Archives for posts with tag: Uganda

In a week when the UN criticised Brunei for planning to stone gays to death and the first prosecutions in Uganda were announced since it introduced new draconian laws against homosexuality, the very public spat between some members of the transgender community in the US and the TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race may seem trivial in comparison; nonetheless the use of appropriate labels, language and political correctness has been a continuing thorny debate in the LGBTQI community and the Women’s Movement since the dawn of consciousness.

I’m not going to get drawn into commenting in detail on the specifics of the rights and wrongs of using the words shemale and tranny – which bizarrely went so far as getting transgender rockstar Jayne County banned from Facebook in the middle of the wider kerfuffle, as language use varies between the US and Europe and I may be missing local nuances. But I will say that I can remember a time when I would have been deeply offended by someone calling me queer, a word which I now feel is an entirely comfortable description of where I stand in relation to the conventions and politics of  a wider heteronormative society, which just goes to show that the use and power of language can change.

Of course, there’s an unanswerable case for condemning blatant homophobia, transphobia, sexism and racism (anything I missed?) perpetrated by people who “aren’t us”, and  rigorously questioning our own use of stereotypes and vocabulary which we regard as otherwise unacceptable; but there are times when individually and collectively we need to lighten up, recognise irony, and most importantly, explore the overall underlying intention of what’s going on. Responses to the latest controversy have caused uproar amongst those who would speak for sections of the the transgender community in the US, and I leave you to make your own judgement.

The other day, in a separate and happily less-combative breakfast-table discussion around transgender issues (yes, dear reader, I have them) with appropriately-empowered participants, I was reminded of how things were in the mid-70s when the sadly-missed Pat Van Twest and Jackie Thrupp were at the heart of the ground-breaking British women’s theatre group Sistershow (which I briefly joined – at Jackie’s insistence – appearing as a bored bearded drag queen in a bad wig and floppy hat, looking not unlike a tacky version of Austria’s Eurovision contender Conchita Wurst).  Jackie and Pat were acutely aware of the risks of taking ourselves too seriously and thereby missing the point of what we are really seeking to achieve.

Here’s Pat talking about some of their early activity inspired by their concerns about the way the Women’s Movement was developing; it made me laugh, and realise how just much they influenced my outlook on life, for which I am forever grateful.

Quite by chance this week I found myself watching an excerpt from a documentary by the writer and comedienne Ruby Wax. It was made at the turn of the century, and in interviews at their Arkansas HQ key members of the Ku Klux Klan revealed their unfocused prejudices and fears about the rising power of homosexuals in America.

The KKK come across as comic rather than seriously threatening, but what’s shocking is that their confused rhetoric has survived the intervening years almost unchanged in the mouths of present-day US political figures such as Michele Bachmann who accuses the LGBTQ community of intimidation. It’s also alive and well in the slogans and leaflets of Besorgte Eltern NRW (Concerned Parents of North Rhine-Westphalia) who are busily organising marches in German cities like Cologne (there’s another one this weekend) in their campaign to stop children learning about homosexuality at school, and who sadly can’t be dismissed as unwitting clowns or mere echoes from another age, despite the tone of their propaganda.

It’s worth remembering the way many of us in the West reacted when we first saw the video footage from Uganda of preachers showing pornography to their congregations, finding Marin Ssempa’s speeches ridiculous, but with growing concern about how his simplistic misinformed bigotry was gaining hold.

You only had to look at the vile Facebook page of the Uganda Youth Coalition Against Homosexuality (now removed – thankfully – by Facebook following a barrage of complaints) to see how this rabble-rousing has led to the obscene torture and murder of members of the LGBTQ community in Africa .  And it’s worth remembering that the US evangelist widely credited with setting in motion what’s happened in Uganda is Scott Lively, now seeking a new platform in Massachusetts, where he is standing as an independent candidate for election to the post of Governor later this year. He talks openly of a coming anti-gay “revolution” in response to the “homosexual agenda”.

And it’s at this point that the Ruby Wax interviews with the Ku Klux Klan, from another century, suddenly aren’t quite so quaint and amusing.

As Uganda’s president called gays “disgusting” in a CNN interview and a tabloid newspaper published lists of suspected homosexuals, feeding hysteria and witch-hunts following the introduction of the country’s new laws against homosexuality, politicians and pundits elsewhere may have made appropriate noises of disapproval, but in truth they don’t really know what to do.

Desmond Tutu, William Hague, Barack Obama and the Swedish government (among others) may all have voiced dismay and muttered of consequences, which is to their credit; but the reality is that within a few days, people will nod and say how terrible it all is for gays in Uganda now, and then ask how the elections are going in the Ukraine or if there’s other news we should know about.  Compassion fatigue kicks in quickly as far as the LGBT community is concerned.  It’s a shame we spoiled the Olympics for the athletes, because they worked so hard to get there…

Out journalist Alice Arnold rightly argued in the Telegraph that we “mustn’t be left to fight American and African religious zealots alone”, and whilst happily there are many who support her view, there’s also a growing murmur that somehow none of all  this uncomfortable noise about homosexuality would be happening if we hadn’t kept on rubbing it in people’s faces.  Look what happens when you get uppity. We have only ourselves to blame, and gay was such a nice cheery word until we ran off with it, behaving inappropriately in public.

Meanwhile, Arizona’s Governor is deciding whether to sign the bill allowing businesses to deny services to the LGBT community; that it’s got this far is a disgrace, but a sign of how US evangelists are now beginning to push back at home after their African adventures. Scott Lively, the man who will have blood on his hands for his meddling in Uganda, now has a new target; he wants the American Psychiatric Association to reinstate homosexuality as a mental illnesss.  Don’t be naive and think this will go away overnight, as the debate (yes, the word debate will be used, and we’ll be asked to be reasonable and “hear both sides”) has barely started. And it’s our fault it’s happening, because if we hadn’t made all this fuss about marriage, people would have left us alone…

When Uganda’s Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo, told AFP journalists that  treatment of homosexuals in his country is “tolerant” because the government is “not slaughtering them”, and reports showed suspected gay men being forced to walk naked through the streets of the Nigerian capital, Lagos, it was a stark reminder of just how bad the situation of the LGBT community has now become across much of Africa.  In Cameroon, it’s reported a well-known gay activist has been arrested, and in Malawi, Muslim leaders are calling for the death penalty for gays.

This increasingly active state-sponsored persecution of our community has – as we’ve said before – been partly fuelled by US evangelists exploiting splits in the Anglican Communion (ordination of women, gay rights etc.) and the power of fundamentalism; having lost traction at home under Obama, it’s an opportunity they’ve seized aggressively, often using pseudo-science and stoking the notion that homosexuality is somehow “un-African”, just another example of Western moral decadence imported under colonial rule. It’s given an increasing number of African leaders a useful scapegoat to distract populations from debates about corruption and so forth as well as creating a spurious image of “moral leadership” and a sense of continental unity and shared values linked to ethnic identity which gets beyond tribalism and the tensions between Islam and Christianity.

This week Vladimir Putin gave a top honour for – among other things – “humanitarian work” to a top TV news presenter who says the hearts of gay people who die “should be buried or burned as unfit for extending anyone’s life.”

The combination of what’s going on in Africa and Putin/Russia’s institutionalised homophobia is a particularly dangerous and toxic cocktail,  because it creates a climate which implies there is a twisted “legitimacy” to the anti-gay lobby, and suggests that there is somehow a large-scale morally-acceptable alternative to what has been happening in more enlightened countries in recent years.  

You can already see the effects spreading; a growing sense that the Christian community is being marginalised, and proposals to curb discussion of homosexuality in schools. In the US, several states are debating laws which will allow doctors to deny healthcare to the LGBT community on grounds of conscience.

If you add to that the complacency of the LGBT “community” the world starts to feel increasingly unsafe. It may be partly down to visibility and changes in reporting over the years, but somehow it feels there is a much bigger aggressive and physical threat to the LGBT community than I can ever remember.  It’s time we spoke up.

Frank Mugisha, one of Uganda’s few public gay activists (good reason for that), is convinced that’s the case. The US-based Center for Constitutional Rights is working with him to take evangelist Scott Lively  to court over his alleged involvement in shaping the dreadful legal sanctions the LGBTQ community in Uganda has been fighting. There’s a good interview with Frank in the UK newspaper The Independent, in which he argues that “homophobia is actually imported, not African”.

“Lively has been the man with the plan in this enterprise,” said Pam Spees, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “He long ago set out a very specific and detailed methodology for stripping away the most basic human rights protections, to silence and ultimately disappear LGBT people. Unfortunately, he found willing accomplices and fertile ground in Uganda.”

So far, Uganda’s President Museveni has refused to sign the bill which went through the country’s parliament in December 2013 – possibly because of international pressure – but he still said we’re “abnormal”, and that lesbians suffer from “sexual starvation”.

“You cannot call an abnormality an alternative orientation. It could be that the Western societies, on account of random breeding, have generated many abnormal people.”

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