So the Ugandan parliament has passed a slightly amended version of the anti-gay bill. Where before the bill punished ‘aggravated homosexuality’ was punishable by the death penalty, the amended bill, which passed, legislates for life imprisonment. The original bill (2009) can be read here. What has passed this week is slightly amended.
The legal question as to what ‘aggravated homosexuality’ means is debatable – and the legislation seems to have been left deliberately vague to allow for it to be without accountability in its meting out of punishment.
This legislation has been written and supported by Christians at all levels of Ugandan society, from everyday parishioners to community leaders, to civic and ecclesial representatives and governmental officials. However, it is not only Ugandan society that has pushed for this – the original laws which are already in place (British colonial laws) already criminalised LGBT people. In recent years, evangelists from the UK and the US have been instrumental in providing financial and organisational support for public events that have contributed directly toward this abominable law being passed this week.
There are voices that have spoken out. For those that remain able, or alive, may they be deepened in their courage. God knows they need it.
It is a shameful day. Shameful.
I do not mean that is shameful only for Ugandans, I mostly feel it is shameful for Christians, worldwide, who have been instrumental in this. Remember: the introduction of criminalisation of homosexuality into Ugandan legislation was the responsibility of British Colonialists. It is arguable that much of the energy in contemporary Ugandan society against western intervention into Ugandan legislature is as much, or more, of a “leave us alone, we reject your 21st century colonialism” as it is actual hatred of LGBT people.
Mind you, whichever it is, the victims are the ones who are now, or will be threatened with, prison. And they are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
I understand that there is a spectrum of conservative opinion towards LGBT people, from those who would say “I disagree with LGBT people in relationships, but I don’t hate them” to those who would firmly support the deepened criminalisation of LGBT people. But opposition to LGBT people, whether expressed in mild concern about us, or harsh stereotyping of us, has real and deadly effects. LGBT people in Belfast are at a much higher risk of exclusion (from jobs, housing) than their heterosexual counterparts. The mental health effects of what some might call “mild disagreement” towards us are measurable and chilling.
I work in environments bringing LGBT people together with those who are cautious about the moralities of our lives, loves and stories. I treat my conversation partners with respect, courtesy, and kindness. I am used to being accused of being immoral; being a threat to children; of having my integrity and faith questioned; and being excluded. That is part of the deal, and in order to improve dialogue, I will put up with this. I do not treat my conversation partners the way they treat me. But, I do treat my conversation partners with the dignity of truth telling. Meaningful dialogue must be based upon truth telling and on dignified encounter. Here is a truth: it is wise for anybody expressing concern about LGBT people, however mild they consider their concern, to ask what the impact of their concern is upon people whose lives are directly affected.
Folks who think “I’m cool because I’ve got gay friends, I think it’s probably still sin, but at least I’m not hateful” have much to ask of themselves in their denominations’ tacit support, through silence, of those more strident voices that perpetuate the financial backbone that allows legislation like this to be carried through in Uganda and elsewhere. Because let it be clear: this legislation’s “success” has been dependent on ecclesial dollars and pounds from elsewhere.
There have been, and is important to note this, hierarchal voices within Anglican and Catholic denominations both in Uganda and worldwide, who have voiced opposition. However, these occasional voices of opposition are not enough. For those of us with a faith practice, it is not moral to support legislation that leads to death. This is not a secular agenda. This is not a colonialist agenda. It is a simple truth.
It is hard to know how best to respond, because responses can often be more about alleviating guilt than making a tangible difference. I don’t know how, but I’ll keep trying. We can respond by asking our denominations voice to speak on behalf of our moral narrative for and on behalf of LGBT people in Uganda. We can respond by asking why our local denomination tacitly or explicitly supports the idea that LGBT people can be cured. We can respond by challenging the word ‘gay’ as derogatory. We can respond by asking ourselves whether we’ve considered the impact of our opinion about people other than us. We can respond by seeking out a first person narrative who can tell us what it’s like to be talked about. We can respond in many ways.
- You can read about Sexual Minorities Uganda here and follow its founder, Dr. Frank Mugisha on twitter here.
- Full text of the 2009 Anti Homosexuality Bill in Uganda here.
- You can find extensive coverage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda via Box Turtle Bulletin here.
- Some coverage of Christian (mostly Catholic and Anglican) responses to LGBT people in Uganda here.
- Report on LGBT people and faith experiences in Northern Ireland.
- Report on ‘Holding the Tension wisely” conference.
- The Rainbow Project in Belast recently released an extensive report on the emotional and mental health impact of public attitudes towards LGBT people in Northern Ireland. Contact them here for details on this report.