Uganda’s Dr Semugoma: Optimistic and Living With Hope

Jim Burroway

August 8th, 2012

Longtime BTB readers will recall our good friend, the anonymous blogger GayUganda. To get you caught up to date, he’s no longer blogging and he’s no longer anonymous. Meet Dr. Paul Semugoma:

YouTube Preview Image

Dr. Semugoma was in Washington D.C. for the International AIDS Conference last month. In this video he talks about the barriers to AIDS prevention caused by homophobia and discrimination — a situation that he says is exacerbated by the influence of American anti-gay evangelicals in Uganda. He points out that Uganda’s anti-gay laws currently are virtually identical to those of Kenya and Tanzania, both of which border Uganda and are also, like Uganda, former British colonies. Yet Kenyan and Tanzanian HIV/AIDS prevention efforts include special programs for those nations’ LGBT communities, while Ugandan authorities claim, falsely, that similar efforts in Uganda are prohibited by law. Dr. Semugoma makes the case that this stance works against the interests of the entire country, not just LGBT people.

At about the 7:00 mark, Dr. Semugoma talks about his own process of coming out recently and the difficulties that poses in his country and in his practice. Before coming out, he had been using his standing as a medical doctor to provide medical-based arguements for a more inclusive approach to HIV prevention and treatment. But even doing that generated questions about his sexuality, questions that he has only recently been answering. He is also preparing to move to South Africa where he can live without the kinds of fears and stresses that he experiences in Uganda.

Toward the end of the video, he describes further the obstacles that UGanda’s government places on prevention efforts. He describes the case of an HIV/AIDS clinic that recently opened in Kampala with the mission of providing care for LGBT citizens. The government moved to close the clinic because it “promoted homosexuality.” Doctors in the country joined the government in saying that the clinic was not needed because they don’t discriminate against LGBT people if they don’t ask about sexual orientation:

At the same time, doctors were asked, Ugandan doctors, that, “Do you think this clinic is necessary?” And to them it was not necessary, and their reason was, “We do not discriminate because we do not ask patients about their sexuality.” In actual fact that shows their ignorance because for a doctor to sit with their patient and to be able to counsel you about your HIV prevention needs, I need to know your sexual practices. So if you’re going to talk to a gay person like you’re going to talk to a heterosexual person, then you are missing the point. You’re going to advise him to use condoms, while he actually needs condoms and a water-based lubricant. You’re going to advise him to get married and stick to his partner when in actual fact he cannot get married in the country. You are going to advise him to be faithful and abstain, and he will think in his mind, “I abstain until when?” because he cannot get married. That is the kind of problems, structural issues, that are there.

He says that we have the medical knowhow and the tools to end the epidemic. The problem is not medical, but structural. He nevertheless closed on a note of optimism. Five years ago, the LGBT community was invisible. Now people know that it’s there. “I am optimistic. I mean, I am a human being and I think we live with hope.”

Stephen

August 8th, 2012

Thanks for this. So glad to know that he’s alive and well. I miss his blog and have been concerned about his well-being. Now that I know who he is I hold him in even higher esteem.

jonpol

August 8th, 2012

I am so relieved to know that ‘gug’ is alive and well.

Without his blog, I doubt that I would have understood the intrigue supporting homophobia in Uganda.

Gug was a fearless blogger. When he stopped writing I wondered if he had been killed.

Now I’m delighted to meet Dr. Paul Semugoma, very happy to hear that he will be living in South Africa with his loved one, and inspired by his continued message of hope.

F Young

August 8th, 2012

Glad to see you’re alive and well, Gug!

It’s been a long time without news from you, and now so much news all of a sudden. You’ve taken a courageous stand.

South Africa is certainly safer, and you deserve that, but I expect that you will miss your beloved Uganda.

Best wishes.

Karen

August 8th, 2012

Delighted to hear “gug” is alive and well. Had feared the worst when his blog went silent.

Ray

August 8th, 2012

What a miserable and daunting set of obstacles Ugandans face! The homophobia intertwined in the law just makes it worse. I certainly wouldn’t blame the doctor for leaving Uganda. He risks his life for public health and reaps only threats and possible assault or death. One person cannot fight that fight. It will require continued high infection rates that will simply bring Uganda to it’s knees with economic devastation; something that is already too common in Africa. He’s fortunate to have a medical degree since virtually all other countries in the world welcome immigrants with advanced education and skills.

Nick Thiwerspoon

August 8th, 2012

Every time I go past a church with a “God is Love” banner or billboard in its grounds I think of ppl like this man.

“Love one another as I have love you.” Unless, that is, you’re gay.

Lelio Risen

November 12th, 2012

So glad to hear that “gug” is okay. I had been worried about his posts just stopping last year.

He had shared one of my blog posts a few years ago, when I was blogging about conditions in Uganda. Afterwards, I had gotten a very threatening piece of e-mail from an anti-gay Ugandan thug. I was concerned about gug’s well-being.

Dr. Semugoma is a hero in every sense of the word.

@leliorisen

scott

March 10th, 2013

So pleased to see that gug is still alive and free. Loved his blog with his courageous stance and reflections. And wondered what had happened to him when he stopped writing. Fantastic!!

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