Five LGBT Ugandan swimmers will participate in the 2016 International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics (IGLA) Championships in Canada.
The event will be held from 8 to 14 August in the city of Edmonton, which will host athletes from around the world to compete in swimming, diving, water polo, synchronised swimming and open water swimming competitions.
The five members of the Uganda Kuchus Aquatic Team (UKAT) will take part thanks to donations and support by the IGLA Board and others in Canada.
The swimmers were granted visas by the Canadian government which, said IGLA, has “demonstrated an openness and commitment to supporting LGBT rights across the world”.
The Ugandans will have the opportunity to interact with other LGBT athletes from around the world and to speak about LGBT issues in their home country as several of the swimmers are LGBT rights activists.
The five UKAT swimmers who will compete in Edmonton include Diane Bakuraira, who is an administrative officer at Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), one of the longest running Ugandan LGBT rights organisations.
Bakuraira swam with the Ugandan national team when she was younger, but as a gender non-conforming person she (who also uses the pronoun ‘he’) was increasingly denied opportunities to compete.
Others on the team include Clare Byarugaba (from the organisation Chapter Four Uganda) and Phiona Katiiti (Mr. Pride Uganda 2015).
The team is coached by Delores Martinez, an internationally certified swim instructor who is originally from Colorado and has been living in Uganda for many years.
The initiative was also supported by Nate Freeman, a US human rights lawyer and activist who in 2015 rode his bicycle from Cairo to Cape Town to raise money for LGBT groups along the route.
UKAT was founded in 2016 in an effort to increase opportunities for LGBT athletes in Kampala and provide a safe space where anyone can learn how to swim competitively regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Uganda has been dubbed one of the most homophobic countries in the world. Under a colonial-era law, gay sex can be punished with life in prison.