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There must be no distinguishable markings on the outside of the building. Nothing indicative of what happens within. The room is airless and empty. Michael Bashaija slumps between his boyfriend – an older man named Apollo – and a lawyer, knees wide apart, on a green plastic garden chair that is cracked and worn. The only other furniture in the room is an old, chipped wooden desk, a printer and a cork notice board, at the centre of which a more hopeful soul has made a palm-sized heart out of red pins. It burns like a single poppy in a ploughed field.
Michael offers me a hand that is as light and limp as an empty Styrofoam cup. He smiles out of the corner of his mouth almost apologetically, as if he doesn’t want to cause a fuss. He is dressed in a pair of Burberry-check trousers, a white T-shirt and fuchsia-pink gilet. The rich red Ugandan soil has turned the soles of his trainers black. He is young – 18, he says. Some time later I will be told Michael is, in fact, 17. He is very nervous.
The ramshackle collection of rooms, at the end of a dirt road – cratered with potholes, are the Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) offices, about 20 minutes’ drive outside central Kampala. SMUG is the umbrella organisation that fights for full legal and social equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender men and women in Uganda; the nonprofit body at the front line of the bitter war against homosexuals in the country.
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