Uganda’s slow progress toward LGBT rights

Insightful commentary in Gay Star News from Jamaican (and international) LGBT activist Maurice Tomlinson about slow progress in Uganda:

Maurice Tomlinson (Photo courtesy of Macalester.edu)
Maurice Tomlinson (Photo courtesy of Macalester.edu)

Though clearly delusional in his denial of ongoing LGBT abuses in Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni’s recent statement nevertheless signals his support for the move by a few Ugandan Parliamentarians to permanently shelve the dreadful Anti-Homosexuality Bill (AHB).

These politicians are working on a minority report which argues forcefully that the AHB is unnecessary. President Museveni is strengthening their hand by publicly admitting there is no recruitment of Ugandan youngsters into homosexuality as such hysterical and unsubstantiated claims were proffered as the most important justifications for the AHB.

The president’s admission of pre-existing homosexuality in Ugandan society is also a matter of historical record (British colonizers chronicled their encounters with gay Ugandan kings) and will undoubtedly help to undercut the prevailing myth that homosexuality is a western imposition.

Most modern societies evolved slowly towards recognition of human rights for LGBT people and this process is certainly underway in Uganda. Such a remarkable trajectory is thanks to the tireless efforts of local activists and their international partners. Local activists should be supported in their struggle to ensure this continued forward movement.

That said, it is easy to understand the frustration of Global North-based LGBT activists with the seemingly glacial pace of human rights recognition for LGBT in Africa. What is missed is that, to be sustainable, the change must be dictated by local realities supported by appropriate international initiatives. This is cliché, but bears repeating. For in Uganda, as elsewhere around the world, homophobia will end when contact is made.

Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (Photo courtesy of Rafto Foundation)
Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (Photo courtesy of Rafto Foundation)

The irrational fears surrounding homosexuality which have gripped African society (largely spurred on by Western evangelicals embittered at losing the culture war at home) will only be erased when indigenous LGBT remind their fellow citizens of their humanity. Groups such as SMUG (Sexual Minorities Uganda) and individuals including its leader Frank Mugisha are bravely daring to be visible in Uganda every day. Those who want to help the effort should put their money where their mouth is and join them, instead of simply criticizing from the safety of their northern arm-chairs.

Ugandan anti-homophobia groups are also working strategically behind the scenes through important low-key meetings with politicians and policy-makers. I have been made to understand, this is the way change happens in Uganda. It is easy to see why this is true. With an almost king-president in power for over 25 years, it is patently obvious that Ugandan society does not readily accept radical societal changes. Respect for the leader is profound and convincing leaders to alter their views is the most important component of affecting national re-orientation on an issue.

Read the full article: “We should welcome and help Uganda’s slow moves to a better LGBT future” (Gay Star News).

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor/publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at info@76crimes.com.

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