You may wonder why I am choosing to address what is ostensibly a Ugandan matter on a Nigerian blog. I will not bother to go into how the Ugandan politicians to whom this bill is due have even risked the sovereignty of their legislative process by allying themselves to American evangelicals (Sokari at Black Looks does a great job on this subject) in their bid to bring gays to book, nor will I expand on the nitty-gritty of the bill itself (Not a lawyer, sorry), but what worries me most about the anti-gay bill in Uganda is how easily it can be replicated across the continent.
Many among us in Nigeria accept that gays deserve punishment or at least live sinful lives. Others would take the extra step and say that people who are known to be gay do not deserve the same consideration, the same rights, as those among us who are not. This bill comes from the latter view, and this thinking has been allowed hegemonic prevalence. It has been maddening to read report after report on the issue and hear people talk about it without pointing out the most basic problem, which is that this bill refuses to acknowledge the very humanity of gays and that it threatens their human rights.
Curious about the bill’s intentions, I read the memorandum (it’s linked above, with the rest of the bill) where the member of Ugandan parliament Hon. David Bahati explained why he was putting this bill forward. The meat of it:
“The Bill aims at strengthening the nation’s capacity to deal with emerging internal and external threats to the traditional heterosexual family.
This legislation further recognize the fact that same sex attraction is not an innate and immutable characteristic.
This bill further aims at providing a comprehensive and enhanced legislation to protect the cherished culture of the people of Uganda against the attempts of sexual rights activists seeking to impose their values of sexual promiscuity on the people of Uganda.
There is also need to protect the children and youths of Uganda who are made vulnerable to sexual abuse and deviation as a result of cultural changes, uncensored information technologies, parentless child developmental setting increasing attempts by homosexuals to raise children in homosexual relationships through adoption, foster care, or otherwise.”
What one notices is the repeated attempts to ‘otherize’ gay people. If gayness is “not an innate and immutable characteristic”, but is one that presents an existential threat to the “traditional family” and the “cherished children of Uganda”, then it stands to reason that gayness must come from an exogenous source. Surely, these “uncensored information technologies” (i.e. porn) is a creation of people– yes, people– and it surely had to have crossed someone’s mind for it to gain such audience! If people, and from anywhere who are not any less people as the average Ugandan, are not the source of this homosexuality, then what? A pill? A food? Who created it? How do we know where “the gay” comes from? If we do know and we choose to take homosexuality as illness, then that is a different matter. But no, homosexuality here is presented as a faceless evil that haunts flesh. If you say that children and families need to protected from the gays, you are then implying that the threat does not come from within, but from without. These gay forces lurk somewhere beyond the realm of society, waiting for one to stray outside the pack before they pounce into innocent bodies that they may dwell and infest and become legion. The gays are Lazarus, and since there is no Jesus among us who has been successful at casting out this most cursed legion from innocent bodies, then perhaps it would be best to just discard of these bodies that host this evil in its entirety, with the State doing the honors, acting as our prophet. In this belief lies the link to the brand of Christianity espoused by many among the population of many an African nation. We have somehow planted the seed of this kind of illogical thinking everywhere, and it’s troubling.
Also troubling is that if you have to protect “the cherish culture of the people of Uganda” from homosexuality, then you are implying that Ugandans can’t be gay, which– not to be glib, but still– means that this bill is unnecessary for Ugandans. For if these people cannot be both Ugandan and gay, then why the need to create a bill that prohibits something that does not already exist?
Law, after all, works with the help of precedent to ensure that best practices are put in place for all known circumstances. We have laws that deal with criminal acts like murder, but we do not have any immigration laws that deal with extraterrestrial aliens coming into our countries, for example, because that has not happen before, nor do we expect that ever to happen. But can what is being said here be much darker? Are they insinuating that gays are not citizens? If one takes takes this line of thinking to term, and in as young a country as all African countries are, this can set a bad precedent for human rights within the population and for whichever minority a government may choose to disenfranchise next.
I will not argue as to whether or not being gay is a sin– beliefs by their very nature are not to be reasoned out because they cannot be proved– but I will argue that gays are human beings. Another hidden theme here is that when we human beings commit human sins there need not be a call for our death. But homosexuality is so egregious because it belies our humanity. Humans don’t act that way. If they were considered fully human and their sins on par with other human sins, then two consenting adults having sex– not one raping the other, not one imposing him/herself on someone who does not have the power to consent, not one having sex with animals who do not communicate as we do and therefore cannot consent– might raise an eyebrow, but not a call for their heads.