In a March 19th press release from Uganda's Department of Press and Public Relations, President Museveni had harsh words regarding gays and lesbians. In the statement, Museveni seems to link gays and lesbians with public sexuality and displays of affection.
"In our society, there were a few homosexuals. There was no persecution, no killings and no marginalization of these people but they were regarded as deviants. Sex among Africans including heterosexuals is confidential. If am to kiss my wife in public, I would lose an election in Uganda. Western people exhibit sexual acts in public which we don’t do here."According to the press release, Museveni criticized the alleged way that westerners approach sexuality, including "luring young people into acts of homosexuality for money." He insisted that Uganda has no discrimination or violence toward LGBTQ persons, but paradoxically agreed to investigate cases of alleged homophobic violence. However, for a "viable solution" to crystallize, he insisted that activists "respect" Uganda's traditional "confidentiality toward sex".
Museveni's rhetoric contains myths about LGBTQ persons, such as their alleged public flaunting of sexuality and alleged corruption of minors. Open discussion of sexual orientation is rejected as a foreign practice rather than a just, human approach to LGBTQ persons. Most egregiously, Museveni's words do not acknowledge the discrimination and violence faced by LGBTQ Ugandans. Such rhetoric does no kindnesses for Uganda's LGBTQ community, which has endured homophobia and the looming threat of a draconian anti-gay bill.
For several years, the Ugandan government has considered (but not yet passed) a draconian anti-gay bill that would mandate imprisonment and capital punishment for same-sex intimate acts. The bill emerged amidst anti-gay activism in Uganda by American Religious Right figures such as Scott Lively and Lou Engle. Sexual Minorities Uganda, an LGBTQ advocacy group, has since filed suit against Lively in federal court, accusing him of inciting persecution of LGBTQ people in Uganda. Documentaries such as God Loves Uganda and Vanguard's Missionaries of Hate, as well as reports such as Box Turtle Bulletin's Slouching Toward Kampala, explore the role of western evangelical leaders in fomenting homophobia in Uganda. Museveni's comments come at a time when Uganda is embroiled in a heated public debate over the anti-gay bill and the rights of LGBTQ persons.
Writing at O-blog-dee-o-blog-da, Melanie Nathan observes that President Museveni refuses to confront the reality of LGBTQ people in his country.
"... it would seem that the President of Uganda is in deep denial of the situation and facts surrounding LGBT persecution in Uganda. Museveni’s save face and defensive comments not only exacerbate the myth and lies surrounding the genesis of the human rights infractions against Ugandan gays, but also contradicts the West’s perception delivered through all the factual evidence, that in fact Ugandan gays and lesbians and transgender citizens are the subject of targeted persecution by his own Government, by pending legislation in the form of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, otherwise known as “the Kill The Gays Bill,” persecution by local tabloids, such as Red Pepper Tabloid and harsh treatment at the hands of neighbors and community alike."Nathan adds that Museveni may have inadvertently undermined the anti-gay bill currently under consideration in Uganda.
"The article says that the President noted “no luring of young people using money into homosexual acts”. One of the basis for asserting the need for the Anti-Homoseuxality Bill is the false assertion (by proponents of the Bill, such as David Bahati, its MP sponsor and author,) that Gays recruit children into homosexuality and that gays pay people to become homosexuals. Now the President himself is admitting that he does not believe this is in fact occuring The President also said that there are “few homosexuals.” Museveni is hence making the case for the withdrawal of the anti-homosexual bill."Museveni's unfortunate comments suggest that Uganda's leaders have a long way to go in terms of recognizing LGBTQ realities. Stereotypes and myths still persist, and LGBTQ activists continue to have an uphill battle for human rights in Uganda.