News

Gay Activists Say Uganda Becoming More Tolerant

Members of Sexual Minorities Uganda, at the opening of fourth annual sexual and gender-based violence/persecution awareness campaign week in Kampala, Uganda, March 19, 2012.
Members of Sexual Minorities Uganda, at the opening of fourth annual sexual and gender-based violence/persecution awareness campaign week in Kampala, Uganda, March 19, 2012.

Life is not easy for Uganda's embattled homosexual community, which is still fighting against a harsh bill in parliament that could mean life in prison for some of them. Gay and lesbian activists say that in many ways, Uganda is becoming a more tolerant place.

Gay plight

The plight of Ugandan homosexuals has been grabbing international headlines for years. In 2009 the country’s parliament introduced a bill that would make some homosexual acts punishable by death, and would make it a crime not to report gays and lesbians to the police. Last year, gay activist David Kato was murdered in his home.

But despite everything, gay activists say that living openly in Uganda is actually these days than it was before. They are ferociously fighting the controversial bill, from which the death penalty clause has reportedly been removed. And in terms of public opinion, they say, things are looking up.

Change

Lesbian rights activist Joanitah Abang says the debate surrounding homosexuality in Uganda has made people more open-minded. Even some politicians are starting to support their cause, she says, although most will not yet say so publicly.

“Even some people in the mainstream, in government, are beginning to understand," said Abang. "Of course, those in government will tell you, ‘I will talk to you, I will support you, but don’t mention me anywhere.’ People are willing to know, and people are beginning to accept.”

Bishop Christopher Senyonjo agrees. He is one of the only religious leaders in this conservatively Christian country to publicly support homosexual rights, and has been counseling gay and lesbian youth for over 10 years.

Senyonjo was rejected by his Anglican church for refusing to condemn homosexuality. But, he says, some of his colleagues have been inspired by his example, even if - like politicians - they will not say so in public.

“Some religious people who are my friends, they say, ‘Christopher, we know what you are doing. We support you.’  And that’s why I’m trying to have more dialogue, even with those religious leaders,” he said.

Sexual Minorities Uganda

Frank Mugisha, head of a Kampala-based NGO called Sexual Minorities Uganda, attributes some of this progress to continuing international pressure to recognize homosexual rights.  Over the past few years, he says, this pressure has changed the language used by Ugandan politicians.

“For example, the president of Uganda has shifted from the notion where he would say that there are no homosexuals in Uganda, to kill them if you see them, to now saying that homosexuals were here and they were not being persecuted," said Mugisha. "And I see that as an effect of the international pressure, having to talk to them or to bring up the issue every time they meet with our politicians.”

As a result, says Abang, it has become easier for the homosexual community to participate in public events, such as a march several weeks ago in which several dozen gay activists walked the streets brandishing posters.  She says that under the watchful eye of the international community, police are no longer likely to arrest them at public demonstrations.

“Because you can imagine a number of people walking on the road and you come and arrest them - definitely it’s homophobia," said Abang. "So I think that as much as they want to do more in order to stop us, they are also scared of what the repercussions would be.”

Western pressure

But, she adds, not all forms of Western pressure have been helpful.  British Prime Minister David Cameron declared last year that he would cut aid to countries that did not respect gay rights, a statement that was intensely criticized by many Africans who saw it as an attempt to impose European cultural values on them. According to Abang, this type of statement from a Western leader actually hurts Uganda’s homosexual community.

“I think that was very wrong, because there will be a lot of backlash," said Abang. "And for me it was also wrong because I belong to the wider community. That money that reconstructs the roads, helps build hospitals - I also use those hospitals. I use those roads.”

In terms of public opinion, more gains have been made by Ugandan activists themselves, says Mugisha. If homophobia is on the decline, it is thanks to local civil society organizations like his.

“The advocacy work is effective, because when Ugandans hear other Ugandans speaking out, it is very, very much more effective," said Mugisha. "So that has worked.”

As a result, Ugandan gay activists are becoming bolder. Last month, Sexual Minorities Uganda filed a lawsuit against American evangelical pastor Scott Lively in a U.S. federal court, accusing Lively of whipping up anti-gay hysteria in Uganda that inspired the anti-homosexuality bill.

Such acts, says Mugisha, are a violation of international law. He hopes that if Lively is convicted, it will send a message both at home and abroad that exporting homophobia is unacceptable.

But even if Kampala is becoming an easier place for homosexuals to live, things outside the capital and other major cities are just as bad as before, says Mugisha.

“It is very difficult for people up-country, because now that is where there is a deep-rooted religion. People get arrested and harassed a lot more," said Mugisha. "When I talk to people in the rural areas, they are like, ‘How do you do it?  Aren’t you scared that they would kill you or beat you?’ Because I think that’s their fear. They think that could happen to them if they are out.”

Long way to go

Despite their optimism, gay and lesbian activists agree that there is still a long way to go before homosexuals will be officially tolerated in Uganda. But as for Bishop Senyonjo, he says he is gratified to see that at least some of his work has been paying off.

“I know some of these young people who say to me, ‘If you didn’t help us, we were contemplating committing suicide.’ I am happy to see them alive. I’m really happy.”

Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill is still before parliament. Although it enjoys strong support from legislators, President Yoweri Museveni has distanced himself from the bill, saying it hurts Uganda’s image abroad.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outragei
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 04, 2015 11:36 AM
The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outrage

The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Russians Observe 11th Anniversary of Beslan School Attack

This week, Russians have been observing the 11th anniversary of the attack by Islamic militants on a school in Russia's North Caucasus region that killed more than 330 hostages, including 186 children. The three-day siege and massacre that started on September 1, 2004 took place in Beslan, a town in the republic of North Ossetia, and is one of the bloodiest terrorist acts ever in Russia. VOA's Mike Richman reports.
Video

Video Native Americans Debate: Father Serra, Saint or Sinner?

Pope Francis will canonize an 18th century missionary to Spanish California during a papal visit to the United States this month.  But some Native Americans have criticized the elevation to sainthood of the missionary priest, Junipero Serra. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video China Announces Troop Cuts at WWII Parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday announced plans to cut the world’s largest military force by 300,000 troops. The announcement was made during a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II. The event was shunned by most Western leaders and for some is raising fresh concerns about China’s military ambitions. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

VOA Blogs