11/01/2012 12:16 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Gay Rights in Uganda isn't a Colonial Issue

Rebecca Kadaga, the speaker of Uganda's parliament, wants to be Che Guevara, but she's not. She's nothing close.

On an official visit to Canada last week, the speaker found herself in a bit of a tiff with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird. In a discussion on "Citizenship, Identity and Linguistic and Cultural Diversity in a Globalised World" at the Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly, Minister Baird had the gall to call out Uganda for its persecution of sexual minorities and specifically referred to the murder of gay-rights activist David Kato in 2011.

Speaker Kadaga protested Minister Baird's "arrogance" and "promoting homosexuality." She continued her upbraid, "If homosexuality is a value for the people of Canada they should not seek to force Uganda to embrace it. We are not a colony or a protectorate of Canada," and then requested for the discussion to return to the topic.

This was not before she suggested a double standard among Western activists, by pointing out that 39 American states prohibit gay marriage.

Upon returning to Uganda, Speaker Kadaga pledged to bring Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill back before Parliament and specifically declared, "We are not a colony of Canada."

Uganda is free to invoke sovereignty as much as it likes, as it dismisses what is thankfully becoming a growing chorus of condemnation to its state-sanctioned persecution of its gay population. But it is self-righteous disillusionment to think that by withstanding calls for ceasing the active persecution of a segment of its population it is somehow at the avant-garde of the struggle against neo-colonialism, or neo-imperialism. Sovereignty is not merely a shield, it also brings responsibilities.

There is a reason that the spotlight of LGBT rights is focused on states Uganda, Nigeria, Cameroon, The Gambia and not the United States. I do not want to denigrate at all the struggle for full LGBT equality in the United States. Homophobia is too prevalent in America, and it deserves our condemnation. Next week's election results might even make the cause more urgent. But unfortunately, America is not a worst offender.

There can be no mistaking the difference between a state wrestling with how and to what extent it affords equality to its citizens and the state where there is no debate, only consensus on persecution. And by persecution we are not talking about denials of federal benefits, but of imprisonment.

John Baird did not call out Speaker Kadaga because he wants Kampala to be the next big destination for same-sex weddings. He called out Speaker Kadaga because today, in the community of nations, where we all theoretically equal, it is anathema to the concept of human dignity that a state should sanction the persecution of a group of its own citizens for no reason other than who they are.

Standing up against that is not colonialism; it's decency.

Canada will not be any better off if Uganda stops threatening its gays. There is no colonial national interest here. Securing gay rights is not a means to plunder Ugandan sugar cane. It is time for the bigots in the developing world to stop seeing this issue as a conspiracy theory and accept that their states and communities, like all others, can and must do more to live up to basic ideals of fairness, equality and above all, dignity.

By returning to her country and continuing to spread hateful vitriol while cloaking herself in the language of third-world liberation, Speaker Kadanga proves the sad truth that some of those who have emerged from the shackles of colonialism have failed to learn one of its main lessons: there can be no hierarchy of being.

Uganda has a long way to go and cannot attempt to distract attention on itself by pointing to other nations that can also do more for LGBT equality.

Minister Baird was right to bring up sexuality under the heading "Citizenship, Identity and Linguistic and Cultural Diversity in a Globalised World." In this globalized world diversity must be inclusive. It cannot be a tool that facilitates hate and persecution by allowing governments to invoke it as a means to avoid the responsibility they have to protect their citizens.

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