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Has the LGBT Movement Failed in Uganda?

in UGANDA, 17/03/2013

"Uganda's LGBT movement, when internationalized, is distorted, escalating the perception among anti-gay rights groups that it is an internationally driven agenda to spread Western sexual percersion into Uganda, and dictate what is morally right for the country."

Rather than continuing to operate on an exclusive basis, the LGBT movement in Uganda should strive to nurture a multivariate movement for social justice, creating a multi-normative society for their safety and the peaceful coexistence of future generations

As a prodigal child, you are always haunted by your unceremonious departure from home. You never stop thinking about making your return trip, and wonder how to return strategically without getting jettisoned. Finally, you gain the courage to actually return--because home is home.

That is the story of my life! Haunted by my surreptitious disappearance from my home here at Pambazuka News, I have always wanted to return, but did not know how. This was not because I had nothing to write about. Living in Uganda, every head turn is a writing subject - Uganda @50, corruption, entertainment, 'the good life' of America's birth control flooding Uganda, and imps, that is, our MPs using tax shillings to buy iPads reportedly to make them more productive. Recall that our MPs received UG100 million to buy themselves cars with our tax shillings on top of their fat monthly paycheck for sitting (or not) in parliamentary sessions. On the other side, our public health centers are perpetually out of drugs, health workers, ambulances and running water or gloves to deliver babies. Our public schools cannot afford boxes of chalks, desks, or teachers' housing because 'the government does not have enough money'.

But that is not what I am back for. I want to tell you about a topic that stirs up Ugandan society whenever it rears its head -- sexuality and gay rights. At a recent seminar at Makerere University on sexualities, specifically LGBTs, the presenter informed us that the two sides speaking for/on homosexuality in Uganda are American. One side is promoting gay rights in Uganda; the other is against the existence and acceptance of homosexuals in Uganda. Already, this perpetuates the pervasive notion within Uganda that homosexuality is a foreign agenda, alien to African society. It also begs the question: do Ugandans have a mind of their own and the ability to decide what they want for their own society?

Interesting question, considering the fact that Uganda tends to accept all things disposable from anywhere! We are the headquarters of the worst quality of used merchandise, factory rejects and experimental goods from abroad. Bales of rotten shoes, clothes and household goods from Europe, used cars not recorded on Japanese export profiles, and factory merchandise that does not meet the required quality of its consigner flood our markets, streets and shops.

So, what prompted me to talk about all this and meander off sexualities? Well, the debate on sexual orientations and gay rights, which has preoccupied Uganda for a while, has become intertwined with other societal absurdities present within our country. Stories on homosexuality often become a means of distracting the public from ongoing national scandals. They also become a rallying front for those who bestow upon themselves the responsibility of 'protecting Ugandan/African culture'. According to the Red Pepper of December 27, 2012, the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, promised to expedite the passing of the anti-homosexuality bill as a 'Christmas gift' to Ugandans. [1]

In international circles, Uganda's human rights record is very much associated with the abuse of homosexuals. European and North American governments, organizations and the media have thrown their weight through vocal and financial resources to condemn the government of Uganda of discrimination against homosexuality. No matching vigor is dedicated to denouncing our government's harassment of peaceful demonstrators against crimes of corruption and the government's wrongful detention of political opponents. So, what makes homosexuality in Uganda so 'sexy' to international audiences? And, on a related note: how does the work of international agencies influence reactions among Ugandans to LGBTs?

Those who know me have heard time and again that, if my 4-year-old son introduced to me his boyfriend later in life, I would not collapse or go into a fit. I would heartily accept his love interests, like I have done with my many openly LGBT friends. Contrary to popular belief in Uganda, my friends do not go around recruiting children, making sexual advancements at every same sex person they encounter or exhibiting their sexual identities. My friends live lives like those of all who claim to be heterosexual -- going to school, earning an income, paying taxes, looking after their family and searching and finding love.

Yet sexual rights campaigns in Uganda somehow manage to question my commitment to the cause of LGBTs. They erroneously label anyone who does not support gay rights as homophobic. They ignore that persons tolerant of sexual minorities like me are uncomfortable with the sexual minorities' movement as it manifest itself in Uganda. My discomfort with the LGBT movement in Uganda is ironically similar to what plenty of anti-LGBT Ugandans disavow -- exhibitionism or what I call 'inventing and performing human wrongs' among LGBTs.

Campaigns for LGBT human rights resemble those for women's rights and the right to ARVs in Uganda; they are pigeonholed from other social struggles in the country. They portray themselves as an exclusive case when in fact any other social group may experience the human wrongs inflicted upon them. Admittedly, LGBTs face discrimination based on their sexual preferences. They complain about violation of rights to privacy and the right to peaceful assembly or demonstration. But such rights are denied to other social categories in Uganda regardless of their sexual orientation.

Uganda's LGBT movement, when internationalized, is distorted, escalating the perception among anti-gay rights groups that it is an internationally driven agenda to spread Western sexual percersion into Uganda, and dictate what is morally right for the country. Some LGBT groups have also accused international agencies, such as the US pro- and anti-gay lobby groups, of distorting their agenda by failing to focus attention on the real issues at the heart of this problem. International pro-gay rights groups also tend to focus almost exclusively on the anti-homosexuality bill and one or two cases of assault of homosexuals featured in Uganda's local media.

What these international campaigns do not tell is that plenty of Uganda LGBTs live their everyday lives calm and unperturbed, according to a colleague who studies sexualities in Uganda. They host group parties, fashion shows and gay pride parades. They perform burials and have dance nights in public discotheques, sometimes allotted 'gay exclusive nights', in non-gay exclusive clubs. And they dress up in clothes that defy the public's imagination, exposing their bodies for all to see, without fear of police intervention or harassment.

Perhaps opposition to gay rights in Uganda is not intended to alienate certain citizens based on their sexual identity or orientation but rather to alienate certain sexual acts. After all, Ugandan LGBTs are predominantly associated with the act of anal sex, which may be perceived as 'immoral' and 'abnormal'. This excludes lesbians and transgenders who might not necessarily engage in anal sex. However, by fighting for entitlements in this exclusive way, LGBTs alienate themselves from other social groups -- women, minorities and indigenous peoples -- with similar struggles of discrimination.

Thus, the LGBT movement could benefit from leveraging its resources to identify with other social groups that suffer similar fates. While doing so, it should address concerns about perverted acts associated with LGBTs, such as recruitment of minors and unsuspecting adults into homosexuality. The scandal of Chris Mubiru, the Chief Executive of the Uganda National Soccer Team, comes to mind. According to the Red Pepper, a local tabloid of December 7, 2012, Chris Mubiru 'sodomized' male soccer players, including minors, and paid them for their silence. Instead of cowing into silence when such incidents come into the public focus, the LGBT community should publicly denounce such acts. Another example is the allegations that priests in single-sex boys' schools recruit young male indigent students into homosexuality by offering thee students education scholarships and upkeep allowances. Separating these bad apples from the good ones would clarify for Ugandans that homosexuality is not a choice for perverts but an identity from birth.

Otherwise, perpetually promoting the LGBT movement so that it becomes a special case, hijacked by an internationally (especially US) driven agenda, risks losing the little support there is for the LGBT movement within Uganda. It does not help that the US privileges the rights of LGBTs over other human rights violations in its international condemnation of Uganda's human rights record. In doing so, the US is seen as absolving Uganda government of any other human rights wrongs, thus undermining other human rights struggles in the country. These include campaigns against corruption, for the right to health, and for the right to education.

During the sexualities seminar I mentioned above, a gay participant expressed discomfort with the level of uncontrolled and unaccountable international funding for LGBT groups in Uganda. While most donors in Uganda set stringent accountability requirements for all their grantees, LGBT groups are allocated funding without a need for accountability. Facilitators of gay workshops are also paid exorbitant compensation fees in comparison to those provided to other human rights campaigns. Creating a special class for LGBTs does not promote understanding and tolerance of LGBTs within Uganda; it stirs up fury and public appeals for criminalization of homosexuality. Rather than continuing to operate on an exclusive basis, the LGBT movement in Uganda should strive to nurture a multivariate movement for social justice, creating a multi-normative society for their safety and the peaceful coexistence of future generations in Uganda.

Doreen Lwanga is a socio-political critic, and writes on sexuality, minority rights and self-determination.

ENDNOTES

1. Alex Masereka (2012) Germany Suspends Aid To Uganda Over OPM Scandal," 27 December, http://www.redpepper.co.ug/germany-suspends-aid-to-uganda-over-opm-scandal/, accessed 10 March 2013

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