While cheering the first same-sex marriages we should remember those suffering under state-sanctioned homophobia
In late September 2003, the mid-Uganda town of Soroti was pillaged by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The militant movement, led by Joseph Kony, is infamous for its use of child soldiers and indiscriminate violence.
While working there four years later, I heard stories from children orphaned as a result of the attack. One girl saw her parents killed, her brother taken away and their house burned down. She was then walked two hundred miles north to the Sudanese (now South Sudan) border. Miraculously, she escaped and arrived back in Soroti where she was reunited with her brother.
The LRA has since continued their activities in Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo but northern Ugandan live in fear of future attacks. Yet a different fear is currently affecting half a million Ugandans.
Under the guise of Christian morality and the protection of children, Ugandan President Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act in February. Originally prescribing the death penalty, the Act punishes homosexual activity with up to life imprisonment. The Facebook page of Uganda’s Ministry of Information & National Guidance provided Museveni’s statement following his signature:
Since my original thesis that there may be people who are born homosexual has been disproved by science, then the homosexuals have lost the argument in Uganda. They should rehabilitate themselves and society should assist them to do so.
Such thinking isn’t unique to Uganda. Sudan, Mauritania, parts of Nigeria and Somaliland hold the death sentence as appropriate punishment. In 2012, Ban Ki-moon pressed the African Union to encourage respect for gay rights throughout Africa, but there has been little evidence of action.
Most disturbing was the possible influence of US Christian conservative groups in the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill’s formation. Religious conviction of the sinfulness of homosexuality was apparently bolstered by the preaching of missionary groups. In the UK, this belief has declined in recent years, yet it still lives on in local churches around the country. One book I read as a teenager, ‘The Top 100 Questions Remix’ (written for questioning young Christians), ensures that because homosexuality is not genetic (an assumption it bases on varying sexual orientations of twins) it is ‘something that we decide, not something that we are. It is therefore a moral choice.’
If short-sighted politicians and religious folk can fool themselves into believing homosexuality to be a “moral choice”, then to them rehabilitation or punishment by the state is the logical response. This is why, for Museveni, his decision relied on whether sexual orientation was genetic – because, of course, anything that isn’t is a choice and therefore punishable.
While we celebrate with the newly-weds in England and Wales, we should remember and make steps to support those who were simply born at a hostile time, in a hostile place. Recalling the people I met in Uganda, I worry for the 500,000 in fear of public humiliation, terrifyingly-long prison sentences and small hope for a peaceful life with the ones they love.
If you are interested in finding out more about gay rights around the world, follow @WCIAVoices or go to the WCIA campaigns page for further information of a future event considering gay rights in Wales and the world coming soon to Cardiff.
1 Guardian, Feb. 24, 2014. Uganda politicians celebrate passing of anti-gay laws [online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/24/uganda-president-signs-anti-gay-laws [Accessed 25 February 2014].
2 Facebook: Ministry of Information National Guidance Uganda, 2014. H.E THE PRESIDENT’S STATEMENT AFTER SIGNING THE ANTI-HOMOSEXUALITY BILL INTO LAW. [online] Available at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ministry-of-Information-National-Guidance-Uganda/553727154705981 [Accessed 25 Februrary 2014]
3 Bewes OBE, Richard and Ian Thompson, The Top 100 Questions Remix: Spiritual Answers to Real Questions (Christian Focus Publications, 2006).