Spreading prejudices and hate

Yesterday was human rights day and the day chosen to hold the second protest against the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Unfortunately considering the implications for LGBTI people the turn out was disappointingly low. However the Bill is still being reported in the mainstream media and blogging community though not always in a positive way. This article from the Gwaker “Ask an Expert” by one Andrew Rice who lived in Uganda for a couple of years. His claims of expertise are clearly over rated, as he seems to think that the death penalty will be dropped and like most Ugandan legislation will be “rarely and haphazardly enforced “. For these he gives the examples of smoking in public places, driving recklessly, stealing public funds and prostitution. With the exception of sex workers, there is no national stigma and religious zealousness behind any of these laws. People do not commit hate crimes against smoking in public or stealing public funds. Nor when they are caught are they denigrated in the media and end up having to flea the country to save their lives.

If a bill does get passed, the judiciary is pretty independent and has shown itself willing to buck public opinion in the past. Finally, and most importantly, President Museveni is not a fire-breather on “moral” issues (he leaves that to his wife) and is well aware of the shitstorm of criticism that is likely to descend on the country if the law is passed. He’s got bigger issues to worry about, like winning the next election over increasingly vocal opposition, and he’s not going to want to endanger the country’s life support system of foreign aid by mounting a pogrom against a highly visible minority that draws lots of sympathy in Western countries. The most likely scenario, I’d predict, is that the bill gets watered down to remove the death penalty stuff, is passed, and then, like all Ugandan laws, goes on to be rarely and haphazardly enforced. Among the things that are against the law in Uganda are: smoking in public places, prostitution, driving recklessly, and stealing public funds. These things all still happen, openly and blatantly, so I imagine that the comparatively underground gay community should be OK in the end.

What I object to here is the flippant trivializing tone of Rice’s article which ends up undermining the very real dangers of this Bill not just for Ugandan LGBTI people but for LGBTI people throughout the continent and for human rights in general as other leaders and Christian fundamentals join the homophobic feeding frenzy. Take these two reports from the Gambia and Zambia until now we have heard very little of in terms of homophobia

Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh says he will sack gay and lesbian army officers serving the country’s military. The President who was addressing the newly promoted army chiefs, said lesbianism is a “ taboo” in the army, and therefore warned soldiers to desist from such practices, which he describes as “evil” and ungodly. “We will not encourage lesbianism and homosexuality in the military. It is a taboo in our armed forces. I will sack any soldier suspected of being a gay, or lesbian in The Gambia. We need no gays in our armed forces,”

Its not clear why Jammeh is specifically targeting the army or even mentioning it since there has been no evidence of lesbians in the army. Nonetheless if you are gay or lesbian in the Gambia statements like these will leave you fearful for your livelihood and life. The second report is from Zambia. The Planned Parenthood Association has asked the government for guidelines on how to address HIV/AIDS amongst same sex relationships in order for everyone to have equal access to medical care and treatment. By far the majority of reader responses to this short article are extremely homophobic. One gets the feeling that it is only a matter of time before Christian fundamentalists in Zambia start their own local anti-LGBTI campaign baying for blood.

My point here is we cannot afford to be flippant and complacent about the implementation of state and religious sanctioned homophobia. More Ugandan religious leaders are backing the Bill and have suggested the Government cut diplomatic ties with those countries calling for the Bill to be shelved. The language used is of course different – those countries “forcing homosexuality” on us. They are also now linking abortion with homosexuality as the two “western evils”.