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A gay Ugandan on the best way to tackle homophobia in Africa

A gay Ugandan on the best way to tackle homophobia in Africa

I am a gay man from an endemic homophobic nation – Uganda.

In order to ‘fit’ in society, I had to conceal my sexuality from a very young age. There’s a lot of stigma in the general population, often characterised by familial rejection, violence, blackmail, mental torture, physical torture. Therefore, I work for the social justice and liberation of the LGBTI community in my country.

Over the course of the past decade, there have been significant issues surrounding the LGBTI community. Whereas a good number of countries have registered more tolerant laws on their books, for example, accepting same-sex marriage among others, there has been a wide sweep of anti-LGBT laws across Africa, Russia and Jamaica among other countries.

But while many are making great strides for equality, the globe is still in its infancy when it comes to the liberation of LGBTI people.

This IDAHOT (International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia), we have to note most of the advances for LGBTI people is only a starting point.

It may seem like the war is over in England, in countries like Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, Gambia, South Sudan, and Jamaica the struggles seems to barely have begun.

A glance at the world map, there’s a great deal of work that lies ahead to challenge the ridiculous oppressive laws, and most importantly to change people’s views towards the LGBTI community.

Without any doubt, there has been a lot of repudiation of preposterous laws that apply to the general African LGBTI community and if anything there’s hardly been any change across the continent. However, to see the change we all need in our respective communities, a bar needs to be pushed higher to work towards the global decriminalization of homosexuality.

I work with the African LGBTI organization Out & Proud Diamond Group, alongside other civil society allies like the Peter Tatchell Foundation, Sexual Minorities Uganda, Rainbows Across Borders, Rainbow International and the Metropolitan Community Church of North London.

And over the past years, we have managed to directly and indirectly challenge some of the worst laws in the world to be gay. For example, when Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act was annulled.

Despite all this, leaders and the general population not only in Uganda but Africa as a whole are becoming more and more strident and the general population is becoming more homophobic.

Many of the issues understood by Africans are projected through the lens of a culture that was redefined by the West. Some could disagree, but homophobia in the continent was a result of colonial and post-colonials forcing their views on our community.

This again, perhaps, is the best approach to deal with LGBTI rights in Africa.

But just like Nelson Mandela (RIP) has said, people only learn how to hate and if they can be taught how to hate they can also be taught how to love. This is exactly what happened when colonization began as homophobia only then became a part of the African lives even though it existed during the precolonial times. It all started when the spread of Christianity using the message of the Bible was imposed on the African people because their own pre-religion was said to be barbaric therefore, by doing so, the respective colonial powers alienated Africans from their own religion and culture which paved way to the birth of the present day homophobia.

However, to bring the point to balance, on the other hand, many African people believe that homosexuality has never and will never be part of their culture insisting that it’s a Western culture which they are ready to fight tooth and nail.

There has been an increase in the number of religious groups frequenting African countries and spreading homophobic propaganda after failing to narrate it in their own countries. Such groups basically call Africa a ‘dumping ground’ for such homophobic narratives without considering the fact that they hugely affect the lives of so many LGBT people in Africa.

A vivid example is Paul Shinners a British preacher who travelled to Uganda in December 2012 and preached at a rally where Conservative Christian leadership called for passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act at a time when it was referred to as ‘Kill the Gays’ bill.

Also to mention, evangelical groups and pastors like American Rick Warren have in the past been successful in brain-washing African minds by imparting to them misinformation that gay men are ‘luring and recruiting’ in schools. Of course, when these kind of lies are presented to an African mind, they are perceived to be factual. Therefore to address the issue of homophobia in this present day Africa where neocolonialism seems to persistently exist, one of the major steps to take is to prevent such examples of Western elements from controlling the narratives of African life.

Despite President Barack Obama signing a memorandum in 2011 that instructed federal agencies to promote LGBTI rights overseas, as well as Hillary Clinton declaring at the Human Rights Council in Geneva that ‘gay rights are human rights and that human rights are gay rights’, there have been disturbing developments concerning anti-LGBTI legislation since then and this has been evident across Africa.

Rather than suffering immense pain because of who we love, we need to continuously educate homophobes that sexual orientation and gender identity are two integral aspects of ourselves and therefore should be respected and never lead to any sort of violence and inequality.

I dream of a world free of prejudice.