March was a tense month for LGBTQ rights in Uganda. First, Gay Star News reports that on March 31st, an anti-gay march led by Christian leaders took place in Mukono, Uganda. Pastor Solomon Male and Rev. Thomas Musoke led a march of approximately 100 people near the burial site of David Kato, a Ugandan LGBTQ activist who was murdered in 2011. According to Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) director Pepe Julian Onziema, Male complained that the Ugandan government had made an insufficient effort to pass a draconian anti-gay bill currently under consideration. Male also reportedly named SMUG staff during his speech, showed the crowd a gay adult magazine to demonize LGBTQ people as dangers to children, and claimed that David Kato's grave had become a place for "foreigners" to perform a "pilgrimage to homosexuality".
According to Gay Star News, SMUG research manager Richard Lusimbo speculates that American evangelical leaders have been goading Male to promote homophobia in Uganda.
"I believe that Male is being pushed and funded by US evangelical groups to preach anti-gay hate -- he made allegations to incite fear and hatred, saying that homosexuals are recruiting children, scaring local parents ... creating a scary image of LGBT people as something alien imposed by the West."Lusimbo blasted the leaders of the march for disrespecting the dead and causing Kato's mother anguish, calling their actions "unafrican".
Disturbing demonstrations such as this remind the world that homophobia is still very much alive in Uganda. The demonstration follows other recent controversies surrounding LGBTQ rights in Uganda, such as President Yoweri Museveni's controversial comments about gays and lesbians as he received a visit from a U.S. human rights delegation in March. The delegation was met with harsh and sometimes absurd rhetoric from Uganda's leaders. For example, according to the Observer, Ugandan first lady Janet Museveni told the delegation that the draconian anti-gay bill currently under consideration was not intended to persecute LGBTQ persons (!). MP Kabakumba Masiko Labwoni argued that the delegation "can't impose on us issues that are against our culture, and it is prohibited for you to come here and start promoting homosexuality." Ugandan MP Alice Alaso also lashed out at the delegation over their approach to homosexuality.
"We already have enough laws that meet international standards and some of them penalise same-sex marriage and when we go by the Bible which I glorify, sodomy is punishable. So, we don't want to go against African culture and at the same time act contrary to God's commandments because whites want it ... You [westerners] have imposed on us enough of your bad practices, right from guns, and we shall not allow homosexuality in Uganda because the Bible forbids it."After the delegation's visit, MP David Bahati, the architect of Uganda's controversial anti-gay bill, defended the bill as a means of "stopping the promotion of homosexuality, stopping the funding of homosexuality, stopping the inducement of children into homosexuality and operationalising the prohibition of same-sex marriage [as] stipulated in the constitution."
At the Sunday march and the human rights delegation visit, the same, tired refrains are the same: homosexuality is a sin against God, an alleged western import, a danger to children, ad nauseum. To observers of the American Religious Right, the homophobic themes are all too familiar.
Lusimbo's speculation, if correct, suggests that the American Religious Right still has the ear of right-wing leaders in Uganda. American Religious Right figures such as Lou Engle and Scott Lively must take responsibility for their past endorsement of homophobia in Uganda. Moreover, all American Christian leaders must recognize the dangers of promoting homophobia at home and abroad.
Uganda's religious and political leaders must also reexamine their homophobia, recognizing that anti-gay sentiments are the real western imports into Africa. As political leaders and public servants, they are obligated to research the issues that their policies are intended to address. Open-minded research on their parts would show them that LGBTQ rights are human rights, that LGBTQ persons have existed in all eras and societies, and that gays and lesbians are not monsters. In the global struggle for LGBTQ equality, responsibility and knowledge are vital to overcoming bigotry.
For additional commentary, visit the following links.
Warren Throckmorton: Uganda Watch: David Bahati Vows to Press Ahead with His Anti-Gay Bill
O-blog-dee-o-blog-da: Ugandan anti-gay pastors hold hate rally next to gay hero David Kato's grave