At the age of 10, a tomboy-ish Ugandan girl was escorted by her grandmother to a witch doctor to ‘cure’ her of being a lesbian.
With razors, they sliced deep on her joints to force the ‘demons’ in her blood out. She would then be forced to sleep in a ‘house of spirits’. This went on once a week, twice a week, sometimes daily for a year.
This is what happeneed to Judith Twikirize, now 23 and living in the UK. She faces deportation back to Uganda on Monday (8 December).
Terrified and suicidal, she is dreading going back fearing imprisonment and attacks. This is where she says she was tortured, abandoned by friends and family, and her girlfriend was poisoned.
As a kid, Twikirize wasn’t like other girls.
‘I was not acting like girls of my age. I was acting different, interested in different things. I always wanted to do what boys do. I played games, even dressing up as boys,’ she told Gay Star News on the phone from Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre.
‘So my teachers, my grandmother, they thought, "There’s something wrong with her body which means she must have demons in her head."
‘They believed they had spirits in me. They cut all my joints with razors, very deep, the blood which has spirits in – if it goes out then new blood will come in. That’s how thought I would be healed.’
She said it was very painful, and she would spend weeks unable to walk because they squeezed the cuts so hard. The house of spirits where she spent the night was ‘terrifying’, leaving her unable to sleep at night at all.
Finally, her grandmother told her why the teachers and her thought she had demons in her head – she was a tomboy. They were afraid she would grow up to be a lesbian. That’s when she realised she would act feminine, ready to do anything to stop the cutting.
In her teenage years, she started having feelings for other girls. At the age of 14, she kissed one, and somehow the entire school found out.
‘People stopped talking to me and started discriminating against me. I was hated, people would throw stuff,’ she said. Her mother who had refused to raise her also found out, and told her daughter that she hated her.
The primary school spoke to the high school, and the teachers advised that Twikirize go back for further ‘treatment’ from the witch doctor. Thankfully, the 14-year-old was older and could stand up against her grandmother and reason with her.
When Twikirize left school, her misery didn’t end there.
She met a girl at college and fell in love, and ne night, when they walking together, a group of boys attacked them.
‘They hit us so bad, my girlfriend had to go to the hospital,’ Twikirize added to GSN. ‘After she had spent time recovering in hospital, she couldn’t continue studying so had to get a small job.
‘In 2008, unfortunately, she died of poison. She died in our place. She might have killed herself, but there was never any evidence of that. There were rumors that someone at her work found out about us, and then that someone killed her.
‘That’s when I decided I needed to leave. I wanted to leave the country when we were attacked, but at the time I felt we could cope, plus I didn’t want to leave my grandmother alone.
‘But when my girlfriend died, I knew anything could happen to me.’
Once she got a visa, Twikirize flew to the UK in 2009. Alone, with no relatives to call on, she said she felt helpless. She met a girlfriend, but that ended badly.
Eventually she met the African LGBTI Out and Proud Diamond Group this year, where she was able to meet other people like her and fight against homophobia.
She claimed for asylum on 29 September. Her case was put on fast track, leaving her unable to gather much evidence to ‘prove’ her sexuality.
When she faced a judge, the UK government rejected that she was a lesbian as her ex-British partner did not provide evidence. When Twikirize said they broke up on bad terms, the Home Office said this was not a satisfactory explanation.
Her activism was rejected as she has only been doing it for a year.
When it was put forward that Twikirize was put on Red Pepper’s February list of ‘top homos’, meaning she will very likely be the target of violence when she returns, this was also rejected.
The judge reportedly said that when Twikirize came to the UK, she did not seek out the help of gay women, so she could not be a lesbian. Twikirize said since her mother abandoned her, she finds it very difficult to open up to women and it is easier to talk to men.
While the UK government have appeared to have made their decision, some new information could change their minds.
Medical Justice, the charity that allows doctors to visit immigrants in the UK, has confirmed Twikirize’s story that her scars are from the horrific ‘gay cure’ treatment she faced when she was young.
A protest was also held outside the Home Office earlier today (5 December).
Edwin Sesange, director of Out and Proud Diamond Group, said: ‘Uganda is not a safe country for LGBTI people and activism.
‘We urge the UK government to stop Judith’s deportation immediately, release her from Yarl’s Wood detention centre, give her an opportunity to submit further evidence to support her case and above all change the way LGBTI asylum seekers are treated in the UK.’
Twikirize’s flight is currently booked to leave at 8pm on 8 December.
If you would like to sign a petitition to save Judith Twikirize, it’s here.