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Ugandan LGBT Activist Recommended For Asylum In U.S.

Ugandan gay-rights activist John Abdallah Wambere, right, embraces attorney Janson Wu, after announcing his application for asylum in May. The U.S. government has now formally recommended Wambere's application for approval.

This past week, John Abdallah Wambere finally heard the seven words he had been waiting for:

"Your application has been recommended for approval."

Wambere, a prominent Ugandan LGBT-rights activist, had applied for asylum in the United States, due to anti-gay persecution in his home country.

In a letter dated Sept. 11, 2014, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services told Wambere that if he passes a background check, the government will formally grant the activist asylum.

Back in May, Wambere told NPR's Arun Rath he no longer saw a future for himself in Uganda, after the country's president signed into law the harsh Anti-Homosexuality Act, which made homosexual acts punishable by prison terms, including life in prison.

"I have nowhere to go," he said at the time. "Home is not safe and it's not even a place I would want to think about."

When his lawyers called to tell him the news about his asylum application last week, Wambere said he was overcome with emotion.

"I felt like flying, screaming on top of my voice, telling the whole world," said Wambere by phone from New York.

"I just felt so overwhelmed, overjoyed, felt like running in the streets of New York — screaming and jumping. It was a big achievement in my life."

A Ugandan court invalidated the Anti-Homosexuality Act on a technicality in August, but the situation for LGBT Ugandans still remains serious.

The Ugandan government has appealed the court's ruling, and "same-sex sexual conduct, specifically sodomy, remains illegal under a British colonial-era penal code," says Maria Burnett, a senior researcher in the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch.

"The situation is dangerous and remains precarious," says Burnett, citing continued discrimination and widespread homophobia in Uganda.

Wambere said he is unsure of where he will ultimately settle in the U.S., but that he will continue to advocate for LGBT Ugandans "as long as we still have that battle to fight for that freedom and equality."

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