No right to be gay in Uganda

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Justice Edwin Cameron meets and greets well-wishers at the launch of his book Justice this week.Photo: Luca Kotton.

by Luca Kotton and Roxanne Joseph

Being gay or even supporting gay rights is now illegal  in Uganda and can lead to life imprisonment.

Less than a week ago, President Yoweri Museveni signed the anti-homosexuality bill into law and since then, the onslaught from both local and international communities alike has been significant.

The act “prohibits any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex; prohibits the promotion or recognition of such relations and to provide for other related matters.”

First drafted in 2009, the bill originally proposed the death penalty, but was later amended to life imprisonment because of international pressure.

Having sex with someone of the same gender, marrying someone of the same gender and touching someone of the same gender with “intent” to engage in a sexual act will land you in prison for the rest of your life. Officiating a same-gender marriage, aiding or counselling an LGBTI individual, offering premises or supplies to an LGBTI individual and directing a company or NGO that supports LGBTI rights leads to prison time of five to seven years.

Despite the watered down version of the bill coming into law, several countries – including Sweden, Denmark, Norway, the US and the UK – have pulled financial aid from Uganda, one of the world’s poorest nations (as classified by the World Bank).

South Africa’s Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke said “oppressors like (Ugandan President Yoweri) Museveni should not be allowed to flourish.”

Speaking at the launch of Justice Edwin Cameron’s book  Justice, on Thursday night, Moseneke added his voice to the condemnation of Uganda’s recently signed Bill. Cameron is one of South Africa’s most prominent gay rights activists and a colleague of Moseneke at the Constitutional Court.  [Read an extract from Cameron’s newest book here.]

No official condemnation of Uganda’s anti-homosexuality act has yet been issued by the South African government.

 

Wits Safe Zones a first in SA

Wits is the first South African university to join the international anti-homophobic initiative known as Safe Zones, which will train community members to challenge human rights abuses on campus.

The Wits Transformation Office (WTO) has announced the SafeZones@Wits programme launch will take place on April 18 with the first of many free workshops. WTO spokesperson Ella Kotze said the workshops were aimed at “…anyone who has an interest in advocating human rights and challenging human rights abuse”. They will provide training on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, questioning, intersex and asexual (LGBTQIA) issues.

Click to go to SafeZones@Wits on Facebook:

Those successful in the training will graduate as “allies” to the LGBTQIA community. Allies provide support systems or “Safe Zones” for dealing with the issues faced by the community.

Kotze said these issues included the emotions and challenges of “coming out” to friends and family, and discrimination. Allies could refer or accompany those with problems to the appropriate campus resources, such as Campus Health or the WTO.

They could create and identify Safe Zones by, for example, placing badges and stickers on office or res room doors.

Many international universities have already implemented similar Safe Zone programmes. According to http://www.lgbtcampus.org, over 200 institutions in the USA had initiated their own Safe Zones by 2005, and some as early as 1998.

“…we’re definitely the first in South Africa. Our ultimate aim is to see the programme implemented in universities across South Africa in the next five years,” said Kotze.

A few unique Safe Zones logos from across the world:

From left to right: Wits, The University of Tennessee, Southwestern Illinois College, Northeastern University, Joliet Junior College.

Anyone interested in attending a workshop can email ella.kotze@wits.ac.za or cameron.jacobs@wits.ac.za at the WTO. The next workshop will be on the April 21, but special sessions can be arranged if individuals or departments cannot attend the first two.

Homophobia: An extreme and irrational aversion to homosexuality and homosexual people. Heterosexism: Discrimination or prejudice against homosexuals on the assumption that heterosexuality is the norm. #FightIgnorance

 

Related stories:

State-sponsored homophobia

“It degrades human dignity, it’s unnatural, and there is no question ever of allowing these people [homosexuals] to behave worse than dogs and pigs.”

Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, made this shocking declaration a few years ago and said gays and lesbians should be handed over to the police. Even in these times he is not a lonely voice.

Africa is the continent with the least liberal laws regarding Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) rights. Over 30 countries criminalise homosexuality, and there are many cases of state-sponsored homophobia.

In most countries where homosexuality is illegal the law establishes penalties that range from a fine to years in prison – life imprisonment in Uganda.

In Mauritania, Sudan and northern Nigeria, the punishment is the death penalty.

In most African countries there is not even anti-discrimination legislation on sexual orientation or gender identity basis specifically, and South Africa is the exception.

Homosexuality on the African continent has often been blamed on colonialism. The notion that homosexuality is not African is widely spread.

“[That] is just a defence tactic and a prejudice driving tool,” says third year LLB student Motlatsi Motseoile, who is gay. He claims people usually base their “lack of knowledge and understanding on tradition and ‘Africanness’”.

Motseoile adds: “You know certain things are not of African origin by whether there is an African term for it, and there is one in Zulu [for homosexuality].”

He says he has read a lot on the subject, and the readings suggest “same-sex sexual relations have been around on the African continent for ages. They just have not been widely recorded… and perhaps not as spread or understood in its current form”.

Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA) archivist Gabriel Khan says: “GALA is the best place to stop on campus if one is interested in both the history and contemporary experience of LGBTI people in South Africa and also Africa.”

The core of the organisation is a unique archive of LGBTI materials. According to Khan, GALA also offers programmes and activities that aim to educate the public, create dialogue and inspire action.

Even though the legal system ensures equality, social acceptance is still a concern in South Africa.