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Trans activist takes on anti-gay pastor on Ugandan TV

BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — A television debate between anti-gay preacher Martin Ssempa and trans activist Pepe Onziema was dominated by Ssempa, who launched into a tirade against gay sex and continuously interrupted the show's host and Onziema. 

The debate occurred in the midst of heightened focus on the so-called Kill the Gays bill that Uganda's parliament is due to debate in the new year. Ugandan parliamentary speaker Rebecca Kadaga's desire to pass the measure as a Christmas gift to the population failed as the legislature was adjourned until next February.

On the talk show, Ssempa used a banana to explain why gay sex is unnatural. "This is a man's genitals [he says, gesticulating with the banana] and you insert them into the intestine; they put their genitals into the excretory system. This excretory system is not designed to receive; it is only for exit," says the pastor, who is known for his fiery sermons against homosexuality and for showing porn in church.

Turning his attention to lesbians, Ssempa says that since they do not have the equipment, they "use their lips," which leads to "oral gonorrhea." He says women also use "gadgets like bananas, they use carrots, they use cucumbers."

Ssempa goes on to talk about transgender people and their "confusion," calling Onziema a woman and referring to him using the pronoun she. "We are dealing with a girl who thinks she is a boy; that is a sickness. We need to guide them," Ssempa says, offering to provide his phone number.

"He. He, pastor. I invited Mr Onziema," the host says at one point, correcting Ssempa.

Asked by the show's host why Europeans "condone it and we condemn it in Africa," Ssempa says that for Africans, it is a human vice; for Europeans, it's a human right.

Onziema finally manages to weigh in on the discussion, coolly countering Ssempa's constant interruptions, saying that "every sexual contact — if you expose yourself, if you risk yourself — be it heterosexual or homosexual, there will definitely be a risk that you have exposed yourself. It's not limited to homosexuals.

"He's been making claims and allegations about HIV/AIDS spreading, how it's mostly homosexuals; it's not true, Ssempa, you know that. Actually, it's your ignorance."

"It's a gay disease, get over it," Ssempa interjects. 

Asked by the host how Onziema wants society to perceive him, he says, as a "human being, as a person who is part of this society."

"But society has rejected you," the host says.

But Onziema says that's not true. "It is the propaganda of the likes of Ssempa," he counters. "I cannot believe you put me on a show with a hooligan."

"My family supports me, so I am here," Onziema adds.

The NBS TV Uganda video clip of the show can be seen below.

Video streaming by Ustream


The exchange also comes in the wake of a statement by the country's prime minister, Amama Mbabazi, that revealed his reluctance to entertain another law against homosexuality when it is already unlawful in Uganda. "So to the extent that it is unlawful, and the attempt in this bill
to repeat what is already unlawful, is not something we’ll support,
supporting what is already in the bill. Why? Why would we support it?
Because it’s already covered." 

Still, he says, there are aspects that are "new," like "promotion of homosexuality," that need to be debated.

Similarly, President Yoweri Museveni has said his country "will not tolerate the promotion of homosexuality and warned pro-gay activists against such activities," Ugandan daily newspaper New Vision reports. "The problem is promoting; you hear people holding conferences to promote homosexuality as if it's a good thing." 

Speaking about a meeting he had with the American ambassador to Uganda, he says he explained the "existing cultural clash between the people from the Western countries and Africa, where sex is an issue that is not discussed in public."

"I told him that I have been married to my wife for 39 years, but I have never kissed her in public and in my house before the children. If I did it I would lose elections, and you know I am not about to accept that idea of losing elections," he told New Vision.


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