Saturday, February 22, 2014

Ugandan President Museveni Zig-Zags on Anti-Gay Bill

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's zig-zagging on his country's Anti-Homosexuality Bill has left me dizzy. First, in a puzzling 180 degree turn, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni agreed to sign a draconian anti-gay bill that would imprison gays, just weeks after declining to sign the legislation. Museveni recently announced that he would sign the anti-gay bill approved by Ugandan parliament in 2013. During a conference of the National Resistance Movement, Museveni told listeners, "We shall have a war with the homosexual lobby in the world," and was met with loud applause, according to CNN.

Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which has been loudly condemned by global human rights supporters, was introduced amidst American Religious Right activism in Uganda, which included promotion of homophobic attitudes. The news came after LGBTQ rights groups participated in the Global Day of Action Against Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill on February 10th.

Pro-LGBTQ observers condemned the move. Frank Mugisha, the head of LGBTQ rights group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), warned that Museveni's statements "will only increase violence and hatred towards LGBT persons in Uganda," according to the Guardian.

In a February 16th statement, President Obama expressed disappointment in Uganda over the impending enactment of the anti-gay law. President Obama saluted Ugandans who have honored human rights while lamenting the increase in reports of anti-gay violence and persecution around the world.
"The Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda, once law, will be more than an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda.  It will be a step backward for all Ugandans and reflect poorly on Uganda’s commitment to protecting the human rights of its people.  It also will mark a serious setback for all those around the world who share a commitment to freedom, justice and equal rights."
Museveni's announcement followed the release of a statement on homosexuality by the Ugandan Ministry of Health. While the statement acknowledges the existence of gays across eras and cultures, stresses that homosexuality is not a disease, and observes that sexual orientation is shaped by genetic and non-genetic factors,  the report is nevertheless troubling. For example, the statement disparages sexual openness, insisting that "The present fad of sexual exhibitionism, both heterosexual and homosexual is alien and repugnant to most African cultures." Furthermore, the report suggest dubious theories on the psychosocial causes of homosexuality, attributing some instances of homosexuality to "indoctrination" or negative sexual experiences with the opposite sex.
"Psychosocial causes of homosexuality imply that it may be learned through experiences in life. Previous disastrous heterosexual encounters (e.g. erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation) may lead to aversion toward homosexual intercourse. A chance homosexual encounter in early life may be associated with sexual pleasure leading to homosexual relationships being associated with pleasure. The increasing influence of Western culture provides homosexuality as a choice one can make, it's therefore seen as a socially acceptable option for a few ... Whereas some homosexuals may take up the behaviour as an open choice, for others it may be due to indoctrination. In summary, homosexuality has no clear cut cause, several factors are involved which differ from individual to individual. It is not a disease that has a treatment."
Despite its insistence that homosexuality is not a disease or abnormality, the report correlates homosexuality with destructive behavior, namely child abuse.
"African cultures had contained sexual vices. May be [sic] we need to revisit them to contain the present explosion of overt and coercive homosexual activity with the exploitation of our young children."
Some from the world scientific community frowned on the report. Dean Hamer, scientist emeritus at the National Institutes of Health, argued against the report's conclusions in a February 20th statement in the New York Times.

Uganda's National Resistance Movement released a statement citing the report and asserting "those who practice homosexuality for Mercenary reasons will not be tolerated", which left some of the report's contributors unhappy. In an interview with Peter G. Mwesieg of the African Centre for Media Excellence, report co-author Paul Bangirana expressed disappointment with how the report was interpreted. (Hat tip to Warren Throckmorton)
"We didn’t say homosexuality is an abnormality. We categorically state it is NOT an abnormality. We also report that there [may be] a biological basis for the behaviour but there is no conclusive link as of now. They left out some vital facts in our report.”
Now, Museveni has put the bill on hold in lieu of more scientific evidence. According to Reuters, Museveni has invited U.S. scientists to weigh in on whether homosexuality is a choice or a result of genetics. "I, therefore, encourage the US government to help us by working with our Scientists to study whether, indeed, there are people who are born homosexual.  When that is proved, we can review this legislation," he said in a statement posted at the Observer.

The Ugandan president's change in tune may stem from concerns over compromising Uganda's relationship with the U.S. "I would like to discourage the USA government from taking the line that passing this law will “complicate our valued relationship” with the USA as President Obama said.  Countries and Societies should relate with each other on the basis of mutual respect and independence in decision making," he said, according to the Observer.

What on earth is going on with Uganda's anti-gay bill? One moment, Uganda's president refuses to sign the bill, awaiting scientific input on the origins of homosexuality. Another moment, he agrees to sign the bill, condemning the "homosexual lobby" as a delighted NRM applauds. Now, he has declined to sign bill yet again, reaching out to U.S. scientists in search of more information on the origins of sexual orientation.

Perhaps Museveni is caught between appealing to anti-gay segments of Ugandan society and maintaining a civil relationship with western countries. Some commentators speculate that Museveni's earlier support for the legislation was an attempt to gain domestic support. For example, in a commentary piece at the Daily Maverick, Simon Allison speculated that Museveni was now supporting the bill to gain popular support at the expense of gay Ugandans.
"In this context, adopting populist measures such as the anti-gay bill is a good way for Museveni to shore up his own authority ... It’s not easy to keep hold of power for nearly 30 years. Along the way, Museveni has made enemies and sacrificed innocents in his bid to stay in State House. Uganda’s gay population is just the latest victim of his lust for power."
Similarly, in a commentary piece for the Daily Monitor, Charles Mwanguhya Mpagi argues that Museveni's earlier support for the bill was intended to earn conservative Ugandans' respect and distract supporters from other national problems.
"A leader rallying and perceived to be hated by the West because of new-found oil wealth and a high moral pedestal like rejection of homosexuality is a good sale to conservatives that many Ugandan tend to be.

Mr Museveni is also lucky to enjoy the support of the religious community in both the traditional churches and mosques as well as the born again movement that will certainly tend to ignore his political and economic failings and hail him as a defender of the country’s morality."
When the U.S. expressed its displeasure with Museveni's support for the bill, it may have reminded him of the stakes surrounding the bill. As President Museveni contemplates the anti-gay bill, LGBTQ rights supporters around the world will be watching Uganda intently.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

The Observer: What will anti-gay bill achieve?

Gay Star News: Uganda has twisted science to justify gay hate

Truth Wins Out: Truth Wins Out Appalled By Ugandan President Museveni’s Decision To Sign Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Religion Dispatches: Uganda Passes Anti-Homosexuality Bill Despite (or Due to?) U.S. Opposition

Political Research Associates: Uganda President Persecutes LGBTQ People For Political Power

Political Research Associates: Warning: U.S. LGBTQ Organizations Falling Into Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Trap

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