LGBT People Aren’t the Only Ones Deprived of Human Rights In Uganda

Jim Burroway

November 28th, 2011

Daily Monitor, Uganda’s largest independent newspaper, has a must-read story today asking, “Is Uganda as homophobic as they say?” They begin by setting up the question this way:

It can be traced to a whirlwind of events. One year after (M.P. David) Bahati’s (Anti-Homosexuality Bill), a fledgling tabloid ran a headline that called for homosexuals to be killed. Three months after that, in January this year, one of the men pictured under the Hang them headline, David Kato, was bludgeoned to death in his home. Amin himself couldn’t have written a better script.

The reference to the Idi Amin, the bloodthirsty dictator who ruled Uganda from 1971 to 1979, is a recurring one. Playwright Judith Adong invokes Amin’s name to show how the world’s views on Uganda’s human rights problems have shifted from a historical problem to a current one:

Before, when people heard that I’m from Uganda it used to be, ‘Oh, so you’re from Idi Amin’s country.’ Now it’s ‘You’re the people who want to kill homosexuals,'” she says.

Longtime LGBT advocate Val Kalende (she bravely appeared in a 2009 Daily Monitor profile at the height of the outcry surrounding the Anti-Homosexuality Bill) pulls on that thread further. Referencing Lonely Planet’s recommendation of Uganda as the world’s #1 best tourist destination, Val refocuses on the broader problems with human rights in Uganda:

Kalende believes the commenters on Lonely Planet are blowing things out of proportion. “What such people want to do is to place gay rights ahead of other human rights and they are the reason African countries are still overly homophobic. If people want Uganda to be boycotted because of homophobia then they should make the same noise when opposition leaders and journalists have their rights abused by the State.”

In this respect, Uganda is little different from the rest of the world: the gay community functions as the canary in the coalmine. How a society treats its gay community is a good predictor for how a society is capable of dealing with other groups who are either out of favor or out of power. President Yoweri Museveni’s regime has spent much of this year violently suppressing his political opponents. Against that backdrop, the world’s focused attention on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill while ignoring the broader problems with human rights strike ordinary Ugandans as elevating the gay community’s concern above everyone else’s. And naturally, if the world condemns official homophobia while ignoring the rest, it feeds the suspicion that LGBT Ugandans are seeking “special” rights and protections which ordinary Ugandans do not yet enjoy themselves.

Ugandan LGBT advocates say that this issue is just one of the barriers they face in trying to turn public opinion around on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. When ordinary Ugandans see official harassment, arbitrary police actions, rampant corruption, and widespread abuses of power as endemic features of daily life, worldwide concerns over the country’s treatment of its LGBT citizens looks wildly myopic. Worse, LGBT advcocates say that single-minded focus confirms in the minds of ordinary Ugandans that the outside world is out of touch with what’s really going on there. And when Britain threatens developmental aid cuts based on treatment of sexual minorities, but not on violent governmental crackdowns on opposition groups, it only reinforces the widespread erroneous belief that homosexuality is a foreign import. On those points, it becomes hard to argue with them.

Regan DuCasse

November 28th, 2011

Criticism at gay people and what national priorities are for Ugandans, rings hollow for me. You might agree Jim, that the people of Uganda have a point in resenting the government’s focus on gay issues, rather than ones that concern the greater population: but the general public can learn a lot from how the gay community gets things done. Communicates their issues to the rest of the world.
Scott Lively and Rick Warren didn’t travel to Uganda to invoke their concerns for anything other than homosexuality and HIV. Their mission wasn’t about influencing OTHER things that affect Ugandans.

Gay people are unique in that they are a portion of humanity that’s UNIVERSAL to all cultures and human history. As much a part of whatever culture they were born into. They are not a policy or ethnic group. They are globally interconnecting in ways never seen before in that human history and in that way, might seem more powerful than they really are.
And are at risk of being punished for it.

But also there is something very important that they can be teaching others, and because it’s gay people, the message of how much can be accomplished through courage is being lost on the rest.

Mores the point: the anti gay in our country, have spent an incredible multi millions and invested a great deal of political capital in warring on gay people to the exclusion of a lot else.
It is THEY who are so obsessed and single minded, why should gay people be resented for engaging in self defense?

I put the question before the NOM’ers on NOM’s website why they are putting so much money and energy into advancing laws that actually don’t defend marriage or marriages or families.
How can they justify an amendment that interferes with the contributions of gay people, and at the same time, divorces, domestic violence and child poverty and abuse still goes on?
Why didn’t they question just WHY NOM is spending so much money on an INERT piece of law that does nothing, not even on paper?

NOM blocked my comments after that, and pointing out that their energy is better spent on more urgent this is rejected and resented.

Anyone that resents what they think is gay people being prioritized over other’s concerns, are clueless about the strategies of engaging allies.

Instead of seeing gay people as the enemy.
There is an opportunity to consider gay people as a powerful ally against greater problems.
As I like to say: gay people are like the thumbs to the hand. They are a minority in number and function to the fingers, but without it, the hand is less strong and skilled.

Cutting off one’s thumb, to spite the hand, is more what people keep doing to the detriment of everything.


November 28th, 2011

“In this respect, Uganda is little different from the rest of the world: the gay community functions as the canary in the coalmine. How a society treats its gay community is a good predictor for how a society is capable of dealing with other groups who are either out of favor or out of power.”

Actually, I’d argue that women function as the canary in the coalmine.

Women in Uganda are economically dependent upon men, have limited job opportunities, have lower literacy rates, have lower rates of land ownership, have limited participation in government, and have little control over their sexuality compared to men.

How a society (mis)treats half of its human population is a good predictor for how it will treat other relatively powerless groups, including LGBT people, especially when those people don’t conform to the society’s proper gender roles.

Reed Boyer

November 29th, 2011

I thought the “canary in a coalmine” metaphor was one of the best bits I’ve read in the past couple of months.


November 30th, 2011

The one gay rights success case in Africa, i.e. South Africa, should be useful background. Simon Nkoli, anti-apartheid activist and a political prisoner along with other ANC members, came out in prison and campaigned to include gay rights within the broad struggle against apartheid. That’s why LGBT rights in in the constitution despite much homophobia in the population, and within ANC itself. The Ugandan activists are speaking from African experience – the Western world should listen more.

Timothy Kincaid

December 1st, 2011

“When ordinary Ugandans see official harassment, arbitrary police actions, rampant corruption, and widespread abuses of power as endemic features of daily life, worldwide concerns over the country’s treatment of its LGBT citizens looks wildly myopic.”

Perhaps it is the distinction between majorities and minorities. It is easier to feel concern for the plight of, say, some ethic group being subjugated by a dominant majority than it is to feel sympathy for human rights abuses that are tolerated by society at large.

Outsiders tend to think that if ordinary Ugandans aren’t happy with abuses of power, then why don’t they take the example of the Arab Spring and boot out the abusers. But they sympathize with gay Ugandans who do not have that choice.

For example, if Ugandan women united – not necessarily in arms but in denying sex, arguing their points, and refusing to participate in a society that does not give them equality – they could change that country within a month. So while I sympathize with Ugandan women, I don’t see them as entirely powerless. Yes it would be costly to them, but that is their option.

Gay Ugandans have no options. And that why outsiders care more.

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