ in Uganda is dangerous. Though a court invalidated a 2014 law punishing “aggravated homosexuality” with life in prison, LGBTQ Ugandans continue to report widespread discrimination, harassment and fear of being reported to the authorities just for their sexual orientation and gender identity.
QKIFF 2016 had over 800 attendees and screened over 30 films including 23 from other continents. The festival has a small team of nine people and about 20 dedicated volunteers who help organize the event. QKIFF still has an emergency fundraiser where people can donate funds to help it continue into the new year.