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For Gay Africans, AIDS Conference Was A Chance To Come Out And Go Out

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Washington Post
|
July 30, 2012

Usaam Mukwaya realized his American dream at a bar that reeked of sweat and stale beer, where a hunk of a bartender doled out Heinekens and whiskey sours. Men danced and freely kissed other men under strobe lights while a Rihanna track wailed through the loudspeakers.

But when Mukwaya looked out the window, he got nervous. He saw another type of blinking light: the red, white and blue lights of police cars. Too many times, he’d seen officers on the hunt for places like this, looking to lock up people like him. Then he remembered that he was not in Uganda.

“They’re not coming to arrest us!’’ Mukwaya, a usually soft-spoken 28-year-old Ugandan told his two friends, jumping a little with relief.

This bar, the Fireplace, on P Street NW, is the kind of place the three men had always dreamed of, a place in which men who have sex with men could gather without fear of prosecution or persecution. Within seconds, a man had asked Michael Ighodaro, a lanky 25-year-old Ni­ger­ian with a demure smile, to dance.