Monday, March 31, 2014
Ugandans March to Celebrate Anti-Gay Bill
A draconian anti-gay bill in Uganda gained international attention when the America Religious Right's anti-gay activism in Uganda came to light. The anti-gay bill was signed into law by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni earlier this year, to the horror of LGBTQ rights activists. Now, Museveni is using the anti-gay law to rally his supporters.
On March 31st, supporters of the anti-gay law took part in the "Uganda Pride" procession in Kampala, marching from Makerere University to Kololo Airstrip, according to UGO News. Marchers carried Ugandan flags and homophobic signs that read "Homosexuality + AIDS = 100%" and "Museveni, We the Children Thank You for Saving Our Future".
Among the marchers was Martin Ssempa, a prominent anti-gay activist featured in the Vanguard documentary Missionaries of Hate. The Daily Monitor reports that other high-profile political and religious leaders were in attendance, including Ugandan parliament speaker Rebecca Kadaga, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali, Pastor Simon Peter Emwau, and Mufti Ramadhan Mubajje. Archbishop Stanley Ntagali, head of Uganda's Anglican Church, spoke of LGBTQ issues in antagonistic terms. "The Lord has the power to help us Ugandans to overcome the battle against homosexuality," he said, according to Reuters.
President Yoweri Museveni spoke at the rally accompanying the march. After thanking MP David Bahati (the political leader who spearheaded the original bill), Museveni slammed "big countries" for allegedly ordering around Uganda. "When big countries started giving us orders, I don’t like orders, especially from outside and I don’t know why these people became preachers for others?” he told listeners, according to the Daily Monitor.
Reuters reports that the World Bank suspended a loan to Uganda and several European countries threatened to halt aid after Museveni signed the anti-gay bill into law, but Museveni dismissed these consequences. "When you hear these Europeans saying they are going to cut aid ... we don't need aid in the first place," Museveni said, according to Reuters. "A country like Uganda is one of the richest on earth."
Museveni asserted that the Bible condemns homosexuality and that ancient African cultures labeled gays as ekifiire ("walking dead"). He mocked same-sex sexual acts as "unhealthy" because they ignore the "specialized" design of human reproductive organs. “I came to learn that homosexuality was unhealthy and this is because they go to a wrong address. Sexual organs of a human being are highly specialized,” he told the audience, according to the Daily Monitor.
In effect, Museveni is presenting himself to the Ugandan people as a defender of national sovereignty. By suggesting that western calls for LGBTQ equality are an encroachment on Ugandan sovereignty, and that resisting international pressure is an act of autonomy, Museveni is packaging himself as a courageous leader.
Sadly, the opposite is true. Scoring cheap political points by scapegoating an oppressed population is anything but brave. By marginalizing LGBTQ Ugandans, Museveni is helping to oppress the very citizens he is obliged to protect. By focusing public attention on a boogeyman, he is deflecting attention away from real problems and cultivating homophobia than can only harm Uganda.
The homophobic rhetoric at "Uganda Pride" isn't so different from that of the American Religious Right: scapegoat a vulnerable group, lash out at said group as a distraction from other issues, and trumpet oneself as a defender of faith/family/nation. More and more Americans are seeing through this tawdry rhetoric, and we can only hope that Ugandans will too.