After seven weeks in Uganda, chasing the story of the country’s crazy anti-gay bill, my assessment of the situation comes down to this: the white man got Ugandans into this mess, but only the white man can get them out.
First, a quick history lesson.
Two centuries ago, there was no evidence of out-and-out persecution of gays in the “Pearl of Africa.” Then, two things happened:
1) Christians — ie white guys — showed up with their Bibles and preached hatred against homos.
2) British colonialists — also white guys — took over the country and imposed laws against homos.
Much more recently, another pack of white guys added fuel to Uganda’s homophobic fire. Last year, a trio of America’s looniest Christian evangelists organized a conference in Kampala, specifically targeting homos. Shortly after, Uganda’s crazy anti-gay bill — calling for, among other atrocities, the execution of homos — was born.
This history lesson is probably starting to sound as though I think black Africans are rubes, hopelessly led astray by the words of whites.
Ugandans are not rubes. But for the most part, thanks partly to a long history of white repression, they’re very poorly educated. As a result, they’re prone to believing much of what American evangelicals are telling them — including, regrettably, that God hates fags and that we’re all a bunch of pervs.
Here’s the truth: queers in Uganda are just as smart, friendly, boring and pervy as gays and straights in any other country.
Unfortunately, when it comes to political activism, they’re also just as disorganized and prone to infighting.
Add to that the fact that most gay Ugandans are deeply closeted (in many cases, for good reason) and you’ve got an inconvenient truth: the fight against Uganda’s anti-gay bill isn’t going to be won in Uganda. It’s going to be won by (mostly) Western countries, many of them former colonial superpowers, who are speaking out against the bill and putting pressure on Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, to kill it.
So if you think it’s futile to try to help your gay sisters and brothers in a faraway land, think again. Practically the only thing that will save gay Ugandans — and by extension, other gay Africans who are threatened with the real possibility of copy-cat legislation — is a letter to the leader of your country, urging them to keep the pressure on the leader of Uganda.
Museveni’s country depends a great deal on foreign aid, and he says he’s been listening to donors — including Hillary Clinton, Gordon Brown, Stephen Harper and Barack Obama — who have urged him to stop bashing gays.
(And yes, I realize that Obama and Clinton — and many of the 450,000 people from around the world who have signed petitions against the bill — aren’t white men. I was speaking proverbially. The West is still dominated by white guys but, thankfully, not as much as it used to be.)
When you write a letter to your leader — white or otherwise — please consider doing two things:
1) Tell them amendments to the anti-gay bill aren’t good enough. It needs to die. And Uganda’s age-old laws against homosexuality need to die with it.
2) Email a copy of your letter to Museveni. That way, he knows Western leaders don’t stand alone — they stand with the support of their gay-loving constituents.
One last thing. If you’re thinking of visiting Uganda, don’t hesitate — go. Anti-gay bill notwithstanding, it’s a terrific country. The capital city, Kampala, is green, hilly and (relatively) wealthy, and the people are full of personality. Yes, they’ve got a problem with homosexuality. But they don’t even like to talk about it, so (for the most part) you don’t need to worry about it.
Upon arrival, I quickly joined Kampala’s gay underground and found hot guys, girls and guys who used to identify as girls who welcomed me to the club. They don’t want you to avoid them because of a few religious freaks. They want you to meet them so they can have supportive, new, out, queer friends from around the world.
Thanks for reading my dispatches. Now write that letter to Harper, or whoever your “white” leader of choice is.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.