I have a prediction to make:
The headline-grabbing lawsuit brought by the friends of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) against Scott Lively in Massachusetts recently will likely not succeed.
The basis of the lawsuit is that Lively incited hate and violence against Ugandan gay men and women through proxies such as Stephen Langa and Martin Ssempa, ” for the decade-long campaign he has waged, in agreement and coordination with his Ugandan counterparts, to persecute persons on the basis of their gender and/or sexual orientation and gender identity.”
I think Scott Lively cannot be proved to have incited any persecution of gays in Uganda. Yes, he has on various occasions said things we don’t like about gay cures and how gays are terrible for Uganda, Africa and the world. That’s just his opinion and he is entitled to it. I believe American and Ugandan laws entitle him to those opinions, too.
But, one suspects, that the American friends of SMUG who filed the lawsuit (SMUG could not afford such a lawsuit) knew this, and their real motive was a public relations (PR) one. Observers can debate whether they used the most cost-effective tactic or not. I think their tactics have a place in human rights struggles such as the one SMUG is engaged in.
Which brings me to the real reason for writing this:
I think we should be doing more to move the debate forward in the gay community in Uganda. A commentator, Frank McMullan, recently suggested that I do that instead of peppering activists with questions. I think he had a point.
So, what do I think the gay rights struggle in Uganda should be about?
The gay struggle needs to augment the “We are here, we are queer/They are killing us” gay human rights movement, now the only currency doing the rounds in activists’ circles in Uganda and around the world, with an additional, serious, movement targeting the health and wellness of gay Ugandans in Uganda.
The faces of ‘Gay Uganda': Frank Mugisha & Kasha Nabagesera
The “they are killing us” activists have a place still. It is just that it seems that judicial killing of gays is all we are talking about and everything else, such as advocating for equal access to specialized medical care that Ugandan heterosexuals take for granted, is but a parenthesis. The reason for this might be that the current crop of Ugandan advocates already have enough on their plates. Given their schedules, it would be surprising if they didn’t.
There is thus a need for a different, medically qualified (or trained) arm to focus on the less ‘sexy,’, less headline-grabbing health and wellness issues.
Uganda needs a separate “HIV/Aids is killing us” message to push for studies to establish statistics, trends of HIV/Aids among men who have sex with men, and the general LGBTI population. It goes without saying that there are infinitely more Ugandan gay boys (especially) who have died of HIV/Aids, due to neglect and lack of care, in the last five years than have been killed by mob action or the law because they are gay.
We thus need to let the nascent movements trying to make HIV/Aids in the gay community in Uganda a hot topic, too, have room to breath because we can’t wait for the fight against “killing the gays” to be won for the fight against HIV/Aids in the gay community to get organized. Think of it as a two-pronged approach: health/public health/HIV AND Gay Rights with different protagonists leading each one since the expertise required is different.
If you sense an undercurrent of criticism, it is intended. I am of the view that, in the quest for the “they are killing us” dollars and media space, the “HIV/Aids is killing us” message in our community has been relegated to an afterthought.
Yet you read that the incidence of HIV/Aids in Kenya (where information is more readily available and the fight against the spread of HIV/Aids in the gay community more concerted) is 35% among men who have sex with men. It stands to reason that the statistics are grimmer in Uganda where studies are stymied by government disinterest and, little to no coordination in the community.
The only professional study I have seen on the HIV scourge in the gay community in Uganda, the CDC’s Crane Survey Report (2008/9) suggests to me that we are sitting on a problem so serious as to make the effects of David Bahati’s proposed anti-gay legislation look like a walk in the park. If nothing is done on the HIV/Aids problem in the gay community, the 1.5% annual rise in the gay infections being reported countrywide will shoot to 5% and beyond – as surely as night follows day.
The HIV/Aids problem in the gay community in Uganda therefore needs to be made a much bigger priority than it is at the moment. It would be fair enough for the current faces of the “they are killing us” message to argue that they neither have the time nor the competence to fight every battle.
That’s why the Ugandans willing to fight the “HIV/Aids is killing gays” fight should be actively encouraged to step up to lobby Uganda’s government and anyone else they think will listen. Our friends in America and elsewhere should also be encouraged by the already established representatives of ‘Gay Uganda’ to organize PR exercises for that message, too.