Features | “The fracas about sexuality is a red herring”

Interview with GayUgandan

GayUgandan is a queer blogger (gayuganda.blogspot.com) in Kampala, Uganda, who has been writing about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill currently under review in the Ugandan parliament (see “Gay genocide,” Features, March 4). The Daily’s William M. Burton interviewed him via email.

McGill Daily: Can you us tell us a bit more about yourself? You’re blogging from Kampala.

GayUgandan: Hmmm, I am afraid I am going to cite “security reasons,” that blanket refusal to respond…like governments do!

Fact is, a lot of people know who I am. But, admitting it myself, or giving them clues to confirm it would make things much harder for me. I do write about having sex with my lover on the blog. Such an admission may be a quick path to life imprisonment, even with the current law. So, no, personal details are out.

For Kampala: yes, of course. Nothing like losing oneself in the most densely populated part of the country!

MD: Can you describe everyday life for queer Ugandans?
GU: Interesting, to say the least. I mean we have lived in the country for all our lives. So we know how to camouflage to our best. We are soldiers who live always behind the lines. Nothing to do about it. So, they see us, and they understand nothing about who we are, what we are. We necessarily reveal ourselves to only a privileged few. Of course, if, despite constant vigilance, we are outed, then that is something else. The horror stories of something like that just reinforce our vigilance.

They openly talk about killing us, express disgust, spit, and do all their things when we are right there in the middle of them. So it can get very interesting. Of course, it does lead to a lot of self-disrespect. We can’t defend ourselves from their most ridiculous assertions.

MD: According to a 2007 poll, 95 per cent of Ugandans oppose decriminalizing homosexuality. How do you think such a remarkable majority can be convinced to support at very least decriminalization?
GU: That is a dream. Decriminalization is something which the government would not even dare to table. How to change it? It will take years and lots of education.

MD: There has been a lot of talk about homosexuality being a Western import. President Museveni, for example, has said that Europeans are recruiting Ugandan men to be homosexuals. Martin Ssempa has accused Europeans and Americans of spreading “the gospel of homosexuality.” Obviously same-sex love has existed in Uganda since before contact with the West – can you tell us a bit about that?
GU: In the kingdom of Buganda, a 700-year-old institution before the coming of Europeans to Uganda, the king, or kabaka, Mwanga II, was bisexual at least. Homosexuality was okay at the Royal Court of Buganda.

If the king was bisexual before the coming of Christianity, then it is fair to argue that homosexuality in Uganda is more African than the Christianity which was brought in. It is the Christianity which made homosexuality be seen as a bad thing.

I know that Ssempa is using the results of the conflicts that followed to damn us, but there is no doubt that homosexuality was practiced at the royal court before the coming of the Christians, and that the white men are the ones who told the people here that, according to the new religion, it was wrong.

MD: You identify as a gay Ugandan. The identity of “gay” or “homosexual” – as opposed to someone who merely has sexual relations or romantic relationships with someone of the same sex – has its origin in Europe and the United States. How did you come to identify as gay? Was there any Western influence?
GU: Hey, I write in English. Have to get a word that is equivalent to express myself. Actually, we call ourselves “kuchus.” The direct translation of that is possibly “queer.”

MD: In his report “Globalizing the culture wars: U.S. conservatives, African churches, and homophobia,” the Reverend Kapya Kaoma of Zambia claims that homophobia is in fact a recent Western import, pushed on African church leaders in exchange for money and influence. In your experience, is this true? Has there been a notable upswing in homophobia in Uganda? Has homophobia in the country changed in character in recent times?
GU: What Kapya Kaoma is talking about is reality in Uganda. And it has been for a very long time. There has been an insidious recolonization of Uganda, and Africa in the last 10-15 years or so. They were all Christian missionaries. What had not been clear to us was the fact that they were all right[-wing] Christians, and that they do have a heavily conservative agenda.

Of course, money and influence play a huge role. That is a matter of fact.

Homophobia in Uganda? May I point out that Ssempa learned about “homosexuality” in the U.S.? Might have got his famed porn pic show during that time…[snicker].

Five years ago, no one was talking about homosexuality. Except Ssempa. And no one would say anything. He was just one crazy, obsessed man. After the coming of the three [Americans – Scott Lively, author of the Pink Swastika; Caleb Lee Brundidge, an “ex-gay” who claims to heal homosexuality; and Don Schmierer, of Exodus International] in March 2009, then we had the pastor wars, witch-hunts inside and outside the Pentecostal Church, et cetera. So definitely, the link is there. No, I had not connected the dotted lines. But the results and the fact that I have been here all that time is inescapable.

MD: As I mentioned, Ssempa and Museveni, among others, have claimed homosexuality is new in Uganda. Similarly, Kapya Kaoma has claimed homophobia is newly imported. Some theorists have located sexuality as a “site of permeability” by which foreign influence can enter the nation. Battles over sexuality are therefore often battles over the definition of the culture of a nation. Do you think this is the case in Uganda? Does the current persecution of queers have more to do with nationalism, colonialism, and political power than with sexuality per se?
GU: You are drawing me into the “culture wars” too!

What I know is that the current fracas about my sexuality is a simple red herring that the government is using to distract attention from some very massive corruption and abuse of power. It is certainly not all about us. We are the distraction – a minority which cannot even point out the glaring stupidities and misinformation that is being touted about us.

MD: What can concerned Westerners do to help?
GU: Whether we like it or not, Ugandans are very dependant on the West. For the U.S., we are fighting the War on Terror in Somalia. And the U.S. is giving us lots of military aid. That pressure is what works. So putting pressure on your governments puts pressure on the government in Uganda. It is matter of fact that we have had no voice in Uganda before this.

MD: Do you know when the Bahati bill is going to be discussed?
GU: No, I don’t know when it is going to be discussed (or have a second reading) in Parliament again.

It is supposed to be dependant on how busy the parliamentary schedules are. But it is all relative. When the government wanted, they passed through constitutional amendments in a month. But other bills have languished in “committee” for years. So, the important thing is what the government wants to do.

MD: Do you have anything else you’d like to say?
GU: Only a very heartfelt thanks to people in the West who have made sure that this law didn’t go unchallenged in Uganda. When it was tabled, I was sure that it would pass with little attention. One member of parliament thought there was a 99 per cent chance of it becoming law almost immediately. That was my assessment, too. But thanks to the pressure from the West, there is actual debate happening. Lopsided, yes, but at least debate! Thank the deities for those silver linings that we can see!