East African Legislative Assembly passes HIV bill 1

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Behind the Mask is reporting some great news coming out of the regional parliament of East Africa. It is still a little known and underrated body called the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), but it has put out a statement calling for all the regional governments to provide HIV/Aids health services to all citizens, including “vulnerable” groups without discrimination; a statement that will force the governments of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi to, at the very least, debate who the vulnerable groups are.

Logically, the strategy should be for activist groups to ensure that the debate should focus on who the vulnerable groups are;  orphans, waifs, male and female sex workers, women who are still treated as chattels by men, lesbian and gay men, prisoners and so on and so forth … then keep hammering away at it until none of them can be spoken of in isolation.

The EALA pronouncement provides an opportunity to  make Ugandan (East African, African) gay men and women part of the mainstream conversation. We, too, suffer from the same health issues as anyone else and that puts the focus on gay men and women who are asking for the right not to die of preventable diseases – a right no one will argue is borne out of thinking that gays are special as the argument has tended to be put forward, quite convincingly, whenever we say we are being persecuted or hated by Ugandans who we, rather unfairly, tar with the indiscriminate brush of homophobia.

As I have argued on a number of occasions, elsewhere, hate or persecution are amorphous concepts that most people in Uganda (Africa) don’t really understand unless they see one of their own beaten up in the streets or jailed, blood on the streets, bodies being put in the ground, that sort of thing.

It is arrant hyperbole to argue that Ugandans (for instance) are homophobic – most Ugandans may be bewildered by the concept of homosexuality, but they don’t walk anywhere near the circles we hang out in to have any impact on our lives one way or the other. The people hounding us are a tiny but very vocal minority whose agenda is selfish personal gain, but who nonetheless haven’t managed yet to turn the entire country into the kind of homophonic maniacs foreigners have been led to believe Ugandans are. The reason for this is that Ugandans (I think Africans in general) are simply not that kind of people.

It is also true to argue that it is safer to be a gay man in Uganda than it is in many parts of the United States of America. If you don’t believe this, try checking out how many people have been killed for being gay in Uganda (or jailed) in the last 10 years and compare them to how many have been attacked and even killed in various parts of America in just the last 3 years despite some of the best protections against homophobia one can find on the planet.

In that sense, then, gay men and women in Uganda don’t suffer from hate or persecution that should require governments in Europe to make hysterical phone calls to Yoweri Museveni threatening this and that if gays are not accommodated when they are also not making phone calls  asking him to end female genital mutilation, the arresting and jailing of journalists and opposition politicians, rounding up of street protestors and jailing them for years without trial and, of course, misuse of state funds which deny basic health services to millions, etc. All of these ills have claimed and continue to claim more victims than ‘gay hate’ and one can rightly argue that they deserve greater attention.

But once the debate shifts to ignoring vulnerable groups in the fight against HIV/Aids, with the government of Uganda itself admitting that HIV cases are going up again, then we have a solid case to make to the wider Ugandan population if we argue that gay men and women must be included in the strategy to check the spread of HIV. Every Ugandan will see that no one is asking for special consideration as has been argued where ‘gay persecution’ is concerned.

And how can you make the argument that gay men and women are being ignored in the fight against HIV/Aids, which the government’s own reports show they are, without mentioning men who have sex with men? How can you mention HIV/Aids provision for LGBTI and avoid talking about gay men and women? How can any government plausibly talk about providing access to health services for LGBTI and then also continue talking about making homosexual activity punishable by death and/or imprisonment?

See why the strategy and focus need to shift to HIV/Aids and health for all vulnerable groups, including LGBTI?

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