Uganda is … Who is in our hearts of hearts?

Sylvia Tamale

The Rev. Gideon B. Byamagusha is a person of courage, a person of the hearts of hearts. Byamagusha is an Anglican priest in Uganda, in a parish outside of Kampala. In 1992, Byamagusha announced that he was living with HIV. He was the first African religious leader to do so. In 2003 he founded the African Network of Religious Leaders living with or personally affected by HIV/AIDS, or ANERELA. By the end of 2006, ANERELA numbered over 2000 members in 39 African countries. In 2006, Rev. Byamagusha started a shelter for AIDS orphans. In May of this year, Rev. Byamagusha was awarded the Niwano Peace Prize. He lives today with his wife and three children.

He lives today, and in today’s edition of the Sunday Monitor, he writes: “No one really knows how many homosexuals , tri-sexuals, bi-sexuals, hetero-sexuals and non-sexuals we are in Uganda. What is known is that these sexualities are certainly not new ways of life.”

We are … homosexuals, tri-sexuals, bi-sexuals, hetero-sexuals and non-sexuals. We are.

On Thursday, November 19, Los Angeles County reported a 21% increase in crimes against gay, lesbian, bisexuals and transgendered people. The report noted that sexual-orientation hate crimes were more likely to be more violent than hate crimes based on racism or religious hatred.

Friday, November 20, marked the eleventh Annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance. The Transgender Day of Remembrance began in 1999, to commemorate, mourn, and protest the 1998 murder of Rita Hester, a transgender woman of color in Boston

Last year, in Yeoville, a neighborhood of Johannesburg, South Africa, Daisy Dube was brutally murdered, shot, when she and her friends asked three men in an car to stop calling them “isitabane”, a Sepedi slur against LGBT people.

A little over a week ago, on November 13, in Puerto Rico, 19-year-old Jorge Steven López-Mercado, was killed, beheaded, dismembered, and his remains were set on fire, because he was a man dressed in woman’s clothing.

Tara Sawyer sees November 20 as “an opportunity for all of us to stand up to end violence against all women….Some counts have the average number of murders of transgendered people at 19 per month! Or put another way, 1 in 12 of us in America will be murdered. But we as transgendered people are the only ones counting, in pretty much every country across the world. I’m a transgendered sex worker, and I want to not get killed for who I am or what I do. As our death count rises, I beg that you consider your prejudices around gender, and let us live in peace. I’m literally begging for my life.”

We are the only ones counting. Let us live in peace. I’m literally begging for my life.

In Uganda, homosexuality was already criminalized, and that was not enough. A new bill proposes death. Remember, sexual orientation crimes are likely to be the most violent, especially when perpetrated by the State, by Society, by Large Structures. The people must be protected, Society must be defended, the Nation must be preserved. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people must learn to die, must learn to beg for life … and then die.

Die … or dialogue? On Wednesday, Makerere University hosted a public dialogue between Sylvia Tamale, well-known human rights, women’s rights, sexual minorities rights’ feminist lawyer, and Maj. Rubaramira Ruranga, Executive Director of the National Guidance and Empowerment Network of people living with HIV/Aids in Uganda. Major Ruranga has been living openly with HIV since he announced his HIV status on World Aids Day, 1993. Before his promotion to his current rank, he was known as Captain Condom. There are many courageous people in Uganda.

Tamale opened her remarks with an invocation to dialogue: “I would like to thank the Human Rights and Peace Centre for inviting me here this afternoon to share my views on this bill.  It is great that HURIPEC organized this to be a dialogue and not a debate because debates have a tendency to polarize and divide along irrational gut-level responses.  A dialogue, on the other hand, usefully sets the stage for people to listen to each other with understanding, tolerance and helps build bridges.  I hope that this public dialogue will mark the first stepping stone for all of us to embark on a rewarding journey of mutual respect, simple decency and fairness.”

Stepping stones or stones of violence? It is not enough to put down the stones. Something must be built, an open bridge, an open road, an open and shared journey.

She concluded her remarks with an oblique return to the theme of dialogue: “Do we really in our hearts of hearts want our country to be the first on the continent to demand that mothers spy on their children, that teachers refuse to talk about what is, after all, “out there” and that our gay and lesbian citizens are systematically and legally terrorized into suicide?  Ladies and gentlemen, you may strongly disagree with the phenomenon of same-sex erotics; you may be repulsed by what you imagine homosexuals do behind their bedroom doors; you may think that all homosexuals deserve to burn in hell.  However, it is quite clear that this Bill will cause more problems around the issue of homosexuality than it will solve.  I suggest that Hon. Bahati’s bill be quietly forgotten.  It is no more or less than an embarrassment to our intelligence, our sense of justice and our hearts.”

What is in our hearts? Justice? Love? Who is counting our deaths, who is opening our spaces, who is charting our journey? Who is in our hearts of hearts? Let us live in peace. I am literally begging for our lives. We are …

 

(Photo Credit: The Sunday Monitor)

Uganda is … Are you now or have you ever been …?

Speciosa Wandira

Speciosa Wandira was Vice-President of Uganda from 1994 to 2003, and was actually the first woman Vice-President on the continent. She is also a physician, and her story provides insight into the Anti-Homosexuality Bill passing through the Ugandan Parliament.

Dr. Wandira was once married to an engineer named Kazibwe. They had been married for some time. In  2002, she publically took on the taboo subject of domestic violence against women in Uganda. She revealed in public that she had been battered.

She was a 48-year-old woman then, a mother of four, speaking before Parliament on International Women’s Day, and she simply told the truth. She had endured abuse for three decades, she had suffered too much and for too long. She filed for divorce, and was finally granted it. The process was so time consuming and exhausting that she stepped down from government in 2003, but she had opened a full debate, in Uganda and on the continent, concerning marital rape, women’s rights in divorce settlements, property rights, and some regulation of polygamy.

On November 11, 2009, some seven years later, the Ugandan Parliament passed a Domestic Violence Bill. Women activists, feminists, civil society have welcomed the passage into law. It is a positive step … that took seven years and actually much longer. Imagine climbing stairs in which each step takes (a) a prominent leader to intervene and (b) seven years.

At the core of the debate concerning the Domestic Violence Bill was masculinity. What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a man in Uganda? What does it mean to be an African man? These were the questions posed. These are the questions that underline the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, a bill that would punish homosexuality, the hint, the aroma, the aura of homosexual anything, by death. Are you now or have you ever been … ?

Speciosa Wandira is also one of the Champions for an HIV-Free Generation.

The Champions for an HIV-Free Generation are a group of African leaders committed to “meeting the challenge of AIDS”. They number ten: Festus Mogae, former president of Botswana; Kenneth Kaunda, former president of Zambia; Joaquim Chissano, former president of Mozambique; Benjamin Mkapa, former president of Tanzania; Desmond Tutu, former Archbishop of Cape Town; Edwin Cameron, currently a Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa; Miriam Were, chairperson of the Kenyan National Aids Control Council; Joyce Mhaville, chairperson of the Steering Committee of the African Broadcast Media Partnership Against HIV/AIDS (ABMP); Liya Kebede, Ethiopian model and Goodwill Ambassador for the World Health Organization’s maternal and child health program; and Speciosa Wandira Kazibwe.

It was reported yesterday, Sunday, November 15, that, at the end of October, Festus Mogae, chairperson of the Champions for an HIV-Free Generation, sent a letter to Uganda’s President Museveni. In that letter, President Mogae charged that “the draft HIV/Aids Prevention and Control Bill 2008 and the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill could have a chilling effect on HIV/Aids prevention efforts.” The problem is the pandemic. Are you now or have you ever been…HIV+?

But what if the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is linked instead to the Domestic Violence Bill? According to some, “40% of crimes committed in 2008 were crimes of passion or related to domestic violence”. Others suggest that 68% of Ugandans have suffered domestic violence. When it comes to domestic and sexual violence, it’s women and children first.

The stew of discrimination, state persecution and execution of human beings provided by the Bahati Bill is an all too familiar one, especially to those who live and struggle with domestic and sexual violence. It’s part of a continuum. Here’s an example.

On Wednesday morning, a radio call-in show in Kampala had birth spacing and family planning as its theme. According to one report, the topic in fact was man: “Let no one confuse us, we want many children. Every man should not consider himself done until they have got 80 children,” said a caller into Impact FM’s morning show on Wednesday. “How can you a Muganda man, say that you have only two children, it is a shame. You have become a mzungu (white man),” said another…. Though women bear the brunt of big families and frequent pregnancies, the callers were mainly men and almost all of them were calling for large families. Listening in, I wished children grew on trees so that whoever wanted many could go and pluck them. Sadly, that is not the case. A woman, somewhere, has to risk her life to bear children in Uganda. According to statistics, a Ugandan woman has a one in 27 lifetime chance of dying during the process of getting a baby. This is compared to a one in 8,000 chance in the developed world — yet the men were calling for 60 or 80 children per man. At an average of seven children per woman in Uganda, this means each man would need at least 10 women to achieve this feat. Uganda is an agricultural country and 80% of the production is by women. If these same women are going to be pregnant seven times in their lives, when will they get time to look after their babies and also contribute to their family development?”

You want only two kids, are you a mzungu?” Are you gay? Are you a lesbian? Are you a woman? Are you a wife? Are you a mother? Are you a man? Are you a man? Are you a man? Are you now or have you ever been …?

(Photo Credit: The Daily Monitor)

Uganda is … “under attack”

Uganda is under attack and, as always, it’s the mothers of the nation who are to blame.

An Anti-homosexuality Bill has been tabled before the Parliament of Uganda. Many have risen to denounce and oppose it, both within the country and from across the globe.  Many others have risen to support it. Some in the Church have argued in favor of the capital punishment in the Bill, others have argued for life imprisonment. The ones arguing for life imprisonment are actually considered to be in opposition to the Bill. After all, in Uganda “homosexuality is already an offence under the Penal Code of Uganda as is same-sex marriage, which is prohibited by the Constitution.”

This is the logic of being-under-attack. As Michel Foucault put it, “Society must be defended”, and you, sir, madam, are not of society. You are a threat. Equally, you as a threat are a race, or better a sub-race. LGBTI people are being described as a public health threat, a moral threat, a national security threat, a spiritual threat, a pathogen. When, for example, the Archbishop of Uganda rallied his flock last year to protect him from the threat of the gay community, what did he say? ““The team of homosexuals is very rich, Archbishop  Henry Luke Orombi said, “They have money and will do whatever it takes to make sure that this vice penetrates Africa. We have to stand out and say no to them.” Sound familiar? If not, go to Nazi propaganda, especially in its early and middle years,  and see how the Jews, the Roma, the homosexuals and the disabled were described. Wealthy, a penetrating vice, infectious and infesting. Vermin.

The Bill was put forth and its campaign is spearheaded by Ugandan MP David Bahati. Some describe this whole situation as a convenient distraction for the government. Others see this as yet another sign that the government is filled with “purveyors of hate, who have no qualms about killing those who disagree with them or are unlike themselves. No doubt, they are more dangerous to the people of Uganda, than gays and lesbians.”

Not the good MP Bahati, however. He explains, in an interview published Sunday, November 1, that Uganda is under attack from the evil of homosexuality, that the “Anti-Homosexuality Bill is a nice piece of legislation. It is a consolidation of values of Ugandans and the country at large. It aims at holding the integrity of Ugandans high in the sky.” The nation is under attack, and now, so is Bahati: “ever since we tabled this Bill, we have come under attack. People have argued that we are promoting a hate campaign against homosexuals. And these attacks are coming mostly from civil society members who claim that homosexuality is a human right.

“These same groups have persistently continued to place this evil in the category of human rights. They have rallied people to resist the Bill. They argue that we are targeting homosexuals, we hate them. But some of the people behind these messages are mothers and respectable people in our country.

“Can you imagine mothers who are supposed to protect their children from abuses like sodomy are the very people protesting this Bill? Instead of protecting their children they are up in arms supporting abusers of these children! People who support this evil have endlessly started to threaten us.”

This is the logic of national-being-under-attack. What is at stake here? Motherhood. Mr. Bahati simply wants to save the mothers of Uganda … from themselves.

This is the all too familiar logic of being-under-attack, of protection and security. Hate is called love, violence is called peace, victims are called perpetrators, and love itself is called evil.

Remember the Call to Action: “Denounce this bill through a protest at a Ugandan Diplomatic Mission in your country on November 9th 2009, where applicable. Urge the Government of Uganda to reject this Bill in its entirety.” Uganda is…not under attack.

 

(Photo Credit: Uganda Beat)

Uganda is … A plea, a prayer, a demand, an invitation

An anti-homosexuality bill has been tabled before the Parliament of Uganda. Many have risen to denounce and oppose it, many others have risen to support it. Remember that in Uganda, homosexuality is already a criminal offense. This `homosexuality’ is defined as engaging in same- sex sexual relations or being identified as such. The new proposed legislation adds a possible death sentence, and other niceties.

Sexual Minorities Uganda, SMUG, and Freedom and Roam Uganda, FAR-UGANDA, have issued A CALL TO ACTION. It reads, in part:

“DENOUNCE THE ANTI-HOMOSEXUALITY BILL IN THE PARLIAMENT OF UGANDA. PROTEST AT THE UGANDA DIPLOMATIC MISSION IN YOUR COUNTRY

Dear Partners, Allies and Friends,

As you already know, the “Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009.” was recently tabled before the Parliament of Uganda. The Bill’s provisions are draconian and among them are;

• Any person alleged to be homosexual would be at risk of life imprisonment or in some circumstances the death penalty;

• Any parent who does not denounce their lesbian daughter or gay son to the authorities would face fines of $ 2,650.00 or three years in prison;

• Any teacher who does not report a lesbian or gay pupil to the authorities within 24 hours would face the same penalties;

• And any landlord or landlady who happens to give housing to a suspected homosexual would risk 7 years of imprisonment.

• Similarly, the Bill threatens to punish or ruin the reputation of anyone who works with the gay or lesbian population, such as medical doctors working on HIV/AIDS, civil society leaders active in the fields of sexual
and reproductive health, hence further undermining public health efforts
to combat the spread of HIV;

• All of the offences covered by the Bill as drafted can be applied to a Ugandan citizen who allegedly commits them – even outside Uganda!

The existing law has already been employed in an arbitrary way, and the Bill will just exacerbate that effect. There is a continued increase in campaigns of violence and unwarranted arrests of homosexuals. There are
eight ongoing cases in various courts. Four accused persons are unable to meet the harsh bail conditions set against them. As a result, Brian Pande died in Mbale Hospital on 13th September, 2009 as he awaited trial.

Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) calls upon you our partner, ally and/or friend to action. Denounce this bill through a protest at a Ugandan Diplomatic Mission in your country on November 9th 2009, where applicable.
Urge the Government of Uganda to reject this Bill in its entirety….

Thank you for standing in solidarity with the Uganda LGBTI community.

For more information, please contact:

Frank Mugisha 
fmugisha@sexualminoritiesuganda.org Tel: + 256 772 616 062

Valetine Kalende   vkalende@faruganda.org                  Tel: +256 752 324 249”

Any person alleged to be homosexual, any parent, any teacher, any landlord or landlady, any doctor or nurse or caregiver, any neighbor, any stranger.  Everyone, everywhere. Anyone, anywhere. A landscape of allegations, a horizon of torture and death.

Freedom and Roam Uganda, FAR-UG, says its vision “is to build an organization, which will strive for the attainment of full equal rights of lesbians, bisexuals, Transgender and Intersexual (LBTI) women as well as the removal of all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation and Empower LBTI women.” Its mission is “to empower, lobby and press for the recognition of same sex relationships, especially lesbians in Uganda and thereby attain full equal rights and freedom in all aspects of life.”

Its aims and objectives include the following: “To integrate a legal, ethical and human rights dimension into the response to discrimination based on sexual orientation and also to equip them for full participation in the political, social, economical and health set up of Uganda. To create, raise and promote awareness of discriminated causes and effects in regards to LGBTI (lesbians, gay, bisexual, transgender and Intersexuals) persons especially LBTI (lesbian bisexual, transgender and Intersexual) women in Uganda….To raise self-esteem among LBTI women in our society. To provide education, homes, jobs as well as health resources to the needy in this cause….To bring LBTI women in Uganda and those outside our borders together in order to build one great family. To advocate for the establishment of a legal framework to reach those in society that are legally and socially marginalized. To educate the general public on issues of human rights within the context of sexual orientation.”

Freedom and Roam Uganda is “the only all Lesbian, Bisexual Women, Transgender  and Intersex women’s organization in Uganda.”

Sexual Minorities Uganda has a vision, “a liberated LGBTI people of Uganda.” Its mission “is to oversee and support member organizations to achieve their objectives aimed at LGBTI liberation.” SMUG has five objectives: “1. To advocate and lobby through coordinating efforts with local and international partners for the equality of all Ugandan irrespective of gender, age, sexual orientation, social status or creed. 2. To build and strengthen visibility through media and literature. 3. To fight against HIV and AIDS in LGBTI, MSM and WSW community. 4. To speak out on gender-based violence e.g: Homophobia 5. Empower activists through trainings on leadership, social entrepreneurship etc.” SMUG breaks its activities into five categories: “1. Litigation. 2. Research and Documentation. 3. Media Campaigns and debates. 4. Awareness and Outreach. 5. Mainstreaming with civil society and NGOs with similar goals.” Sexual Minorities Uganda concludes its introduction of itself to the world with this:

LET US LIVE IN PEACE

Is it a plea or is it a prayer, a demand or an invitation? Yes to each, yes to all, together.

Together

LET US LIVE IN PEACE

 

(Photo Credit: The Feminist Wire)