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Ugandan LGBTI Community Struggles for Human Rights amid U.S. No H8 Celebrations

 

 

A blog entry by Donald M. Wilson Fellow Wade McMullen

(2012-02-07) While many rejoiced as the 9th Circuit ruled “Prop 8” unconstitutional today, the LGBTI community in Uganda were reminded just how different their struggle for rights and dignity is from the dominant narrative of “marriage equality” in the West. Earlier in Kampala, amidst vociferous cheers of encouragement, lawmakers re-introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (the AHB) in Uganda’s 9th Parliament.

Moving forward amidst the “No H8” celebrations, international rights groups and foreign governments should eagerly wait to follow the lead of the robust Ugandan LGBTI and human rights movement against the AHB. Recognizing that messaging on LGBTI issues from the West to the South is complicated by the (ahistorical yet oft repeated) claim that “homosexuality is an un-African import,” we must do a better job of discussing the AHB in the broader Ugandan context this time.

First of all, Ugandan MPs are not foreign to the concept of human rights. Some of the most robust civil society in the world emanates from Eastern Africa. However, we are indeed dealing with some individuals who still equate being gay to being a pedophile. Far from recognizing one’s orientation as part of what it means to be human, the supporters of the AHB still see LGBTI people as sexual deviants and a predatory threat, justifying the draconian provisions of the AHB in the name of child-protection. Importantly, there seems to be very little distinction in Ugandan anti-gay sentiment between conduct and status. Thus, all letter writing campaigns and diplomacy must also directly address (and not ignore) these incredibly harmful myths and sources of misinformation that bolster homophobia in Uganda.

Second, we must recognize that there is more than just one repressive bill pending in Kampala these days. Today is also National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, yet the simultaneous trends on Twitter failed to make the connection that the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Bill was reintroduced alongside the AHB. Unlike the AHB, the HIV bill has several positive provisions, yet if passed in its current form, it would be a major setback permitting disclosure of HIV status without consent, which contravenes international human rights standards. Both bills in fact have serious ramifications for the effectiveness of HIV prevention in a country with an HIV prevalence that’s already on the rise.

Other bills such the Public Order Management Bill and the Sexual Offences Bill that threaten the rights of Ugandans could crop up at any time. And, precisely because the reintroduction of these expired bills is unprecedented, the procedure for their passage and the passage of the AHB still remains unclear.

Finally, we must strive to be even more clear in the headlines of our messages, that as international advocates we are promoting universal rights, not rights specific to LGBTI people (as if such rights even exist). Of concern in Uganda is the right to life, the right to be free from arbitrary arrest, the right to an adequate standard of healthcare, the right to education, the right to practice religion freely, not to mention the rights of non-discrimination and to a private life. The AHB, in fact, threatens the rights of all Ugandans, not just its LGBTI citizens. Any Ugandan regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity could face jail time and possibly even death upon “a repeat offense” under the AHB’s reporting requirement.

I admit that I am the first offender of oversimplifying my 140-character messages to include hashtags like “#LGBTI rights.” But, this cannot translate to the nuanced messaging we will need to be conveying to Uganda’s people and Parliament in the days, weeks, and months to come if we hope to help and not hinder the efforts of our Ugandan colleagues whose lives are on the line.

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2011 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award Laureate Frank Mugisha of Uganda

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