Uganda: African Hotbed of Homophobia
One of the most homophobic nations in the world is the tiny central African nation of Uganda, where popular prejudice and official acts have forced gay men and lesbians into a virtual state of seige. While we celebrate the continued expansion of our rights at home, it becomes all the more incumbent on us not to turn away from those who suffer the worst kind of abuse. And Uganda is among the worst.
Since it became an independent nation in 1962, a destabilizing series of civil wars and military coups has severly impacted Uganda’s economy, politics and human rights. In 1986, Yoweri Museveni deposed Idi Amin and remains in power to this day.
Musevini won reelection in 2006 amidst widespread allegations of intimidation. His administration scapegoats LGBT activists, and harasses, detains and arrests them. His officials ignore or outright condone anti-gay violence.
Anti-gay laws and cultural prejudices date back to Catholic and Protesant missionaries, who arrived shortly before the United Kingdom declared the area a protectorate in the late 1800s. Two-thirds of Ugandans are Catholics or Anglicans.
Peter Tatchell of the British gay rights group OutRage! has campaigned in support of Ugandan LGBT activists. What fuels the nation’s homophobia, he says, is "evangelical churches that are funded by the religious right in the U.S.," largely through abstinence-only AIDS programs in the AIDS-ravaged nation. The Anglican Church "has also been preaching strongly against same-sex relationships."
The church hasn’t dealt kindly with anyone who disagrees with its institutionalized homophobia. It excommunicated Bishop Christopher Senyonjo for speaking out against the church’s homophobia.
"Most of the homophobia we face is perpetrated by religious leaders, who play a big role in the law processes," adds Pepe J. Onziema, who heads Sexual Minorities Uganda.
Press, Church, Politics, Culture: a Caldron of Hate
Further compounding state and church actions are the press. The tabloid newspaper Red Pepper, has in the last year or so outed nearly 100 people, according to Tatchell.
Ugandan religion, politics, laws and culture have combined to impose a debilitating stigma.
"It’s horrendous. People who are out, and even people who are suspected, live with daily harassment and threats to their lives." says Pastor Rev Pat Bumgardner, chair of the Global Justice Ministry for Metropolitan Community Churches.
"Gay people live in an environment of fear and intimidation." says Kizza, who heads Gay Rights Uganda. Kizza currently lives in exile in Kampala and London. Kizza (he asks that we only use his first name for safety reasons) recalls witnessing commonplace incidents of "torture, arbitrary arrests and detention." Examples of institutionalized torture include instrumental rape, beatings and even decapitation.
Those who are lucky enough not to be detained often face discrimination. "A big number of LGBT people are illiterate, unemployed, and homeless," says Kizza, who adds that anyone unmarried after a certain age face the suspicion or assumption of being gay. "This has led many into living double lives and lack of true love expressions. Lesbians end up as hetero-wives and gay-men as hetero-husbands."