How Not To Support LGBT People of Uganda
August 16th, 2012
In March of 2009, three American anti-gay activists parachuted into Uganda, a country which was (and still is) a powder keg of anti-gay hysteria just waiting to blow up. They gave their talks, stirred up a hornets nest of trouble, and swiftly flew out of the country leaving the local LGBT community to deal with the growing and unrelenting backlash that ultimately led to the introduction into that nation’s Parliament a proposal to kill anyone who is “repeatedly” gay and imprison anyone and everyone who would come to their defense. While the Ugandan LGBT people suffered through beatings, arrests, and even murder, the three Americans were safely ensconced in their comfortable homes, not quite a dozen timezones distant from the now dangerous streets of Kampala, but nevertheless an entire universe away from the havoc they wrought.
This past week, we’ve had disturbing word of yet another group of westerners wreaking havoc on Uganda while safely ensconced in their comfortable homes. The Internet “hacktivist” group Anonymous hijacked the web sites of Uganda’s office of the Prime Minister and posted an obscene message along with a statement saying:
LGBT People of Uganda, Anonymous and Elite Society do not speak for you. You have inspired us with your pride, courage and self-respect. YOU are OUR heroes LGBT people of Uganda.
Anonymous is right, if not a bit paternalistic, in announcing that they don’t speak for the LGBT community in Uganda. But they nervetheless presumed to place themselves — outsiders with little at stake — as the protector and defendor of Uganda’s LGBT community. And they chose to show their respect for Uganda’s LGBT community by vandalizing at least one of the nation’s official web sites without bothering to ask the LGBT leaders whether they even wanted Anonymsous’s “assistance.” And after this group of foreigners took it upon themselves to hack these web sites and leave messages of support for Uganda’s LGBT people, they leave it to those very same people to deal with whatever fallout that may come from local police, politicians, political leaders and media. Val Kalende, no shrinking violet herself (she bravely became the face of Uganda’s lesbians in an important local newspaper profile in 2009 following the introduction of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill), articulated her concerns to Melanie Nathan:
My concern is the manner in which Anonymous claim to speak on behalf of Uganda LGBT activists with no consultation whatsoever. Has SMUG or any other organization asked them hack government websites? Do they understand how their actions could be perceived by Ugandans? I question the motive of Anonymous. They need to be advised. Those well-meaning interventions can cause severe backlash for activists on the ground. Hacking government websites to “help” victims of state-sponsored homophobia? Who does that? I think this extremist violent intervention MUST STOP. I would advise you speak to activists on the ground for their views on this.
For the past several years, I’ve watched from afar as the Ugandan LGBT community came together and responded bravely and effectively to the backlash caused by those three anti-gay Americans in 2009. While there was considerable international outrage and attention paid to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, there are many other stories of successes on the ground in Uganda that we don’t hear about, successes which are directly attributable to the brave men and women who live and work there. And more than a few LGBT leaders there are getting a little tired of all of the negative publicity and are frustrated that signs of progress brought on by their very hard work are too often overlooked. In fact, that was one of the reasons they celebrated Pride to begin with. Val Kalende reinforces that point again today in a piece for the Huffington Post.
Anonymous’s actions show an appalling disregard for the efforts of Ugandan LGBT leaders and a gob-smacking huberis that they, from the comfort of their bedrooms and coffee shops, know better than the Ugandan LGBT people on the ground. Meanwhile, those very same Ugandans are on Facebook bracing themselves for what may come.