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Muna Mire


Why Gay Rights In Uganda Is A Colonial Issue

Posted: 11/19/2012 5:42 pm

Last week, Ugandan Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga made a public promise that she would not only revive the infamous anti-gay bill but that it would pass by the end of the year.

The bill, which has been roundly condemned by the international community and called "odious" by President Obama calls for the death penalty in cases of "serial homosexuality," among other things. Preceding her announcement, Speaker Kadaga attended the Inter-Parliamentary Union conference in Quebec City, where she was engaged in a verbal altercation with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird.

Several articles that I've read have praised Minister Baird for his actions in holding the Speaker accountable. Unfortunately, while Minister Baird should be commended for his stance on the issue of LGBT human rights, I am hesitant about his methods. I fear that Minister Baird and other prominent voices in the media are actually making the situation worse for LGBT activists on the ground in Uganda by missing or deliberately ignoring the colonial contexts of the anti-gay bill.

One article in particular is representative of many of the claims that have been made with respect to the anti-gay legislation in Uganda. John Scheinert's piece entitled "Gay rights in Uganda isn't a colonial issue," was a disappointing read.

Scheinert's piece takes an insulting tone from the start by claiming that "Rebecca Kadaga, the speaker of Uganda's parliament, wants to be Che Guevara, but she's not. She's nothing close." Scheinert goes on to list the reasons why resisting LGBT persecution in Uganda is not colonialist in the least. While Scheinert's point that colonialism is not a sufficient justification for persecution of LGBT individuals stands, his tone is inappropriate and he misses the actual colonialist implications of the bill.

First, it is important to acknowledge the colonial overtones that made the bill possible in the first place. Many of the Ugandans agitating for the "kill the gays" bill found inspiration in, and drew ideas from, white, American evangelicals like Scott Lively who advocated a virulent homophobia couched in Christian fundamentalism. The organizer of the conference that led to the initial drafting of the bill back in 2009, Stephen Langa, not only had Lively speak at the conference but continued preaching Lively's message about "the gay agenda -- that whole hidden and dark agenda."

Another white American, Richard A. Cohen, wrote one of the texts that Langa specifically cited as inspiration, entitled Coming Out Straight. The book claims that gays are much more likely to molest schoolchildren, feeding Ugandan fears of "recruitment" as well as more legitimate concerns of sex tourism and pedophilia, fears that are now being used to justify the bill. Ugandans are capable of making their own choices, but there is no questioning the influence that these foreign nationals from former colonial powers had in the country.

Let me be absolutely clear, I am not drawing connections between homosexuality and pedophilia. Nor am I seeking to draw a connection between homosexuality and sex tourism. Unfortunately however, both are issues in Uganda unrelated to LGBT human rights concerns. Sex tourism (and particularly the sex tourism industry as it relates to trafficked children) poses a legitimate concern in Africa generally, as well as in Uganda. The U.S. State Department has created a global database of resources on the issue.

Relatively wealthy, often white individuals from developed countries in the West seek out children in Africa and Asia to victimize specifically because of the anonymity, poverty and lack of consequences they believe they will find abroad. Further, it was white foreign nationals like Richard Cohen who promoted the idea of linking pedophilia and child sex tourism to homosexuality in Uganda. We can certainly read Cohen's actions as colonial, specifically in that he promoted a particular moral vision as a white individual in a majority black African nation.

We can understand Ugandan fears of child sex tourism (particularly where whites are implicated) by situating them in a colonialist context. White, mostly male individuals from wealthy countries victimizing African children obviously triggers colonialist fears. Ironically, it was white men who did the work of stirring up these colonialist fears. There are two layers to the colonialist framing: it was white foreign nationals who did the colonialist work of linking homosexuality to another separate colonialist fear of child sex tourism. Remember, Uganda only gained independence in 1962 and many of these wounds are still raw.

Given these contexts, I am surprised that Scheinert's piece would make the claim that the issue is entirely divorced from the realities of colonialism. I am disappointed that Ugandans advocating for the bill are given more ammunition with which to declare their homophobic legislation anticolonialist when Minister Baird, Scheinert and others assert their message without considering the subtleties of diplomacy.

When Speaker Kadaga returned home after her altercation with Baird, during which she claimed that, "Uganda is not a colony or protectorate of Canada," she was met with applause.

I cannot stand up for cultural relativism that allows for persecution, but neither can I endorse the actions of those who do not consider how best to actually get an effective response from Ugandan politicians and constituents alike. As trans activist and journalist Mercedes Allen has stated,

"What needs to be done is complex, but includes networking with and empowering women and LGBT people [...] so that they can lead their own activism within the cultural context that Westerners often clumsily don't understand enough."
The following letter has been provided by a coalition of Ugandan LGBT activists on how best to proceed and support the LGBT cause on the ground. We would do well to listen.

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  • New York

    From Scott G. Brown aka Gene Brown, a member and participant of the 1969 Stonewall Inn raid and riots: "My ailing health has prevented me from making this 1,200 mile trip by Bus for next week's Pride Parade, but I can, truthfully, say that I was there in June 2011."

  • Washington, D.C.

    From Ashley Bartolome: "I took these photos at the Pride Parade in Washington, DC on June 9, 2012." What I love about pride is not only seeing but feeling the acceptance of everyone there. Gays, lesbians, heterosexuals and families attend every year supporting with cheers and smiles. I make it a point to attend pride every year not just for myself, but to give a voice and be a face for all LGBT people who can't speak up due to their closets or fears. I want to show them that it's ok to be who they are and there are countless Americans who accept them. I also like to be there out of respect for the LGBT who have been killed by others - or by their own hands - because of their sexuality.

  • Sao Paulo, Brazil

    From Welton Trindade, journalist and a gay activist: "I took part of Sao Paulo LGBT Parade. The march was realized on Sunday, June 10. That was the 16th edition of the event. Well, I wanted to show my body but a parade, in my opinion, is not just fun! So I've decided to show my muscles and, in the same time, to send a good message. The solution: to write 'Poder gay' (or 'Gay power') on my chest! It was a great experience!"

  • Zurich, Switzerland

    Vorstand, the organization team from the Zurich Pride Festival is meeting Federal Councillor Simonetta Sommaruga, from left: Chriss, Patrik, Nathalie, Simonetta Sommaruga and David.

  • Berlin, Germany

    From Eva Adams: "Hundreds of thousands came out to celebrate gay rights in Berlin this year and I had the privilege of riding on a hetero-leaning wagon in support...It was extra special to land at the Reichstag with tens of thousands behind us celebrating love and tolerance. I'm not able to pick a best photo but needed to share. Thanks for your project!"

  • Bologna, Italy

    From Marilena: "I was at this year's national italian Gay Pride in Bologna! It was my first pride and it was amazing! I felt surrounded by so much love and most of all I felt safe and proud of who I am! Baci!"

  • Brussels, Belgium

    From Evert Hermans & Birger De Rese: "We've been married for 4 years now. We're proud to have in Belgium legalized same sex marriage!"

  • Seoul, South Korea

    From Nate Meyer: "I am an American teaching English here in South Korea, I recently

  • West Hollywood, California

    From married couple Andi & Carissa: "Our pup Simon enjoyed his first Pride Parade in West Hollywood on June 10!"

  • Shanghai, China

    From Abby Lavin, a volunteer with shanghaiPRIDE, who shares this image of a "Pink Picnic" (photo taken by Linda Li)

  • Tel Aviv, Israel

    From The Israel Project

  • Gran Canaria, Spain

    From Chris Wadsworth: "This is (left to right) myself, Gareth and Daniel at Maspalomas GayPride 2012 in Gran Canaria, Spain. The whole island (and thousands from all over Europe) turn up for the week long event every May to celebrate and meet LGBT people from all over the world!"

  • Meridas, Mexico

    From Memo Macas: "It was the first time that I ever participated in the event and I really enjoyed it, next year I'll go with my boyfriend to Mexico City's Pride Parade."

  • Baton Rouge, Louisana

    From Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge: "We made history in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Saturday, June 23, with the first ever statewide Equality March. Here's a picture of both the youngest and the oldest marchers!"

  • Philadelphia

    From Daniel Douglass, founder/director of Flaggots: "Here's a photo of FLAGGOTS performing to Whitney Houston's 'I Wanna Dance with Somebody' at Philly Pride, June 10. FLAGGOTS are a group of friends from the color guard and drum corps community that come together to celebrate Pride in a most fabulous way. Founded in 1991, they have performed in at least one pride event a year for 23 consecutive years.'

  • Chicago

    From Karen Belgrad: "At my friend's apartment, overlooking the parade route, he casually tosses out beads...and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel catches them with ease! OK, and a little lunging!)"

  • Los Angeles

    Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sergeant Don Mueller and LAX Airport Police Officer David Ayala celebrate pride as they prepare to march with over 60 other openly gay officers in the 2012 West Hollywood CSW Pride Parade.

  • Waikiki, Hawaii

    From Bob Brennan: "Also there was a party at Allah Moana Beach Park. Everybody was gay that day."

  • Columbus, Ohio

    From Keli Stooksberry: The picture on the right is my friend Courtney talking to protesters. The picture on the left is of my partner DeAnna and I kissing in front of the protesters. This was my second pride and the first interaction with protesters. I was not surprised but still overwhelmed by their presence in such a wonderful and uplifting celebration. My friend Courtney had one of them speechless by the end of their conversation not by throwing obscenities his way but rather using her knowledge of scripture. Again, I was not surprised that the man she spoke with had no more knowledge of the bible than the words written on his sign but it was priceless to see him have nothing left to say because Courtney was right!

  • Baton Rouge, Louisana

    From John Desselle: "It only took what, 42 years, for Baton Rouge to have a state wide Equality March. Headed up by Capital City Alliance: www.ccabatonrouge.org, we had representatives from all over the state. About 300 people showed up for the march. Most went on to our Baton Rouge Pride Festival which was at LSU Student Union this year."

  • Queens, New York

    From Michael Cruz: "I am the Secretary of the Queens Pride Lions Club. We are the first LGBT Lions Club in NYC. Here is a photo of us marching in the Queens Pride 2012 parade on June 3."

  • Berlin, Germany

    From Teena Lashmore: "Hi from Berlin!"

  • Houston

    Melanie Pang (in pink) taking a photo with the men (and "noodles") of Jenni's Noodle House, a Houston favorite.

  • Indianapolis, Indiana

    From William George: "This is me at Indianapolis Pride 2012. I consider myself a Pride aficionado. I love all the togetherness and the fun times. This year's Indianapolis Pride was the largest the city had ever hosted, with the festival expanding to twice the size it was previously. The headliners were Deborah Cox and Cazwell. While I didn't get to see him in person, I snapped this picture next to a promotional poster of him."

  • Madison, Wisconsin

    Jenny Lee tells us: "I am the girl wearing the rainbow sarong, under the banner that says 'Coming out, coming together.' It was taken in August 22, 2011 during a Wisconsin Pride parade. None of my friends was in the event. I had just finished my run that day when I noticed that something was going on. When I realized it was a LGBTQ Pride event, I went home home, grabbed my sarong that I got in Thailand and jumped right into the parade to show my support and that's why the picture. I had only been in Madison, WI for about 3 months. I moved to the city for grad school. What I noticed about the community is that it's liberal, tolerant and I felt belong...I'm straight and I stand for equality."

  • Athens, Greece

    From gay superhero: "I didn't manage to be at the parade from the beginning, but that gave me the chance to find myself at the head of the march later, as they were going up Stadiou street. This is a central Athens street that saw a lot of disturbances during recent protests, including the death of three bank employees when their building caught fire. So it was nice to see a pacifist, colorful demonstration for a change."

  • Los Angeles

    Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck march in the 2012 West Hollywood CSW Pride Parade with over 60 openly gay peace officers from the LASD, LAPD, FBI and other police departments throughout southern California.

  • Toronto, Canada

    From Melissa: "This is me and my partner Jean. The first picture was taken at Toronto Pride in 2010 -- we are just up on Church Street. Our first pride and we are still very happily together 3 years later!"

  • Brooklyn, New York

    From Bob: "Five-year-old corgi Carter (recently rescued from a shelter in Alabama) steps out Brooklyn to celebrate his first LGBT Pride in New York City."

  • Philadelphia

    From right to left: Stephanie (far right) with girlfriend Jackie (left of me) along with best friends Erika and Katie at Philadelphia Pride in front of the Ben Franklin Bridge at Penns Landing.

  • New York City

    Sharon Needles performs at the Barefoot Wine Pride Kick Off Celebration in NYC on June 20.

  • Boston

    From T.J.

  • Boston

    From T.J.

  • Amarillo, Texas

    Happy Gay Pride 2012 from Amarillo, TX -- Route 66 Cadillac Ranch!

  • Amarillo, Texas

    Happy Gay Pride 2012 from Amarillo, Texas -- Cadilliac Ranch!

  • Charleston, West Virginia

  • Boston

    From T.J.

  • Waikiki, Hawaii

    From Bob Brennan: "It was a gay (happy) sunny day on O'ahu. First there was a parade from Ala Moana Beach park to Kapiolani Park where there was a celebration. Also there was a party at Allah Moana Beach Park."

  • Detroit, Michigan

    From Gary.

  • Huntington, New York

    From Maosung Yao: "I went to [Long Island Pride] with my partner Walter last weekend and we had a good time with our friends as well. The pride was great even thought it was small.

  • Denver, Colorado

    From Adam Barnhardt: "I'm the one with the rainbow mohawk, the one with the Pink hair and football gear is Emilio Cordova, and the one in white with the body paint is Loa Brannigan. We were featured in Metro State's student newspaper for our bizarre homemade outfits and all around theatrical method of showing pride in our true colors."

  • Los Angeles

    From Angela Huerta, rider: "First time [Kristin Holloway and I] participated in Dykes on Bikes!"

  • New York City

    Sharon Needles performs at the Barefoot Wine Pride Kick Off Celebration in NYC on June 20.

  • Sacramento, California

  • Washington, D.C.

    From Ashley Bartolome: "I want to show them that it's ok to be who they are and there are countless Americans who accept them. I also like to be there out of respect for the LGBT who have been killed by others -- or by their own hands -- because of their sexuality."

  • Washington, D.C.

    The Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) is a multicultural youth agency for youth of all backgrounds with the mission to support youth and their families to live, work, and study with dignity, hope and joy. LAYC staff and youth participants walked in the parade with hand-made tie-dye t-shirts handing out candy and information about LAYC's LGBT support services. We had a fantastic time feeling the love and support of the community.

  • Phoenix

    From Betty Viveros: "I got the greatest experience to participate in my first of many PRIDE festivals in Phoenix, Arizona earlier this year. I went with a group of my closest friends who are all, like myself are huge LGBQT supporters. Walking around shirtless guys and half-naked girls never looked so hot...literally. It hit 100 degrees that weekend!"

  • New York City

    Sharon Needles fans root her on at the Barefoot Wine Pride Kick Off Celebration on June 20.

  • Providence, Rhode Island

    From Mark Peters, who took this photo of Providence's "Nighttime Illuminated Pride Parade" on June 16.

  • Boston

    Miss Trans New England

  • Washington, D.C.

    Jeff, Sal and Michael enjoy beverages in the scorching heat.


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