Our Stories

Tortured for Teaching Tolerance, Ugandan Principal Who Stood Up Against Anti-Gay Hate Wins Asylum


Speaking out for gay Ugandans' rights

Susana* was the principal of a secondary school in Uganda who believed in promoting tolerance and diversity among her students. When school authorities accused a group of students of being lesbian and demanded that Susana expel them from the school, she refused. When the school’s Board of Governors passed a resolution requiring that homosexual students be expelled, Susana stood up and objected. She vowed never to implement it in her school.

That is when Susana herself became the target of anti-gay bigotry. She was accused by teachers, school administrators, parents, and others in the community of being lesbian herself and of “recruiting” children to homosexuality. She suffered harassment, beatings and death threats. She was gang-raped, a horrific act meant to silence her.

Depressed and deeply traumatized, Susana accepted an invitation from a friend to visit the United States. Despite her treatment at home, she hoped to return to Uganda after the situation improved. Yet she came to see that she could not return. Ugandan leaders are considering legislation that would impose harsh penalties on gay Ugandans and their supporters.

The climate of hate infected her family members still in Uganda. Her children continued receiving threats from men who came to their home to search for Susana. These men terrorized her children and threatened to kidnap and murder her youngest son, who was 7 years old, if she did not return. She feared that if she did return, she would be killed.

Susana came to Public Counsel to apply for asylum. While preparing her application, she received therapy from the Program for Torture Victims. Torture victims can wait months or even years for their cases to be heard because of a huge backlog in applications. When it appeared that Susana’s application might be delayed, Public Counsel requested an expedited interview in light of the threats against her children. The expedited interview was granted.

On October 8, Susana learned that she has been granted asylum. Smiling broadly, she cried while telling her children the news by phone. She will now be able to petition to bring her two youngest children to join her in the United States.

“When I was in desperate need, I met people from the Program for Torture Victims and Public Counsel,” Susana said after learning she had been granted asylum. “They were so nice to me and treated me like I was family. They were there for me in everything. Sometimes I would wonder how people can be so good, hardworking, and understanding.”

Susana has many hopes and plans for the future. While preparing her asylum application, she became a volunteer for the American Red Cross and the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. Now she is debating between becoming a school counselor or a Certified Nursing Assistant.

“I have now left the past behind me, and I hope to start a new life,” she said. “I feel different, and accepted. I feel great.”

Public Counsel helps people from around the world who face persecution because of their sexual identity or because they speak out against anti-gay bigotry.

* name has been changed to protect her identity