Gay Rights in Uganda

27 10 2010

They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me, and I looked to see who would speak for me
but by that time no one was left.

A silent voice is a voice for the oppressors.  I have not written about the homosexuality issue in Uganda – partly because I have too much to say and partly because I find it so unbelievable, that I keep expecting to blink my eyes and find that none of it happened.  But the recent publication of a list of “Top Homosexuals” in Uganda printed along with a banner saying “hang them” compels me to use my voice and not continue to support the oppressors through my silence.

Homosexuality has long been illegal in Uganda, but the issue has been ramped up in the last year after the arrival of some loud-mouthed American missionaries led to the introduction of a Bill that would provide the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.”  After a huge international outcry, the Bill has been quietly set aside, but the issue still rankles and it seems that many Ugandans would be very happy if it had been put into force.

Ugandans say that homosexuality just “isn’t part of the culture” here –  that it was “imported” by Europeans and doesn’t have a place in Ugandan society.  Besides the fact that it isn’t true, it is denying the possibility that a culture can evolve and grow.

Gay Rights are Civil Rights

What if all societies were allowed to just stagnate and remain stuck in old belief systems?  In the United States for much of the time leading up to the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, it was illegal to marry or have sexual relations with someone of another race (miscegenation).  There were still anti-miscegenation laws in 16 states when the Supreme Court finally determined them unconstitutional in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia.  What if people in the United States had decided that equality for black people just “wasn’t part of the culture?”  What if slavery was allowed to continue because it was so deeply rooted in the culture of the southern states?

I would imagine that many of the same Ugandans who want homosexuals to be killed would be furious if they were told that they were not allowed to marry someone they loved who was of another race/tribe/religion.  Why is it so difficult to see the fact that homophobia is no different from racism in this way?  It is a form of oppressing a group of people for who they are.

No, Gay People are NOT “Recruiting” Kids to Become Gay

The big scare tactic here is saying that gays are going into the schools and “recruiting” kids.  It is truly amazing to me that intelligent people can actually believe that.  I don’t even know what that notion is based on, and have never seen any mention of this actually happening in the schools.  It is a smoke screen, pure and simple.  If you want to get people worked up about an issue anywhere in the world, tell them that their kids are threatened.  If anything, people here should be concerned about all of the 40-year-old men who pick up young girls at the boarding schools.  You can’t “recruit” someone to be gay, anymore than you can take a gay person and make them “ungay.”

It’s Not Easy Being Gay Anywhere

This is not an issue only in Uganda.  Gay people are still fighting for their rights throughout the world.  Even in the U.S., where we have made great strides towards equal rights for homosexuals, there is still a lot of resistance.  I was inspired to write this post partly because of an e-mail that my mother forwarded to me.  She had received a virulently homophobic message from an old friend of hers, and she took the courageous step of responding with this message:

“I wonder how many of the people you sent this to are gay or have a child or brother or sister or close friend who is gay.  How would you like to live in a world in which it would be illegal to be heterosexual, let alone get married?  How would you like the government coming into your bedroom and telling you how you can and cannot have sexual relations?  What kind of spiritual love, or the religion that has come to you since your healing, encompasses and encourages this kind of reactionary response to others who are trying to express love in the only way that feels right to them?  Gays aren’t trying to tell us to stop heterosexual love, why is it right for us to tell them they can’t express their love?  Perhaps you think it is a choice to be homosexual.  I don’t.  I also don’t think it is productive to try to make people hate themselves for what they are, unless they are doing something to hurt others.  I don’t see gays trying to do anything to hurt others, but rather just trying to live their lives in peace.  Live and let live.  Life is too short and too precious to feel hate.  For your own sake, please try to recognize that you can disagree without the negative emotions.  Those hurt you as well as others.  This world needs more love, not less.”

How often do we just “let it slide” when a friend of ours says something that offends us?  I think it is often more difficult to confront someone that we care about than to respond to anonymous “others.”  The person who had written the original message wrote back to her saying she had “lost her Midwest values.”  Well, if hate is a Midwest value, then good for her!

I also don’t understand why the anti-gay movement gets so much support by Christian churches.  What happened to “thou shalt not judge?”  Is there an 11th commandment that says “Thou shalt hate others for who they are?”  I don’t understand how spreading hate is a Christian value.  As my mother wrote in her message, “This world needs more love, not less.”

Homosexuals WILL Win Their Rights

The world is inexorably marching towards civil rights and equality for more people.  There are occasional steps backwards, like the case of the rights of homosexuals here in Uganda, but overall progress is being made.  Ugandans are intelligent people, and there will come a time when they say “I can’t believe there was a time when it was illegal to be gay,” just like it is hard to believe it was illegal for a white person to marry a black person in parts of the United States a mere 40 years ago.

In the meantime, though, homosexuals are being attacked, beaten and threatened here as they struggle for their right to live.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala