As far as coming out stories go, this one should have been the lead story on all the television stations in Africa, plastered across CNN, the BBC, VOA and every well-meaning cyber news media. It wasn’t.
It should have been the headline carried on the multitude of Uganda’s radio channels and extensive interviews of the man (and reactions from his friends) ought to have been conducted by Uganda’s four main television stations with the intention of making the story dinner-time viewing for the entire country. None of that happened.
Paul Semugoma’s coming out on Facebook should nonetheless go down as a watershed moment in the struggle for Ugandan (and African) gay men and women to live their lives freely in their own countries without having to apologize or justify themselves to vengeful pastors and idle government ministers.
For those who don’t know it, Paul Semugoma is the blogger who, for years, wrote the extremely erudite, albeit ‘cry in the wilderness’ John-the-Baptist GayUganda blog. I decided to start blogging in late 2008 as AfroGay before I knew of his blog and then had to question my relevance when I discovered that Semugoma already had a well-followed mouthpiece which religiously covered issues affecting gay men and women in Uganda and Africa much more studiously than I was ever going to.
It was also plain that GayUganda spoke with so much more feeling about gay rights and issues of public health in the gay communities of Africa because he spoke from an expert’s point of view. But, perhaps, what made his writing stand out for me most was the obvious evidence that, while he wrote from his heart, his blog was really not about him at all.
Realizing that I neither had the expertise nor the same depth of feeling about gay rights, I opted for the easier road – writing as a gay man about whatever I wanted, whether it was speaking to a gay, African, audience or not. Little wonder then that my own writing has been characterized by meandering ruminations about all sorts of disparate subjects. I still lurch from topic to topic as I think fit in the full knowledge that there was a godsend in the person of Dr. Semugoma who was doing, can do, a better job of reporting the gritty news about gay struggles in Uganda, Africa and beyond.
Alas, GayUganda went silent a year ago for reasons that need not exercise us today. Suffice it to say that, as Dr. Semugoma, he has continued to educate, counsel, advise, caution as best he can in other forums, one of which he set up himself on Facebook. And he has continued to do it in a manner that, to me, is the very essence of Dr. Paul as many of us call him: selflessly, yet with a quiet ferocity whenever he has identified a misconception or wrong that needed to be addressed.
As an advocate for gay rights, Dr. Paul has lately been less visible in the public media. He has nonetheless managed to keep his finger on the pulse of gay struggles across Africa and find personal happiness without losing touch with the daily travails of those who haven’t yet had the privilege of finding their own voice, let alone happiness.
Of course it helps that Dr. Paul approaches his understanding of, and advocacy for, gay rights from a medical point of view. That, in my view, makes him all the more effective in being a gay rights campaigner because, with an impeccable education background and a medical profession to fall back to, campaigning for gay rights is not his bread and butter and so there is no conflict of interest when he castigates government ministers, religious prelates and ignorant masses about their homophobia. Dr. Paul has other constructive things he is doing besides fighting for gay rights.
Finally, it would be remiss to end this without thanking Dr. Paul for his selflessness over the years that he has had to balance the demands of his sexuality against those of his profession in Uganda, for struggling to maintain a personal life in the difficult climate of Uganda where any overt shows of emotion even among heterosexuals is frowned upon (Dr. Paul is one of the most tactile Ugandan gay men I know of), for continuing to tell the world about the injustices meted out to gay Ugandans and Africans at a time when his own personal life was throwing enormous challenges at him, for patiently putting up with fiery and, yes, often recklessly visceral people like yours truly who often shoot first and ask questions later.
Thank you Dr. Paul, thank you very much.
If anyone deserves to be happy, Dr. Paul does. I for one can, therefore, not go without wishing him and the love of his life (is it me or do the lovebirds already look like blood brothers?) all the best as they work towards being one.