Gay Rights in Uganda

They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me, and I looked to see who would speak for me
but by that time no one was left.

A silent voice is a voice for the oppressors.  I have not written about the homosexuality issue in Uganda – partly because I have too much to say and partly because I find it so unbelievable, that I keep expecting to blink my eyes and find that none of it happened.  But the recent publication of a list of “Top Homosexuals” in Uganda printed along with a banner saying “hang them” compels me to use my voice and not continue to support the oppressors through my silence.

Homosexuality has long been illegal in Uganda, but the issue has been ramped up in the last year after the arrival of some loud-mouthed American missionaries led to the introduction of a Bill that would provide the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.”  After a huge international outcry, the Bill has been quietly set aside, but the issue still rankles and it seems that many Ugandans would be very happy if it had been put into force.

Ugandans say that homosexuality just “isn’t part of the culture” here -  that it was “imported” by Europeans and doesn’t have a place in Ugandan society.  Besides the fact that it isn’t true, it is denying the possibility that a culture can evolve and grow.

Gay Rights are Civil Rights

What if all societies were allowed to just stagnate and remain stuck in old belief systems?  In the United States for much of the time leading up to the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, it was illegal to marry or have sexual relations with someone of another race (miscegenation).  There were still anti-miscegenation laws in 16 states when the Supreme Court finally determined them unconstitutional in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia.  What if people in the United States had decided that equality for black people just “wasn’t part of the culture?”  What if slavery was allowed to continue because it was so deeply rooted in the culture of the southern states?

I would imagine that many of the same Ugandans who want homosexuals to be killed would be furious if they were told that they were not allowed to marry someone they loved who was of another race/tribe/religion.  Why is it so difficult to see the fact that homophobia is no different from racism in this way?  It is a form of oppressing a group of people for who they are.

No, Gay People are NOT “Recruiting” Kids to Become Gay

The big scare tactic here is saying that gays are going into the schools and “recruiting” kids.  It is truly amazing to me that intelligent people can actually believe that.  I don’t even know what that notion is based on, and have never seen any mention of this actually happening in the schools.  It is a smoke screen, pure and simple.  If you want to get people worked up about an issue anywhere in the world, tell them that their kids are threatened.  If anything, people here should be concerned about all of the 40-year-old men who pick up young girls at the boarding schools.  You can’t “recruit” someone to be gay, anymore than you can take a gay person and make them “ungay.”

It’s Not Easy Being Gay Anywhere

This is not an issue only in Uganda.  Gay people are still fighting for their rights throughout the world.  Even in the U.S., where we have made great strides towards equal rights for homosexuals, there is still a lot of resistance.  I was inspired to write this post partly because of an e-mail that my mother forwarded to me.  She had received a virulently homophobic message from an old friend of hers, and she took the courageous step of responding with this message:

“I wonder how many of the people you sent this to are gay or have a child or brother or sister or close friend who is gay.  How would you like to live in a world in which it would be illegal to be heterosexual, let alone get married?  How would you like the government coming into your bedroom and telling you how you can and cannot have sexual relations?  What kind of spiritual love, or the religion that has come to you since your healing, encompasses and encourages this kind of reactionary response to others who are trying to express love in the only way that feels right to them?  Gays aren’t trying to tell us to stop heterosexual love, why is it right for us to tell them they can’t express their love?  Perhaps you think it is a choice to be homosexual.  I don’t.  I also don’t think it is productive to try to make people hate themselves for what they are, unless they are doing something to hurt others.  I don’t see gays trying to do anything to hurt others, but rather just trying to live their lives in peace.  Live and let live.  Life is too short and too precious to feel hate.  For your own sake, please try to recognize that you can disagree without the negative emotions.  Those hurt you as well as others.  This world needs more love, not less.”

How often do we just “let it slide” when a friend of ours says something that offends us?  I think it is often more difficult to confront someone that we care about than to respond to anonymous “others.”  The person who had written the original message wrote back to her saying she had “lost her Midwest values.”  Well, if hate is a Midwest value, then good for her!

I also don’t understand why the anti-gay movement gets so much support by Christian churches.  What happened to “thou shalt not judge?”  Is there an 11th commandment that says “Thou shalt hate others for who they are?”  I don’t understand how spreading hate is a Christian value.  As my mother wrote in her message, “This world needs more love, not less.”

Homosexuals WILL Win Their Rights

The world is inexorably marching towards civil rights and equality for more people.  There are occasional steps backwards, like the case of the rights of homosexuals here in Uganda, but overall progress is being made.  Ugandans are intelligent people, and there will come a time when they say “I can’t believe there was a time when it was illegal to be gay,” just like it is hard to believe it was illegal for a white person to marry a black person in parts of the United States a mere 40 years ago.

In the meantime, though, homosexuals are being attacked, beaten and threatened here as they struggle for their right to live.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

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16 Responses to Gay Rights in Uganda

  1. Pingback: Gay Rights in Uganda | ExpatNode.com

  2. baguma gerald says:

    This is stupid. They must hang!!!!

  3. Angie Goldberg says:

    What a profound and courageous article! Kudos to both you and your mom. Continue to speak up and use your voice for positive social change!

  4. Charles says:

    Mark,
    This is one of the clearest and best written essays I have ever read about gay rights. I really applaud your courage and thoughtfulness. Imagine growing up knowing you were a minority in your own family, and then feeling all of the hate and judgment from peers. Teasing begins in elementary school. where our put downs are “You’re queer,” and “faggot”.
    There are so many things to love about Uganda and Ugandan culture, that we both know, and then there is this homophobia, and in some cases, the abusive treatment of women, that hopefully will change over time. Your writing is part of that change. Hopefully for every comment like the above “They must hang” there will be Ugandans who stop and think, “Hang? Why would I want to hang someone who just wants to share love?”
    Thank you.

    • Mark Jordahl says:

      Thanks, Charles. I do think that partly why I didn’t write about this for so long is that I didn’t want to dive into the reality that so many Ugandans who I love feel this way about homosexuals. I’ve wanted to just turn a blind eye, but just couldn’t do it anymore.

  5. Jackie Amatucci says:

    Mark,
    I’m deeply moved by your writings…..
    Rhetorical Question: What would we, any of us, be like, if we stopped,
    or at least began to be aware of the many “label”
    words we use to hide our own fears? I commend
    your writing to make a positive difference in the
    world!

    • Mark Jordahl says:

      I think you are right, Jackie, about the first step being awareness. We all have so many assumptions and preconceived notions about people that run through our heads all day. We need to stop and examine them to find out where they came from and whether we actually believe them.

  6. Valentine says:

    What a poignant and well-written essay on such an important human rights issue. I really appreciate your encouragement of discussing difficult issues with those closest to us and your call to action. So many just don’t realize that their complacency is a vote of confidence for the current situation. Keep up the great work, Mark!

  7. Chuck Lennox says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write this essay. The more “straight but not narrow” people join hands in solidarity with the GLBT community around the world, the sooner we shall all be free of the chains of oppression.

    • Mark Jordahl says:

      Amen to that. A friend of mine wrote a song that has the line “There’s six billion reasons for us to not get along – there’s six billion more for us to try.” We can always find reasons to be divided from people, but we need to focus on the things that bind us together as humans.

  8. yvette Busch says:

    I finally got around to reading this… well done… all too often we are silent…

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