Gay and Vilified in Uganda
By FRANK MUGISHA
WHEN Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced this month that the
The right to marry whom we love is far from our minds. Across
People are outed in the media — or if they have gay friends, they are assumed to be “gay by association.” More benignly, if people are still single by the time they reach their early 20s, what Ugandans call a “marriage age,” others will begin to suspect that they are gay.
Traditional culture silences open discussion of sexuality. I am 29. I grew up in a very observant Catholic family in the suburbs of
When I was 14, I came out to my brother. Later, when others close to me asked if I was gay, I didn’t deny it. Though some relatives accepted me, I came out to the rest of my family slowly. Some simply chose to ignore the fact that I was gay, or begged me not to tell anyone, fearing I’d shame our family name. Others stopped speaking to me altogether.
Many Africans believe that homosexuality is an import from the West, and ironically they invoke religious beliefs and colonial-era laws that are foreign to our continent to persecute us.
The way I see it, homophobia — not homosexuality — is the toxic import. Thanks to the absurd ideas peddled by American fundamentalists, we are constantly forced to respond to the myth — debunked long ago by scientists — that homosexuality leads to pedophilia. For years, the Christian right in
In May, following criticism from the West and President Yoweri Museveni, the bill was shelved. But the current parliament has revived it and could send it to the floor for a vote at any time. Meanwhile, the bill’s influence has been felt in
Not all Ugandans are homophobic. Some say there are more pressing issues to worry about than gay people and believe we should have the same rights as anyone else. But they are not in power and cannot control the majority who want to hurt us.
A veil of silence enforced by thuggish street violence and official criminalization is falling over much of
I remember the moment when my friend David Kato,
Still, I continue to hope. There are encouraging times when my fellow activists and I meet people face to face and they realize we aren’t the child-molesting monsters depicted in the media. They realize we are human, we are Ugandan, just like them.
Standing on David’s shoulders, we are no longer alone. Political leaders like Mrs. Clinton and religious leaders like Archbishop Desmond Tutu are willing to publicly state that being gay is just one of many expressions of what it means to be human. I call on other leaders — particularly my African-American brothers and sisters in politics, entertainment and religious communities — to come to Uganda, to stand with me and my fellow advocates, to help dispel harmful myths perpetuated by ignorance and hate. The lives of many are on the line.
Frank Mugisha, the 2011 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award laureate, is the executive director of Sexual Minorities
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs