Love is a Human Right. But a right that we all enjoy? Not even close. Imagine if you were told you couldn't love someone because it was a crime, for gay Ugandans this is the world in which they live.
On the 7th of February 2012 an Anti-Homosexuality bill was brought once again to the Ugandan Parliament. The bill makes any homosexual activity a crime punishable by long-term imprisonment or even death. It also states that anyone who knows of any homosexual activities going on is also to be punished with three years in prison. Parents are expected to report children; teachers are expected to report students. Unfortunately, but maybe not unexpectedly, the basis of the anti-homosexual laws originate from British rule during the colonial period- one of those laws they just never got round to eradicating. Ugandan newspapers have sparked campaigns of hate selling newspapers by promising to name and shame homosexuals, encouraging Ugandans to take the law into their own hands.
Last Monday I attended a talk entitled Love is a Human right which was put on by the Amnesty International at Leeds University and LUU LGBT. The talk gave an incredible insight into the plight of the gay and lesbian community in Uganda. It was the first event to kick off Human Rights week. The evening opened with a short film, Call me Kuchu, in which key figures in Uganda were documented trying to combat state discrimination against homosexuals. What was remarkable about the events documented was they continued insistence by government officials that homosexuality was inherently ‘un-African’. The film itself is well worth a watch if you want to get a better idea of the turbulent situation there. You can watch the trailer below:
The first speaker at the event was Kevin Ward, a former schoolteacher in Uganda who taught religious studies to university students. Kevin who is originally from the UK, had lived in Uganda for almost ten years, he had become fully immersed in the culture and had many friends and respected colleagues there. “I found being in Africa a liberating experience” he said, Kevin explained that whilst there was still stigma about being openly gay in Britain, Uganda offered a place where he was free to have close relationships with men, without causing gossip. Whilst Ugandans were not supportive of homosexuals, Kevin argued that the situation was one of acceptance. The situation became volatile though, when religious preachers from America organised a tour of Uganda preaching homophobic hatred and connecting it with religion. When Kevin was found to be gay, his colleagues and friends turned on him, he was fired from his job at the school and forced to start afresh.
The second speaker was Quentin Bashem, a Kenyan student at the university of Leeds. Quentin explained that the un-African perception of homosexuality goes beyond Uganda and is embedded in the culture and society of Kenyan also. Although there are no laws that make being gay illegal in Kenya, Quentin explained that he had a friend at school that was discriminated against because of his sexuality. Quentin, always being a liberal thinker promised that when he returned to Kenya he would be sure to speak more openly and supportively of the gay community in Kenya, in order to try and change the prejudices felt amongst the younger population in general.
The situation in Uganda and Kenya are not isolated cases, even here at home, homophobia is rife. Gay Ugandans, fearful of imprisonment and even their lives have fled Uganda, some have tried to seek asylum in the UK, but Kevin argues the immigration office doesn't take their fears seriously enough. If we can learn to accept each other and love one another, the world will be a better place.
After all, Love is a Human Right.