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Posts for August, 2012

How Not To Support LGBT People of Uganda

Jim Burroway

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.

Ugandan LGBT Advocate: Don’t Believe Everything You Hear. It’s Actually Getting Better

Jim Burroway

January 27th, 2012

LGBT rights advocate Val Kalende sees developments in Uganda that she says the foreign press has been reluctant to notice because it doesn’t fit the popular narrative. Despite the headlines, she says an important story isn’t getting told: it’s getting better for the LGBT movement in Uganda:

The death of David Kato has galvanized a breed of new activism and synergies in the Ugandan LGBT community. On my recent visit to Uganda, I met and interacted with a number of young activists and organizations whose joining the movement was a response to the death of this great activist. The movement has certainly grown bigger and stronger thanks to ongoing organizing by the Uganda Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law. It is encouraging to know that what began as a make-shift entity to respond to the Anti-Homosexuality bill has not only become proactive in action but more grounded in a multi-dimensional sexual rights advocacy. Members of the coalition feel that it is time to move Beyond the Anti-Homosexuality bill and build a movement of sexual rights activists who will influence policy and change repressive laws that hinder the freedom of sexual minorities.

…The general situation of LGBT persons in terms of security and awareness of rights has improved. What is often read and heard in international media is not what is on the ground. It is not what I saw on my recent visit. LGBT persons in Uganda are not in hiding. When people like Secretary Hilary Clinton speak out against human rights violations in Africa, they send a strong message to our governments that persecution of LGBT persons is a human rights violation. This comes with some degree of protection from the state because our governments know that the world is watching. I spoke with some activists who feel protected by the state (the Police) than ever before. Even if there’s still a lot of work to be done by government, it is important to acknowledge that today, LGBT activists can engage the police. According to a report from the Hate No More campaign launched in 2o11 by Freedom and Roam Uganda, activists have held meetings with the police and some police official have shown interest in being educated and engaged on LGBT issues.

The situation of LGBT persons in Uganda is getting better. Not worse. It is important that international allies, donors, and partners know that their support and resources are making a difference.

Kalende writes that it’s hard to get that message across; foreign journalists don’t want to hear it. They’re more interested in creating pieces like the BBC’s Scott Mills, whose documentary “The World’s Worst Place to be Gay?” she found to have “prey(ed) on the plight of Ugandan LGBT persons and do nothing to give back to their communities.” Instead, she points to a group of LGBT community activists living in a Kampala ghetto who embarked on community development projects that earned the respect of otherwise “would-have-been homophobic heterosexuals.” She adds:

I was speaking at a conference at Union Theological Seminary in NYC when an American journalist walked up to me and said her editor doesn’t want to publish stories that portray the “getting better” situation for LGBT persons in Uganda. For the past three years since the introduction of the Bahati bill we have talked about how bad things are. Can we now begin to celebrate the progress we are making?

She notes that the international attention has been helpful in shining a spotlight on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and related problems, but:

In self-criticism, I know that most African LGBTs are not bold enough to condemn the kind of “Mill’s nonsense” that my colleague echoed. We have allowed the West to dictate our politics and write our narratives that we are losing our identity. I know that the arguments I make here are not popular; they don’t attract sympathy because they portray African LGBT persons as competent and independent when people expect them to be stupid.

Afrogay nods in agreement. Val’s essay is required reading, a heart-felt piece with much to chew on. I don’t think it’s to say things in Uganda are even close to perfect. They aren’t. But balance and perspective is always a must, and wherever improvements occur they should be noted.

More On Ugandan First Lady’s Support For Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Jim Burroway

September 11th, 2011

Following our initial report yesterday on the leaked U.S. State Department cables fingering Uganda First Lady Janet Museveni as being “ultimately behind” the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, a reader left a comment giving a link to the Wikileaks cable in question, and Paul Canning has more about the cable here.  The relevant section begins with a brief description of Paul Nagenda, whose December 12, 2009 column in the pro-government New Vision was seen as an encouraging sign that there were powerful vioces in the government against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.  The cable describes Neganda as “one adviser against many“:

The New Vision published a column by senior presidential advisor John Nagenda against the draft anti-homosexuality legislation on December 12. Nagenda is known for challenging prevailing political winds, and has previously advised President Museveni against running for re-election in 2011. His column compared the bill to McCarthyism and the Inquisition, and urged Parliament to vote against it. In a separate discussion with PolOff (political officer), Nagenda said the New Vision – which is edited by a Dutch national – initially refused to run his column, and agreed only after Nagenda threatened to never again write for the newspaper. Nagenda said he felt morally obligated to speak out against the legislation, and accused those behind it of obfuscating differences between homosexuality, rape, incest, and pedophilia.

Nagenda said President Museveni is “quite intemperate” when it comes to homosexuality, but that the President will likely recognize the dangers of passing the anti-homosexuality legislation. He said First Lady Janet Museveni, who he described as a “very extreme woman”, is ultimately behind the bill. He added that the bill’s most vociferous public supporter, Ethics and Integrity Minister Nsaba Buturo, is a “very bad guy” responsible for a campaign of mass arrests – known by the Swahili term ‘panda gari’ – during the early 1980s under the Obote II regime while serving as Kampala’s District Commissioner. Nagenda said Buturo is using the anti-homosexuality legislation to redefine himself and “will do anything in his power to be a populist.” He advised the U.S. and other donors to refrain from publicly condemning the bill as this fuels the anti-homosexual and anti-western rhetoric of the bill’s proponents.

The fear about outside pressure having a negative effect on efforts to block the bill were echoed by a human rights lawyer, described as the “only human rights lawyer working to defend Ugandan homosexuals against charges under pre-existing anti-homosexuality laws.” The lawyer urged the international community to publicly oppose the bill, but said that threats to cut assistance as Sweden had already done “is counter productive and emboldens those pushing the legislation.”

The cable also reveals that members of the local gay community expressed fears over their security in the hostile environment stoked by the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Members of the community were also very nervous over a very high-profile interview of LGBT advocate Valery Kalende that appeared on the front page of the main opposition newspaper, Daily MonitorAccording to the cable:

Local gay and lesbian activists pleaded with one member, Val Kalende, to reconsider a feature interview with the opposition newspaper the Daily Monitor. The Monitor ran the interview as the front page story, along with several photographs of Kalende, on December 12. Published under an anonymous byline, the article provides a striking and remarkably well-written portrait of Kalende’s struggle against rising discrimination and hatred. After describing her initial reaction to (M.P. David) Bahati’s anti-homosexuality bill, Kalende said: “for the first time, I am very scared.” Bahati’s bill, said Kalende, “is not about homosexuality. It effects everyone; my pastor, my friends. It is not about us gays. Homosexuality is not about sodomizing young boys. What about relationships among people who are not hurting anyone?” The Monitor interview included a sidebar that dispassionately provided the facts about human homosexuality – its history and universality – and thus implicitly debunked many of the most absurd claims made by the bill’s proponents.

The first lady’s strident support for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill goes directly against President Yoweri Museveni’s attempts to sideline the bill, pointing to a political division within the Museveni family. Another cable dated September 23, 2009, reveals, amid corruption allegations against the First Lady, that Janet Museveni has no ambitions to be President, preferring to remain “the power behind the throne,” and that the president is grooming his son to eventually take power:

(Ruling party insider Mike) Mukula said Museveni was increasingly patterning himself after Robert Mugabe and wants to position his son, Lieutenant Colonel Muhoozi Kainerugaba Museveni, as his eventual successor. Muhoozi returned from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in mid-2008 to assume command of the new Special Forces, a still-murky component – or potentially entirely separate unit – of the praetorian Presidential Guard Brigade comprised of all the PGB’s elite, technical, and specialized non-infantry capabilities.

However, Paul Canning points to an op-ed appearing in this morning’s Sunday Monitor questioning whether the first lady has truly given up presidential ambitions herself.

See also:
Feb 17, 2011: Wikileaks Posts Cables from US Embassy in Uganda Concerning Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Feb 17, 2011: More Wikileaks Cables on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 10, 2011: Wikileaks: Ugandan First Lady “Ultimately Behind” Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 11: 2011: More On Ugandan First Lady’s Support For Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 11, 2011: Wikileaks: Vatican Lobbied Against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 12, 2011: Wikileaks on Uganda’s Homosexuality Bill: Museveni “Surprised” and Buturo “Obsessed”
Sep 12, 2011: Ugandan Presidential Aide Confirms Wikileaks Conversation
Sep 23, 2011: Ugandan First Lady Affirms Support For “Kill The Gays” Bill

More Wikileaks Cables on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Jim Burroway

February 17th, 2011

I’ve had to correct my earlier report on the Wikileaks dump of cables from the U.S. Embassy in Uganda concerning the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The original dump was not by The Guardian (UK) as I originally wrote, but by Spain’s El Pais nearly two weeks ago. The trove from El País provides more information than the two cables posted by the Guardian. It may be illuminating to consult our own extensive timeline and compare what we were reporting at the time with the contents of these cables.

For example, there’s this cable from December 21, which focused on the security and safety of local human rights advocates. Among their worries was an upcoming article which appeared in that country’s largest independent newspaper, Daily Monitor. That article featured a brave Val Kalinde, who went public with her difficulties in living in such a repressive atmosphere.

Local gay and lesbian activists pleaded with one member, Val Kalende, to reconsider a feature interview with the opposition newspaper the Daily Monitor. The Monitor ran the interview as the front page story, along with several photographs of Kalende, on December 12. Published under an anonymous byline, the article provides a striking and remarkably well-written portrait of Kalende’s struggle against rising discrimination and hatred. After describing her initial reaction to Bahati’s anti-homosexuality bill, Kalende said: “for the first time, I am very scared.” Bahati’s bill, said Kalende, “is not about homosexuality. It effects everyone; my pastor, my friends. It is not about us gays. Homosexuality is not about sodomizing young boys. What about relationships among people who are not hurting anyone?” The Monitor interview included a sidebar that dispassionately provided the facts about human homosexuality – its history and universality – and thus implicitly debunked many of the most absurd claims made by the bill’s proponents.

Another cable, dated January 28, 2010, describes a meeting between the newly-credentialed U.S. Ambassador Jerry P. Lanier and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. According to the cable, Ambassador Lanier received “an earful” from the Ugandan leader:

Museveni made it clear that Uganda will not further criminalize homosexual sex between consenting adults and that the provision on reporting homosexuals to authorities would also not go through. He suggested the entire bill could be dropped, and twice asked the Ambassador to remind Washington that “someone in Uganda”, meaning himself, is handling the matter and knows what he is doing. He also emphasized that Uganda’s main concern is alleged advocacy and recruitment of homosexuals, and that homosexuality between consenting adults has previously been quietly tolerated in Uganda.

The President twice referred to a recent local political cartoon depicting him on this issue as a puppet of Secretary Clinton, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and Stephen Harper, and asked international donors to stand down to give him room to deal with the anti-homosexuality legislation in his own way. On the way out of the meeting, and in the presence of the Ambassador and Foreign Minster Kutesa only, Museveni directed Kutesa to arrange a private meeting with the Ambassador in February to further discuss the anti-homosexuality bill.

In another cable from February 11, 2010, Museveni met with a delegation of American diplomats at an African Union summit, and asked the Americans to back off a bit in their criticism:

Carson expressed gratitude that Museveni had tamped down the tensions surrounding Uganda’s draft  anti-homosexuality bill. Both Carson and Otero encouraged Museveni to pursue decriminalization and destigmatization of  homosexuality. Museveni warned outsiders of pushing Africa too hard on this issue, lest it create another hurricane, and lectured on African family values. He assured the USG delegation that nobody in Uganda would be executed for homosexual behavior, but explained that in the African context homosexuality is a disorder and not something to be promoted or celebrated. Don’t push it, warned Museveni, “I’ll handle it.”

In fact, Museveni had already worked to put the brakes on the bill’s passage, directing that it be studied by a subcabinet committee. The committee’s recommendations weren’t promising. Meanwhile, the bill itself was sent to two Parliamentary committees for further study. The bill is still in committee today, although there is talk that it may be brought to a vote sometime following tomorrow’s national elections during a lame-duck session of Parliament.

See also:
Feb 17, 2011: Wikileaks Posts Cables from US Embassy in Uganda Concerning Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Feb 17, 2011: More Wikileaks Cables on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 10, 2011: Wikileaks: Ugandan First Lady “Ultimately Behind” Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 11: 2011: More On Ugandan First Lady’s Support For Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 11, 2011: Wikileaks: Vatican Lobbied Against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 12, 2011: Wikileaks on Uganda’s Homosexuality Bill: Museveni “Surprised” and Buturo “Obsessed”
Sep 12, 2011: Ugandan Presidential Aide Confirms Wikileaks Conversation
Sep 23, 2011: Ugandan First Lady Affirms Support For “Kill The Gays” Bill

Action Alert from Sexual Minorities Uganda

Jim Burroway

January 31st, 2011

Frank Mugisha of Sexual Minorities Uganda sent out this action alert, offering practical advice of actions you can take in the wake of David Kato’s murder. I think one of the most salient pieces of advice he can give is this: In whatever you do, please, please not spread misinformation. “A highly political and delicate investigation is underway in a dangerous environment in Uganda,” he writes, “and therefore misinformation could be seriously damaging.”

Several resources are available to help you avoid inadvertently spreading disinformation. Val Kalende has an excellent update on the events and background surrounding David Kato’s murder. (Val was bravely featured in this Ugandan newspaper article here.) You can also review our own coverage of events in Uganda from 2009 through the Spring of 2010.  For more recent events, you can follow our tags for Uganda and David Kato. Warren Throckmorton also has excellent coverage under his Uganda category.

ACTION ALERT
HOW GLOBAL ALLIES SHOULD RESPOND TO THE MURDER OF DAVID KATO
29 JANUARY 2011

Our dear friend and colleague, David Kato, was brutally murdered on Wednesday, the 26th of January 2011. David was the advocacy officer of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and a longtime leading activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) human rights.

The condolences and offers of support from the global community have been tremendous. On behalf of David’s family, colleagues and friends, we thank all of you.

We fully understand that many of you are full of sadness and anger and would like to take action on David’s behalf. However, we believe that first and foremost Ugandan civil society must be respected in leading and coordinating events and actions over the coming weeks and months. We also believe that it is crucial that we as Ugandans are able to document the national and international response to David’s brutal murder, which requires your regular communication with us.

WHAT ACTION TO TAKE

  • Send letters urging the Government of Uganda (contact information below) to take the following steps:
    • Publicly condemn David’s murder;
    • Carry out a full and fair investigation into David’s murder;
    • Prosecute the perpetrator(s) to the fullest extent of the law;
    • Investigate David’s hacked email account in the days preceding his death;
    • Assume that, until proven otherwise, David’s death was motivated by homophobia and not routine or arbitrary violence;
    • Communicate frequently with LGBT leaders throughout the investigation into David’s murder;
    • Ensure that members of Uganda’s LGBT community have adequate protection from violence;
    • Take prompt action against all threats or hate speech likely to incite violence, discrimination or hostility toward LGBT Ugandans;
    • Eliminate any possibility of consideration or passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
  • Contact your own governmental authorities and urge them to communicate these concerns to the Ugandan authorities in direct and private advocacy.
  • Continue to expose and denounce U.S conservative evangelicals spreading homophobia in Uganda
  • Organize respectful and non-violent vigils at the Ugandan embassy or consulate in your country.

HOW TO TAKE ACTION:

  • Inform SMUG of all action you take around David’s murder, so that we can monitor all developments. Send copies of your press releases, statements, audio/video recordings of vigils, pictures, and action plans on this subject to SMUG email: justicefordavidkato@gmail.com
  • Ensure that you do not spread misinformation. A highly political and delicate investigation is underway in a dangerous environment in Uganda, and therefore misinformation could be seriously damaging.

We call for respectful responses towards David Kato’s murder and NOT to use this tragic incident for fund raising campaigns. We thank and encourage everyone who has supported SMUG’s work to continue with us in the fight for LGBT rights.

CONTACT INFORMATION FOR THE UGANDAN GOVERNMENT:

President of The Republic of Uganda H.E Yoweri Museveni
Parliament Building
PO Box 7168
Kampala, Uganda
Email: info@govexecutive.net
Fax: + 256 414 346 102
Salutation: Your Excellency

Inspector General of Police Major Kale Kayihura
Police Headquarters
PO Box 7055
Kampala, Uganda
Fax: + 256 414 255 630
Salutation: Dear Major

Minister of Justice Hon. Makubuya Kiddu
Parliament Building
PO Box 7183
Kampala, Uganda
Email: info@justice.go.ug
Fax: + 256 414 234 453
Salutation: Dear Minister

SMUG Contacts:

Frank Mugisha: fmugisha@sexualminoritiesuganda.org

Val Kalende: mailto:fmugisha@sexualminoritiesuganda.org

Pepe Julian: mailto:fmugisha@sexualminoritiesuganda.org

In solidarity together as one

Frank Mugisha
Executive Director
SMUG

Ugandan Lesbian Goes Public: “Tell Me, What Will Happen To Us?”

Jim Burroway

December 12th, 2009
"I'm brave." Although Val Kalende (L) is open about her sexuality; her partner is not. (via The Sunday Monitor)

"I'm brave." Although Val Kalende (L) is open about her sexuality, her partner is not. (via The Monitor)

The inability of LGBT people to reveal themselves to their own family is perhaps the greatest obstacle to improvement in Ugandans’ attitudes toward gay people. Uganda’s main opposition newspaper, The Monitor, has just published an amazing profile of a lesbian couple which seeks to begin to change all that.

The couple (one is out while the other remains closeted) are rightly worried about the Anti-Homosexuality Act that is now before Parliament. This interview, which The Monitor calls “the first of its kind with a newspaper journalist,” provides ordinary Ugandan readers with an extremely rare look at the day-to-day concerns of LGBT people, without the monstrous stereotypes which run rampant in the country — and which have been reinforced repeatedly by American Evangelicals who have been meddling in Uganda’s affairs.

In October 2009, around the time Mr Bahati was preparing his anti-homosexuality law, Ms (Val) Kalende’s partner, a 25-year-old woman she did not wish to name, left for the United States, where she is now a student and the regular sender of hopeful messages to a partner living thousands of miles away.

The couple met in November 2008, one openly gay and the other closeted, but soon found the connection that inspired them to exchange rings in a recent private ceremony. …These days, a typical telephone conversation between the two lovers, which happens almost daily, ends with Ms Kalende saying something like this: “I love you.” Before breaking into tears, the person on the other side answers back: “I love you, baby.”

In the intimate scheme of things, Ms Kalende plays the stronger partner, encouraging her lover, whom she affectionately calls Mimi, to be brave and allaying her concerns about safety in Uganda. “When she starts to cry, I don’t cry,” Ms Kalende said. “I want to be stronger than she is. But I feel bad, of course. She is really scared about what’s going on at home.”

Val also speaks about coping with the turmoil surrounding Uganda’s current attempt to legislate LGBT people out of existence:

“I love my country, and that means a lot to me,” she said. “But this bill is not about homosexuality. It affects everyone; my pastor, my friends. It’s not about us gays…Homosexuality is not about sodomising young boys. What about relationships among people who are not hurting anyone?”

It was Ms Kalende’s way of saying that homosexuals have people in their lives who treasure them, men and women who may not let their silent aversion to gays determine the course of their friendships.  But it is difficult to predict how loved ones would react to a revelation that a daughter or sister is gay, Ms Kalende said.

“My partner is not like me,” Ms Kalende, the only child of her father and mother, offered. “She’s not yet brave enough to be open, because she doesn’t want her family to know. I can’t approach my mother-in-law and tell her I am in love with her daughter. It would give her a heart attack.”

This article is an extremely rare opportunity for Ugandans to consider that LGBT people aren’t evil aliens, but members of their own church, tribe and family. It’s a great article, and deserves reading in its entirety.

Click here to see BTB’s complete coverage of the past year’s anti-gay developments in Uganda.